Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey said Thursday that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s new use of Russian military force inside Ukraine harkens back to 1939 when Joseph Stalin led a Russian invasion of Poland, and Dempsey predicted Putin was far from finished. Dempsey was speaking to the Aspen Security Forum and responding to the news that the U.S. government is accusing the Russian military of firing artillery from Russian territory into eastern Ukraine in support of separatists there. The latest development represents a dangerous escalation of the crisis on the part of Putin and the Russia-Ukraine crisis is now a global problem, he said. “It does change the situation. You’ve got a Russian government that has made a conscious decision to use its military force inside another sovereign nation to achieve its objectives. It’s the first time since 1939 or so that that’s been the case,” Dempsey said. “They clearly are on a path to assert themselves differently not just in Eastern Europe, but Europe in the main, and towards the United States.” Since 2008, the Russian military has increased its capability, proficiency, and the level of its activities, indicating Putin’s worldwide ambitions, Dempsey said. The strategy is Putin’s alone, he added, and said much of Russia’s military were probably reluctant participants in Putin’s war (Source: The Daily Beast — http://thebea.st/1rQtPAh).
Russia’s military is likely a reluctant participant in Ukraine’s conflict, the top U.S. military officer said on Thursday, adding that although he had not spoken to his Moscow counterpart in about two months he was keeping an open line of communication. “I think the Russian military and its leaders that I know are probably somewhat reluctant participants in this form of warfare,” General Martin Dempsey said, noting Russia’s use of both conventional forces along the border and of proxies inside the country. His comments came as the United States accused Russia of firing artillery across its border with Ukraine to target Ukrainian military positions in the conflict with pro-Russian separatists. The State Department also said there was evidence that Russia intended to deliver heavier and more powerful multiple rocket launchers to the separatist forces. “I think it does change the situation,” Dempsey said, speaking at a security forum in Aspen, Colorado. He added that instead of de-escalating, Russia’s president Vladimir Putin has “actually taken a decision to escalate.” Russia has in the past denied it is directly involved with the rebellion in its western neighbor. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, voiced concerns about the implications of Russia’s actions on its ties with the United States and with Europe. “My real concern is that having lit this fire in an isolated part of eastern Europe, it may not stay in eastern Europe. And I think that’s a real risk,” Dempsey said (Source: Reuters — http://reut.rs/1nzw22g).
Andreas Mavroyiannis and Kudret Ozersay hold one of the toughest jobs in the world: As the chief negotiators for the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot governments, respectively, the two men are commissioned to resolve a national, territorial and humanitarian dispute that started before they were even born. Although much less violent now, Cyprus bears similarities to other conflicts in the Levant, especially Israel-Palestine, the Shiite-Sunni divide and the Kurdish question. Just like the mediators of those conflicts, it is unclear whether Mavroyiannis and Ozersay can break the deadlock and broker a peaceful future for the Mediterranean island. For 40 years, the island has remained divided amid a quiet but sullen peace. Successive efforts for reunification have failed because the two sides remember their history too well and do not trust each other because of it. Fast forward 40 years and the citizens of both the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (which only Turkey recognizes) and the Greek Cypriot-dominated Republic of Cyprus (which only Turkey does not recognize) both feel short-changed. Greek Cypriots, a substantial number of whom lived in the Turkish-controlled north before 1974, demand the return of their homes and maintain a brutally effective embargo against Turkish Cypriots. Turkish Cypriots, though more secure than they were in 1954-74, are slighted by the Greek Cypriot-backed international embargo, which makes it onerous for them to trade and travel around the world (Source: Al-Monitor — http://almon.co/258e).
The west is imposing “illegal, unreasonable and counter-productive” sanctions against Russia based on internet forgeries that do not prove any of its missiles shot down the Malaysian airliner, the Russian ambassador to London has said. Shortly before the European Union announced further sanctions against individuals and businesses linked to the Kremlin on Thursday night, Alexander Yakovenko condemned the trade restrictions that have already been imposed and warned that any more “may well trigger a long anticipated endgame of the present global crisis”. The EU agreed at a meeting on Thursday to add 15 people and 18 companies or other organisations to the bloc’s sanctions list for undermining Ukraine‘s territorial integrity, diplomats said. But they failed to reach agreement on economic sanctions and will resume discussions on Friday, they added. Philip Hammond, the foreign secretary, has joined the US and Ukraine in saying there is strong reason to believe the Malaysian airliner was shot down by pro-Putin separatists using a Soviet-era Russian-made Buk missile, killing 298 people. On Thursday night, the US state department said it had evidence Russia intended to deliver “heavier and more powerful” rocket launchers to separatists in Ukraine. However, Yakovenko said Russia had never given weapons to the separatists (Source: The Guardian — http://gu.com/p/4v8gv/tw).
In a damning decision for Poland, the European Court of Human Rights ruled on Wednesday that the country broke the European Convention on Human Rights by allowing the CIA to detain and torture two terror suspects on its territory. The two men — Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri of Saudi Arabia and Abu Zubaydah, a Palestinian — were reportedly held at a CIA black site at a Polish military base at different times in 2002 and 2003. The European convention prohibits the use of torture. “The Court found that Poland had cooperated in the preparation and execution of the CIA rendition, secret detention, and interrogation operations on its territory and it ought to have known that by enabling the CIA to detain the applicants on its territory, it was exposing them to a serious risk of treatment contrary to the Convention,” the court said in a statement. Lawyers for the two men brought their cases before the European court after an investigation in Poland by domestic prosecutors languished in the country’s courts, which have been investigating the case for six years. The men, alleged members of al Qaeda currently held at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, were granted “victim” status by Polish courts. The European court ruled Thursday that the Polish state should pay the men $135,000 each in damages and awarded Abu Zubaydah $40,000 to pay for unspecified costs (Source: Foreign Policy – http://goo.gl/8pCV1M).
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).