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Russia Could Limit Food Transit From Ukraine and Belarus to Kazakhstan

Russia may limit food transit from Belarus and Ukraine to Kazakhstan because of attempts by the countries to supply banned food to Russia, the head of Russia’s veterinary and phytosanitary service, or VPSS, was quoted as saying Thursday. In early August, Russia banned imports of fruit, vegetables, meat, poultry, fish, milk and dairy from the European Union and some other countries worth about $9 billion in retaliation for Western sanctions over the crisis in Ukraine. “We will be talking about stopping the transit to Kazakhstan through the borders of Belarus and Ukraine and allowing it only via our checkpoints,” Sergei Dankvert was quoted as saying by RIA news agency. Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan have a free trade zone as part of their customs union and Minsk has promised to prevent banned foods from being shipped onward to Russia. Moscow’s VPSS recently reported a case in which 8,000 tons of meat, falsely labeled as coming from Brazil and destined for Kazakhstan, had been delivered to Russia via Belarus, Dankvert said. The service managed to find about 300 tons of this meat, while 7,500 tons “got lost in Russia”, he added. Russia’s veterinary service also may ban pork imports from Belarus due to suspected outbreaks of African Swine Fever, the service said. It plans to discuss this question at a meeting with the Belarussian agriculture ministry on Thursday (Source: The Moscow Times).

Ukraine, Russia to Resume Talks Thursday

Ukraine and Russia are set to resume talks on Thursday to resolve their natural-gas dispute, after late-night negotiationsyielded no breakthrough. Ukraine still needs to secure funding to pay upfront for Russian gas deliveries before a deal can be concluded, two people familiar with the situation said. Kiev still needs to raise enough money to pay $1.6 billion in advance for November and December deliveries, according to the terms of a deal agreed on Oct. 21. Talks broke up at around 4 a.m. local time without this issue being resolved, the people said. The talks under way in Brussels, the latest in a months-long series of high-level meetings, come amid fears of possible gas shortages in parts of Europe if the flow from Russia to Ukraine isn’t restored. “We have agreed to continue to work and continue the talks on October 30,” Russian Energy Minister, Alexander Novak, said according to news agency Interfax. The European Commission couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. Kiev said it would be able to pay $3.1 billion of its past debts to Russian gas monopoly OAO Gazpromby the end of the year. In return, Kiev has demanded guarantees that the terms of the deal would remain fixed and not be subject to political changes in Moscow. Ahead of the talks Wednesday, the EU’s energy commissioner, Günther Oettinger, said a key issue was “how to leverage Ukraine to pay for new gas imports.” “Our common ambition is to come to an interim solution, a winter package,” he told reporters. The talks are seen as his last chance for to broker a deal before he leaves office at the end of this week (Source: The Wall Street Journal).

Sweden to officially recognize Palestinian state today

Sweden’s center-left government will officially recognize the state of Palestine on Thursday, becoming the first major European country to do so, Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom said. Prime Minister Stefan Lofven told parliament in his inaugural address in October that his Social Democrat government would deliver on a manifesto promise to recognize a Palestinian state, drawing criticism from Israel and the United States. “Today’s recognition is a contribution to a better future for a region that has for too long been characterized by frozen negotiations, destruction and frustration,” Wallstrom wrote in the daily Dagens Nyheter. “Some will state this decision comes too soon. I am afraid, rather, that it is too late.” Palestinians seek statehood in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and the blockaded Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as their capital. They have sought to sidestep stalled peace talks by lobbying foreign powers to recognize their sovereignty claim. Wallstrom said Sweden’s move aimed at supporting moderate Palestinians and making their status more equal with that of Israel in peace negotiations, as well as giving hope to young people on both sides. The U.N. General Assembly approved the de facto recognition of the state of Palestine in 2012, but the European Union and most EU countries have yet to give official recognition. “EU members confirmed in 2009 their readiness to recognize the state of Palestine when it was appropriate,” Wallstrom said. “We are now ready to take the lead. We hope this can show the way for others” (Source: The Globe and Mail).

France says delivery of warships to Russia still on hold

France said on Thursday that the conditions were not yet met to deliver the first of two controversial Mistral warships to Russia, contradicting reports that Russia had received an invitation to take delivery on Nov. 14. “The conditions today are not met to deliver the Mistral,” French Finance Minister Michel Sapin told RTL radio in an interview. “What are these conditions? It is that in Ukraine we are in a situation that is becoming more normal, that allows for things to cool down.” RIA news agency on Wednesday quoted Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin as saying that the invitation was sent for Russia to take delivery of the first of two Mistral helicopter carriers from France on Nov. 14. RIA also quoted Rogozin as saying the second vessel would be put afloat the same day (Source: France24).

