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Germany calls for end to Azerbaijan-Armenia bloodshed

Germany’s foreign minister Thursday urged an end to the festering conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia amid a fresh international drive for peace. On a two-day trip to the neighbouring arch-enemies, Frank-Walter Steinmeier told reporters in Baku that Europe was throwing new energy into resolving the ongoing bloodshed in the Nagorny Karabakh region that has dragged on for more than two decades. “We in Europe have watched with some concern that there have been more and more incidents of late,” he said at a press conference with his Azerbaijani counterpart Elmar Mammadyarov, after talks earlier with President Ilham Aliyev. Nagorny Karabakh, which is mostly inhabited by ethnic Armenians, broke away from Azerbaijan with the help of Armenia in a war that claimed some 30,000 lives between 1991 and 1994. In August, more than 20 troops died on the two sides in the deadliest clashes since the 1994 ceasefire. French President Francois Hollande is to host talks in Paris next week with representatives of the Minsk group of mediators in the conflict appointed by the OSCE in 1992, which France co-chairs with Russia and the United States. Hollande will hold separate meetings Monday with Aliyev and Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian, who could then meet face-to-face. Steinmeier said Germany hoped the Paris meeting would be used “to soften some of the positions that have hardened in the past”. The tensions between energy-rich Azerbaijan and Moscow-allied Armenia have flared as ex-Soviet republics nervously watch the Kremlin’s confrontation with the West over Ukraine, where government forces are battling Russian-backed separatists (Source: France24).

France moving troops toward Libya's border

France is moving troops toward the Libyan border within weeks and, along with U.S. intelligence, is monitoring al-Qaida arms shipments to Africa’s Sahel region, a top French military official said Thursday. A French base will go up within weeks in a desert outpost 100 kilometers (60 miles) from the lawless Libyan border region overrun by Islamic militants, the official said on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly on the matter. U.S. intelligence is helping French troops “a lot,” he said. Earlier this month, French troops destroyed an arms convoy in northern Niger carrying three tons of weapons from Libya to Mali. A French drone had located and followed the convoy from southeast Libya, the top defense official said. About 50 French troops will be permanently based in northern Niger and they could be reinforced very quickly by the French and Niger military when necessary, in order to be “able to crisscross the zone up to the border and hamper as much as possible the traffic route”, he said. French and U.S. drones are already operating out of Niger’s capital, Niamey. France launched a military operation three months ago against Islamist groups, with troops and equipment sent to ex-colonies Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad and Mali. Following France’s intervention to rout Islamic militants from Mali last year, the operation is aiming to counter al-Qaida-linked militants there, and their potential ties with Nigerian militant group Boko Haram. Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian warned last month that Libya is a “hub for terrorists” (Source: Yahoo! News).

Putin meets Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, reveals concerns over Iraq, Libya

The situation in the Middle East remains complex, with events in Iraq and Libya raising the most concerns, Russian President, Vladimir Putin, said as he met with Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi in Sochi. Putin said he welcomed the opportunity to discuss developments in the Middle East with General Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who occupies the position of Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces. According to the Russian president, the situation “remains complex, not only on Israeli-Palestinian track, but in other parts of the region as well. We are concerned by the state of things in Iraq and Libya.” For his part, Al Nahyan said that Moscow “plays a very important role in the Middle East.” Putin underlined the expanding investment cooperation between the two countries, adding that Russia“has great confidence in investment funds” from UAE. The Crown Prince replied that he had no doubts that his country and Russia “are bound by a privileged relationship.” According to the Russian side, the trade between Russia and UAE has increased four times during the last five years, reaching the mark of $2.5 billion last year. However, in the first half of 2014 the volume of trade decreased by 11.5 per cent to $ 1.3 billion. UAE’s accumulated investment into Russia in 2013 is estimated at $ 264 million, with another $48 million moving in the opposite direction (Source: Russia Today).

