Two years ago this month, Hezbollah operatives murdered six people—five tourists and their bus driver—and wounded many more in a bus bombing at the airport in Burgas, Bulgaria. The incident brought global attention to the extent of the group’s operations in Europe, far afield of its traditional home base of Lebanon, where it was founded with a mission to fight Israel. But today, despite a European Union ban on the group’s military wing, Hezbollah is just as strong on the continent as it was two years ago. Today, Hezbollah operatives primarily take advantage of Europe’s open societies and borders and use Europe as a preferred venue for support activities like arms procurement, logistics and fundraising. Hezbollah has sent operatives to the continent on a regular basis—to places like Cyprus, France, and the Netherlands—in some cases to collect intelligence and prepare for possible operations. In other cases, Hezbollah has recruited new operatives and held operational meetings across Europe, from Denmark to Poland. What European authorities discovered two years ago is emblematic of the group’s continuing reach. The EU banned Hezbollah’s military wing last summer—an action allowing for the seizure of its finances in Europe but one which does not preclude contact with the group’s members nor ban the travel of Hezbollah officials in Europe. Europe has not actually used the legal authority of the Hezbollah ban to go after the group in a meaningful way. And in the absence of such action, Hezbollah will only further entrench itself in Europe (Source: Defense One — http://goo.gl/2R6KiO).
The US says it has evidence that Russia has fired artillery across the border targeting Ukrainian military positions. Russia also intends “to deliver heavier and more powerful multiple rocket launchers” to pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine, the state department said. Russia has frequently denied sending any rocket launchers into Ukraine. The US comment comes a week after Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crashed in eastern Ukraine, with the rebels widely accused of shooting it down. Multinational efforts to find the cause of the crash is under way, led by the Netherlands which lost 193 of its citizens. All 298 people on board the flight died in the crash. The US, which has repeatedly accused Russia of fuelling separatist sentiment in eastern Ukraine, says it believes that rebels shot down flight MH17 with a Russian-provided SA-11 Buk surface-to-air missile, probably by mistake. Leading rebels in eastern Ukraine have given conflicting accounts of whether they had control of a Buk launcher at the time the plane was downed. State department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters on Thursday the US had evidence derived from “human intelligence information” showing Russia firing artillery into eastern Ukraine. She said the US would not provide further details so as not to compromise sources and methods of intelligence collection (Source: BBC — http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-28476153).
As attempts to retrieve the bodies and flight recorders from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 dragged on over the weekend, Prime Minister Najib Razak risked a gambit that European leaders wouldn’t: sending officials into a war zone to meet with armed rebels whose government almost no one recognizes. After a nervy journey through checkpoints that dot eastern Ukraine’s conflict zone, the team met separatist leaders in their stronghold of Donetsk, who handed over the flight recorders—known as black boxes—and released the bodies for repatriation via Ukrainian government-held territory. While European governments wrestled with how to get to the site without legitimizing the rebels or risking security, Mr. Najib put aside diplomatic protocol and safety fears and sent his team. “What was key to him was the outcome,” said a person close to the prime minister’s office. “He was looking at people who controlled an area of land. And on that land was our plane, our bodies, our black boxes.” The mission’s success delivered a political victory for Mr. Najib’s government, still reeling from its missteps after the disappearance of another Malaysia Airlines flight in March with 239 aboard. But it also handed a gift to the rebels in the form of an accord, signed by the top Malaysian official present in Donetsk, calling the crash site “the territory of the Donetsk People’s Republic.” That offered a level of apparent recognition that even the rebels’ main backer—Russia—has avoided (Source: The Wall Street Journal — http://on.wsj.com/1z3QjRR).
2015 was meant to be a year devoted to the celebration of Polish and Russian cultural ties, but due to the increasingly dismal situation in Ukraine, Poland has called off the festivities. “This is a decision of the government. Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski and Culture Minister Małgorzata Omilanowska categorically decided that in the current political situation, and because of everything that is happening in Ukraine, in a situation in which a plane has been shot down, it will be impossible to hold the Year of Poland in Russia,” the BBC reported Thursday, citing government spokeswoman Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska. As a result of the government’s decision, all events that were set to be held as part of the year of bilateral celebration will be cancelled. The Russian-Polish cross-cultural year was set in motion at a meeting between the two countries’ foreign ministers in December 2013 in Warsaw. Its aim was to strengthen cultural ties between the two countries. In the aftermath of the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 last week, a catastrophe that claimed 298 lives, Poland joined the chorus of other Western countries accusing Russia of having destabilized Ukraine and perpetuated the conflict in its east. The European Union and the U.S. have imposed several rounds of sanctions against Russian officials over the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, which has intensified exponentially following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March (Source: The Moscow Times — http://www.themoscowtimes.com/article/504025.html).
The CIA ran a secret jail on Polish soil, the European Court of Human Rights ruled on Thursday, piling pressure on Poland, one of Washington’s closest allies, to break its long silence about the global program for detaining al Qaeda suspects. The court said it had been established that the CIA used a facility in a northern Polish forest, code named “Quartz”, as a hub in its network for interrogating suspected al Qaeda operatives rounded up after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. Poland has always denied that the CIA had a jail on its territory, even as leaks from former U.S. intelligence officials, and a Senate investigation, brought more and more details of the program into the open. Thursday’s ruling was the first time that a court in Europe had said that the CIA operated one of the secret jails – often referred to as “black sites” -on the continent. Amrit Singh, a lawyer with the Open Society Justice Initiative who acted for one of the men who brought the case, told Reuters both Poland and the United States would have to take note of what she called an historic ruling. “It’s time for them to own up to the truth,” she said. The court case was brought by lawyers for two men, Saudi-born Abu Zubaydah, and Saudi national Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who are now both inmates at Guantanamo Bay, the U.S. military’s prison on Cuba. The court found Poland violated its obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights to prevent torture, ensure the right to liberty, and properly investigate allegations a crime had been committed on its territory. It ordered Poland to pay al-Nashiri 100,000 euros in damages and 130,000 euros to Zubaydah (Source: The New York Times — http://nyti.ms/1lypm0e).