Ukraine gas supplies in doubt as Russia seeks EU payment deal

Ukraine’s efforts to unblock deliveries of Russian gas as winter sets in were deadlocked on Thursday as Moscow’s negotiators were quoted demanding firmer commitments from the European Union to cover Kiev’s pre-payments for energy. EU-hosted talks were adjourned after running late into the night, Energy Minister Alexander Novak and the head of Russian gas firm Gazprom (GAZP.MM) told Russian news agencies. They would resume later in the day if Ukraine and the EU had a firm financing deal in place, Gazprom head Alexei Miller said. Ukrainian and EU officials were not available. A spokeswoman for Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger issued a statement cancelling a news briefing that had been tentatively set for 8:30 a.m. (0730 GMT) in the event of an agreement. There has already been agreement on the price Kiev will pay for gas over the winter, the amount to be supplied and the repayment of some $3.1 billion in unpaid Ukrainian bills but Moscow, which cut off vital pipelines in June as the conflict with Ukraine and the West deepened, wants more legal assurances that Kiev can pay some $1.6 billion for new gas up front. Some critics of Russia question whether its motivation is financial or whether prolonging the wrangling with ex-Soviet Ukraine and its Western allies suits Moscow’s diplomatic agenda. Ukraine is in discussions with existing creditors the EU and the IMF and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, concerned about vital Russian gas supplies to the rest of Europe has spoken of bridging finance for Kiev. But the Russian negotiators said they wanted to see a signed agreement on EU financing for Ukraine (Source: Reuters).

Turkey finds out one is the loneliest number

The Justice and Development Party (AKP) leaders who have ruled Turkey for the past 12 years generally ignore and sometimes deny the criticism that they have pushed Turkey into loneliness in the region and the world because of their foreign policies. There is only a single reference of AKP officials accepting — with reservations and justifications of course — that they are the architects of Turkey’s loneliness. It is a 140-letter Turkish declaration in August 2013 in social media by Ibrahim Kalin, then-chief adviser to the prime minister. His tweet read: “The claim that Turkey is alone in the Middle East is not correct. But if this is a criticism then we must say. This is precious loneliness.” The AKP government opted to distance Turkey from the EU perspective and in general terms from the West and orient it to Middle East as a strategy compatible with Ankara’s internal and external politics. The outcome was loneliness also in Europe. In the General Assembly vote for two-year UN Security Council membership on Oct. 17, Turkey’s resounding defeat with 60 votes (against 132 votes for Spain) was noted as a dramatic illustration of Turkey’s loneliness in international organizations as well. Before Ahmet Davutoglu became foreign minister in 2008, Turkey received 151 votes to become a Security Council member for a two-year term. Clearly, the Turkey of 2008 wasn’t the same as the Turkey of 2014. The Turkey of 2014, with the ideologically based foreign policy of the Erdogan-Davutoglu duo, had shifted from the goal of “zero problems with neighbors” to “zero neighbors, many problems.” This Turkey has to cope with all the problems of Middle East instability and regional chaos (Source: Al-Monitor).

Nato reports rise in Russia military flights over Europe

Nato has reported an “unusual” increase in Russian military aircraft conducting manoeuvres over European airspace over the last two days. A Nato statement said four groups of aircraft, including Tu-95 Bear bombers and MiG-31 fighters, were tracked over seas and the Atlantic Ocean. Fighter aircraft from Norway, Britain, Portugal, Germany and Turkey were scrambled in response. Tensions between Russia and Nato states have soared over the Ukraine crisis. The US and EU imposed sanctions on Russia after its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula earlier this year. Ties have been further strained as the West has accused Russia of supporting rebels in eastern Ukraine – a charge Russia has denied. The Nato statement on Wednesday made no mention of Ukraine. It said that the “sizeable” Russian flights were unusual for their scale, although no incidents had been reported. The statement said Russian aircraft were detected flying over the Black Sea, the Baltic Sea, the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, prompting fighter jets from Nato member states to intercept and follow them. Overall, Nato said it had intercepted Russian aircraft more than 100 times so far this year – three times more than it did last year. “Scrambles and intercepts are standard procedure when an unknown aircraft approaches Nato airspace,” the statement said. However, it said, such flights pose a potential risk to civilian aviation because the Russian military often does not file flight plans or use on-board transponders. “This means civilian air traffic control cannot detect these aircraft nor ensure there is no interference with civilian air traffic,” the statement said (Source: BBC).