Ukraine's PM warns Russia may try to disrupt Sunday's election

Ukraine’s prime minister warned on Thursday of possible attempts by Russia to disrupt an election in Ukraine at the weekend, a vote being held against a background of Russian support for separatist rebels and an unresolved row over gas. Sunday’s poll is the first parliamentary election since street protests last winter drove Moscow-backed leader Victor Yanukovich from office and ushered in a pro-Western leadership. The results are expected to turn a political bloc supporting President Petro Poroshenko into the leading force in parliament, where pro-Russian influence will be greatly diminished. Poroshenko is seeking a mandate to press ahead with a plan for ending the conflict with separatists in Ukraine’s Russian-speaking eastern regions and establishing an understanding with Moscow while pursuing a course of European integration. Interfax news agency quoted him as saying on Thursday that he expected to be able to begin forming a new coalition by early next week that would be “pro-European, anti-corruption, without liars and populists.” Western governments supported the “Euromaidan” winter protests in Kiev that forced Yanukovich to flee to Russia, but Moscow denounced his overthrow as a coup. Russia went on to annex Crimea and back separatists in a conflict that has killed more than 3,700 people. With violence between government forces and separatists still simmering in eastern Ukraine despite a ceasefire, Prime Minister Arsenic Yatseniuk, a hawk in the Kiev leadership, ordered a full security mobilization for the weekend to prevent “terrorist acts” being carried out (Source: Reuters).

Iran-Turkey relations strained over Syria

In an Oct. 13 speech marking the new academic year at Marmara University, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan asked, “What kind of religious leader is this [who] says ‘Assad is the only one challenging Israel’? Assad didn’t shoot a bullet at Israel. Assad killed 250,000, and you’re still supporting him, sending him money and arms.” The religious leader in Erdogan’s crosshair was Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. While discussing Erdogan, an Iranian official told Al-Monitor by phone, “The death of 250,000 in Syria was caused by nations that back the terrorists in Syria. Turkey is one of those states, and it has full responsibility for the situation today. Mr. Erdogan personally knows that Iran is innocent. Iran is helping a legitimate government restore control over its land and fight terrorists coming from around the globe to kill and terrorize civilians.” The removal of President Bashar al-Assad is Turkey’s first priority. This need not be achieved directly, but Ankara believes it should be acknowledged as a necessity in solving the Syrian crisis. Full control by Turkey’s allies over northern Syria, from the border with Iraq to the Mediterranean, would ease Ankara’s concerns over the possible establishment of a Kurdish state on its border, in addition to being an essential element in defeating Assad’s regime and hastening its fall. Northern Syria would become a safe haven for the Turkish-backed Syrian opposition to establish their control and expand under coalition airstrikes. Therein lies Turkey’s problem with Iran (Source: Al-Monitor).

Kosovo minister Enver Hoxhaj makes historic Serbia visit

Enver Hoxhaj has become the first minister from Kosovo to officially visit Serbia since his country unilaterally seceded in 2008. The Kosovan foreign minister hailed warmer ties between the two sides, and urged his hosts to agree to a peace treaty that would recognise Kosovo’s independence. Kosovo has been recognised by more than 100 countries. But Serbia, backed by Russia and other states, has refused to do so. Kosovan Albanians waged a secessionist war against Serbia in the late 1990s, which responded with a military crackdown against the territory and its civilians. A Nato bombing campaign against Belgrade effectively forced Serbia to cede the territory, which was administered by the United Nations until 2008. Mr Hoxhaj was visiting Serbia to take part in a regional ministerial meeting in Belgrade. But he used the occasion to call for a peace treaty, and told reporters: “Wherever I go I embody Kosovo’s sovereignty as an independent state.” The visit has been seen as a chance to lower tensions between Serbia and Kosovo – which has a ruling ethnic Albanian majority and an ethnic Serbian minority. The Kosovo situation still sparks tension between Serbia and Albania, which backs Kosovo’s independence. Last week, a football match between Serbia and Albania was abandoned after a drone flew over the stadium in Belgrade carrying a flag emblazoned with a black eagle, the symbol of Greater Albania. It prompted scuffles among players and fans on the Partizan Stadium pitch. The two nations are due to find out their punishment for the violence later on Thursday following a disciplinary hearing by European football’s governing body Uefa (Source: BBC).

Ebola crisis: UK pledges extra £80m to fight disease

The UK is to give an extra £80m of aid towards the fight against the deadly Ebola outbreak in West Africa. The pledge was announced by Prime Minister David Cameron at a European Council summit in Brussels, and brings Britain’s total contribution to £205m. Further pledges were expected to take total EU contribution to Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea to above £552m. But Mr Cameron, who said Ebola and the economy were the big risks facing the EU, urged other leaders to give more. Last week he suggested the EU donate 1bn euros (£789m) in response to the disease, which has killed more than 4,800 people in West Africa. About £50m of the new UK money will go towards 200 Ebola care units across Sierra Leone; £20m will go into a UN trust fund, and £10m will provide support for burials in Sierra Leone. European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso pledged 24m euros of new EU funding to speed up medical research into treatments and vaccines. However, as the 28 EU leaders discussed the outbreak over dinner, Mr Cameron told them: “We can all do more. We should all do more.” As he arrived at the summit, Mr Cameron warned that the virus could spread to Europe if it was not stopped. “It is very important we take action at source in West Africa,” he said. “Britain has been leading the way in terms of Sierra Leone… But we need other countries to do more.” The UK, US and France are respectively taking the lead in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea – the three countries worst-affected by the current outbreak (Source: BBC).