Theresa May’s announcement yesterday that there would be an inquiry into the death in 2006 of Alexander Litvinenko is one of the most important of these unsolved problems that keeps returning to haunt the UK’s relationship with Russia. The decision also could be interpreted as a means of showing British intent in two ways. It suggests first that whatever decisions the EU reached at the meeting on Tuesday, the UK would seek to adopt its own position towards Russia regardless of whether the EU decided to increase sanctions or not. Indeed, it also appears as an attempt to widen the toolbox. So far, sanctions, although internally divisive, have appeared as the West’s main (only?) tools in attempting to respond to the current crisis and build pressure on Moscow. The Litvinenko inquiry adds another dimension to the tensions, and serves to shift the focus beyond questions of imposing restrictions on Russian money in London. Coincidence or not, it is highly unlikely that this will be seen in Moscow as a ‘coincidence’. Instead, it will probably be seen as coordinated government action directed against Russia, particularly as part of a wider and sustained hostile Western information campaign against Russia. The return to the headlines of the image of Litvinenko on his death bed in hospital, combined with the related conspiracy theories, will be seen by Moscow as part of an ongoing attack directed through the media on the Sochi Winter Olympics and the representation of Russian actions during the Ukraine crisis, particularly in the wake of the MH17 disaster (Source: Chatham House — http://www.chathamhouse.org/expert/comment/15234).
France charged UBS with tax fraud on Wednesday for allegedly helping French clients hide money in Switzerland, judicial sources said. The Swiss bank is also suspected of using dual accounts to hide the flow of capital into Switzerland.The judicial source said the charges relate to money kept in accounts in Switzerland between 2004 and 2012. The Swiss business of UBS is also suspected of illegally canvassing French customers and setting up dual accounts to hide the movement of capital into Switzerland. The bank, which was already under investigation for illegally soliciting customers in France, will now have to pay a total bail of €1.1 billion ($1.5 billion), the source told AFP. According to judicial sources, the new bail is equivalent to 42.6 percent of USB’s after-tax profits last year and 2.8 percent of shareholder funds. UBS said in a statement that the bail amount and the method used to calculate it was flawed and “highly politicised”. The Bank of France’s regulatory arm, known as the ACP, was alerted to the undeclared accounts between 2002 and 2007. A probe was launched after former UBS employees blew the whistle. “In the course of the last few years, we have done everything we can to bring this matter to a close,” the UBS statement said (Source: France24 — http://f24.my/UuoJ0d).
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has welcomed a U.N. Human Rights Council decision to investigate Israel’s war crimes in Gaza, repeating his call upon Israel to stop its inhumane attacks in Gaza. “We welcome the decision taken by the U.N. Human Rights Council to investigate Israel’s war crimes in Gaza,” Davutoğlu said on his Twitter account July 24. Davutoğlu said the process at the U.N. panel was launched upon Turkey’s initiative and that Turkey was determined to pursue the process. “Israel’s atrocities in Gaza should be immediately investigated and the results should be shared with the international community,” he said. “We call upon Israel once again to stop its inhumane attacks in Gaza.” The U.N. Human Rights Council investigated Israel’s attacks on Gaza in 2009 and accused both Israel and Hamas of committing war crimes (Source: Hurriyet Daily News — http://goo.gl/0I1Zwk).
Why can’t Europe’s leaders bring themselves to impose tough sanctions on Russia after the Malaysia Airlines passenger jet disaster? One explanation is that economic ties to Russia, a major supplier of energy, trump the moral imperative to punish President Vladimir Putin for his support of separatists in Ukraine. A look at trade data for selected European countries offers an indication of the incentives in play. The Netherlands, which had 193 citizens aboard Flight MH17, is among the most connected: Russia accounted for about 6.4 percent of its imports in the 12 months through February, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Germany, the most politically powerful country in Europe, is roughly three times more tied to Russia than the U.S. or the U.K., which have been much more aggressive in pushing sanctions. Europe’s economic ties to Russia are much stronger than they were when Putin came to power. Back in February 1999, soon after he took over from former President Boris Yeltsin, Russia’s share of German exports and imports was less than half what it is today. Apparently, building new pipelines to Europe has served Russia’s geopolitical interests well (Source: Bloomberg View — http://bv.ms/1jVCL7r).
Given recent German indignation about the National Security Agency, it has been easy to overlook the fact that for decades the German government has cooperated extensively with the NSA on surveillance activities. But after a high-level meeting in Berlin this week, this long-standing but veiled cooperation may have a firmer legal and political base. The two countries’ past partnership became so extensive that they even developed a special logo for their joint signals-intelligence activity, known by its initials, “JSA.” It shows an American bald eagle against the colors of the German flag, next to the words Der Zeitgeist, or “the spirit of the age.” Like so much else we know about the NSA, the details about its activities in Germany come from Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor now living in Moscow. He provided a trove of secret documents to Der Spiegel, which published more than 50 online last month. German anger about U.S. spying boiled over recently with the expulsion of the CIA station chief in Berlin. The Germans were furious when they discovered that the CIA was paying a “walk-in” German agent, adding to their anger that the NSA had tapped Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone. Cooperation between the two countries’ spy services “is deeper than previously believed,” as Der Spiegel put it. The United States and Germany are now attempting to rebuild the partnership so that it is more transparent and, perhaps, develops a more solid political base (Source: The Washington Post — http://wapo.st/1nSuPPe).