Russia Says West Must Cooperate With Syria Over Islamic State

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov accused the United States of hindering the global fight against the Islamic State by refusing to cooperate with the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, state news agency RIA Novosti reported Wednesday. “We are once again running up against the position of our Western colleagues, who do not want to cooperate with Assad’s regime for their own reasons — because they consider the regime illegitimate,” RIA Novosti quoted Gatilov as saying. “Without this cooperation, it is difficult to expect an effective result [in the fight against the Islamic State.]” Gatilov added that Russia had warned the West from the outbreak of civil conflict in Syria that there was a risk that it would result in the rise of terrorism there, but the West “didn’t really listen, because their goal is and was to overthrow Assad’s regime.” He also said that the Syrian government had claimed the Islamic State obtained chemical weapons, and that while Russia had no “concrete evidence” of this, it could not be ruled out, RIA reported. Gatilov took another jab at the West, saying that any intervention against the Islamic State on Syrian territory without consent from Damascus would be a violation of the country’s “sovereignty and territorial integrity,” RIA reported. The deputy foreign minister reiterated, however, that Moscow was committed to supporting the efforts of the United Nations’ special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, in resuming dialogue on the country’s stabilization (Source: The Moscow Times).

Is NATO membership shackling Turkey?

Sources close to the government also argue that NATO has acted irresponsibly in all recent crises in Turkey’s vicinity, abandoning Turkey to its fate (some believe this was done deliberately) and that NATO membership has forced Turkey to be part of policies and operations it actually opposed. Turkey’s political decision-makers believe NATO membership has hampered independent foreign policymaking, as illustrated in the 2011 Libya turmoil when Turkey had to reluctantly join NATO’s Operation Unified Protector, the crisis that followed Turkey’s selection of China as a prospective supplier of air defense systems. NATO’s fiats on Turkey in the Russia-Ukraine crisis and NATO’s failure to take any action after Syria shot down a Turkish fighter jet in June 2012 can be listed as the other examples. Turkish decision-makers believe that changing threat perceptions have resulted in NATO prioritizing the West’s security issues and ignoring those of Turkey, the alliance’s only Muslim member. Indeed, one can observe a widening gap between Turkey’s threat perceptions and favored solutions and those of the United States and the European Union, which form NATO’s core. Academic Sedat Laciner, for instance, writes, “Turkey is left between a rock and a hard place in many aspects on the issue of IS and Syria and Iraq. Ankara does not approve of IS’ methods, yet it boggles at Baghdad’s and Damascus’ policies of discrimination and ethnic cleansing against Sunnis. … In Turkey’s view, both IS and the sectarian rift in the region are the product of Baghdad’s and Damascus’ unacceptable policies. Hence, Ankara expects NATO members to rein in those two governments and support moderate groups” (Source: Al-Monitor).

EU, U.N. condemn Ukraine rebels' election plans

The European Union and United Nations condemned plans to hold elections in rebel-held areas of eastern Ukraine on Sunday, with the EU explicitly denouncing Moscow’s support for the separatists’ plans. In separate statements on Wednesday, two days after Russia said it would recognize the rebel ballots, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the EU’s foreign affairs service said the voting would undermine last month’s outline peace deal struck in Minsk between Kiev and Moscow. While Ban’s spokesman did not directly criticize Russia, a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, the EU statement hit out at Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for his comments on Monday in support of the separatists’ plans. “We deplore Minister Lavrov’s remarks about Russia’s forthcoming recognition of the elections,” the spokesman of the European External Action Service said, just as EU officials were trying to broker a deal in Brussels between Moscow and Kiev to ensure Russian gas supplies to Ukraine over the coming winter. The EU echoed a call from the United States following Sunday’s parliamentary election in Ukraine for Russia to help ensure people in Donetsk and Luhansk could vote in local ballots being organized nationwide by the Kiev authorities on Dec. 7. Saying the Minsk accord called for local elections in those regions to be held in accordance with Ukrainian law, it added: “The holding of ‘presidential’ and ‘parliamentary’ elections, called by the self-appointed authorities, would run counter to the letter and spirit of the Minsk Protocol and disrupt progress towards finding a sustainable political solution” (Source: Reuters).