Ukraine-Russia Gas Deal Still Possible Despite Setback

Negotiations over a natural gas deal between Ukraine and Russia have faltered since the spring, but the standoff has taken on a new urgency as winter approaches. Following the overthrow of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich in February, Russia altered the terms by which it sells natural gas to Ukraine. Along with Yanukovich, favorable pricing went away. In April, Russia nearly doubled the sale price of natural gas to Ukraine, from $268.50 per thousand cubic meters to $485.50. This was a price that the Ukrainian government said it could not meet. Even worse, Russian gas company Gazprom demanded upfront payment for gas supplies, an issue that kept the two countries at odds for months. Gazprom cut off gas supplies to Ukraine in June, saying Ukraine had failed to pay its debt. A long-term solution has eluded Moscow and Kiev since, and talks have dragged on for months. It’s not just Ukraine’s problem, though: around 40 percent of Europe’s gas imports from Russia travel across Ukrainian territory. So to a large extent, the standoff over pricing is a three-way dispute between Russia, Ukraine and the European Union. The supply cut-off in June underscored the threat to the rest of Europe. It will be difficult to postpone a resolution any further. Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak has demanded full payment in advance for gas deliveries in November and December. In addition, he says Gazprom must receive further debt payments from the Ukrainian government as a pre-condition to a deal. (Source: Oil Price).

EU Can Give Ukraine At Most $1 Billion to Pay Bills

European Commission President José Manuel Barroso told the bloc’s leaders Thursday that the EU’s executive body could give Ukraine a maximum $1 billion (EUR790 million) in the near term out of its budget to help Kiev pay its bills, according to several officials briefed on discussions. The money could be made available to Ukraine quickly in order to help Kiev settle a gas bill to Russia that would allow Ukraine to start receiving gas from Russian energy company OAO Gazprom again. However, the Commission money—which is the amount left over from two already-approved balance of payments loans—is unlikely to be nearly enough to help cash-strapped pay the Ukraine bill. That could create pressure on EU member states to step in and bridge the gap, the officials said. In the early hours of Friday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters that Ukraine would need some kind of bridge loan to pay its gas bill but that the issue wasn’t resolved yet. She didn’t say how much money was needed. Russia halted gas supplies to Ukraine earlier this year because of unpaid bills, saying Kiev owes it around $5 billion. Ukraine accuses Russia of setting an unfairly high price to punish its pro-western government. alks in Brussels between Ukraine, Russia and the EU on Tuesday on the gas standoff failed to break the deadlock and a further meeting is due next week. However Russian President Vladimir Putin has said Europe will have to put its hand in its pocket to help Ukraine pay the bill if it wants gas supplies to Ukraine to resume. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has said his country was struggling to find money to pay the bill (Source: The Wall Street Journal).

Why would a submarine from Russia be lurking in waters off Sweden?

Rumours of a Russian submarine hanging around off the coast of Sweden have inspired much Cold War nostalgia. But while there is of course the chance that something fishy is going on, there are many plausible explanations as to why a vessel might prowl about in foreign waters. In fact, it happens all the time. The Swedish military has reported detecting underwater activity in its seas and has already spent several days searching for what it suspects to be a Russian submarine. The incident has been referred to by many as reminiscent of a Cold War spy novel – a view only reinforced by the very public reaction of the local government. Sweden has committed significant naval resources to the hunt for the mystery vessel, and Rear Admiral Anders Grenstad has now said his troops are prepared to use armed force to bring the submarine to the surface if the hunt is successful. This submarine could be capability testing. Modern submarines contain numerous pieces of equipment that need to be tried out so that they can be ready in the event of war. Personnel need to be trained to use them and practice with them regularly. That doesn’t just mean weapon systems, either. Navigational systems and covert communications need to be rehearsed too. Testing such capabilities in the territories of other nations, without being detected, is in large measure what maintains the high operational readiness of such vessels. It might also be survey charting. Submarines are reliant on exceptionally accurate navigational charts to avoid running aground in the middle of an operational deployment. The importance of this was made clear in 2010 when HMS Astute became trapped in shallow waters off the coast of Scotland in 2010 during a training exercise (Source: The Conversation).