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Ukraine prosecutor opens criminal case against Russian officials

Ukrainian state prosecutors said on Tuesday they had opened a criminal investigation against a Russian law enforcement agency, accusing it of supporting separatist and “terrorist” groups in the east of the country. The move appeared to be a tit-for-tat response to a criminal case launched on Monday by Russia against “unidentified representatives of Ukraine’s senior political and military leadership”, National Guard and nationalist organizations, in which it accused them of committing “genocide”. The two legal investigations will further ratchet up tensions between the two ex-Soviet neighbors and put pressure on a ceasefire agreed on Sept. 5 between Kiev’s forces and pro-Russian separatists that has been marred by daily skirmishes and artillery shelling. In a statement, the Ukrainian prosecutor general’s office said it had opened a criminal investigation against officials of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation, a law enforcement body that answers only to President Vladimir Putin. The statement accused the Russian officials of “carrying out illegal interference” in the work of Ukraine’s law enforcement bodies and armed forces. “(This interference) is aimed at aiding the terrorist organizations ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ and ‘Luhansk People’s Republic’ in their criminal activities and obstructing the performance of duties by government officials,” it said. The separatists have declared two “states” in mainly Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine centered on the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk and say they will not return to Kiev’s rule (Source: Reuters).

Russia's Putin to Visit Serbia in Mid-October

Russian President Vladimir Putin will pay a visit to Serbia on October 16, the Kremlin press service said Tuesday. During talks with Serbian President Tomislav Nicolic and Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, the Russian leader will discuss “key issues of bilateral cooperation, first of all in the trade and economic sphere,” the Kremlin said in a statement (Source: RIA Novosti).

Merkel flags review of Russia energy partnership

Germany and the EU might need to reevaluate their energy policies with Russia, if Moscow continued to violate basic principles in eastern Ukraine, chancellor Angela Merkel said on Monday. However, she added that there were good reasons to continue the deal, and any future review should not completely cut it off. Following talks with Finnish prime minister Alexander Stubb in Berlin, Merkel said there were no opportunities to scale back economic sanctions against Moscow. “Unfortunately, we are a very long way away from that,” Merkel said, adding that the situation in eastern Ukraine was “anything but satisfactory.” “The elementary question of the cease-fire is not yet cleared up, still less the future status and cooperation between the Luhansk and Donetsk regions and the Ukrainian central government,” Merkel said. “There is no protection of the border along the entire Luhansk and Donetsk region – no control, no buffer zones, and all of that is the minimum condition for us to be able to consider revoking sanctions. She said a complete ceasefire was necessary in the region, and for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to monitor free elections in Ukraine in agreement with the government in Kyiv. Both Kyiv and several Western countries have repeatedly blamed Moscow for supporting the insurgency in eastern Ukraine with weapons and personnel, but Russia has adamantly denied involvement. Stubb, whose country shares a long land border with Russia, said Helsinki would not apply for membership in NATO (Source: Deutsche Welle).

Belgium begins largest 'terrorism' trial

Belgiian prosecutors have begun the country’s biggest-ever terrorism trial, accusing 46 men of being members of a terrorist organisation that indoctrinated young men to fight in Syria. Nine of those charged were present in court in Antwerp on Monday, including the alleged ringleader Fouad Belkacem. The others were allegedly still in Syria, with many possibly dead in the fighting there. Prosecutors said the accused belonged to Sharia4Belgium, a group disbanded two years ago which prosectors say was led by the 32-year-old Belkacem.  Members, the court heard, approached young men and a few teenage women in Antwerp and Vilvoorde, north of Brussels, to invite them to their centre in Antwerp where they were indoctrinated and readied for their trip to Syria. “The clear aim was to prepare them for armed combat,” Luc Festraets, a prosecutor, told the court. Ann Fransen, another prosecutor, said evidence woud be presented in the trial of Belkacem telling his alleged followers that “jihad” was as important in Islam as praying and fasting. “Belkacem’s words can only be interpreted as a call to violence and jihad,” said Fransen. Once in Syria, the recruits joined organisations such as the Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, and groups which now aligned with or part of the ISIL group, prosecutors said. Quoting from tapped telephone conversations and statements by one of the suspects, who will be a key prosecution witness, Fransen said the accused were deeply entwined with the groups inspired by fighting in Syria. Sharia4Belgium was disbanded nearly two years ago. Prosecutors now want to prove it was a terrorist organisation. Fransen said that leading a terrorism group has a maximum sentence of 20 years (Source: Al Jazeera).

Russia, Egypt to discuss MiG-35 fighter jets deal in October

Russia plans to hold talks in Egypt next month over the latter’s planned purchase of MiG-35 fighter jets, reported Russian news agency ITAR-TASS on Monday. “They [Egyptian representatives] visited our corporation. We hope that we will be invited to technical talks next month,” Director-General of Russia’s Aircraft Corporation MiG Sergei Korotkov said. The deal, which is reportedly worth LE21 billion ($3 billion), was reported in February amid suggestions Egypt is aiming to reduce its military cooperation with the US, whose ties with the North African country took a turn after the ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi last year. In an interview during the last presidential election, however, Egypt’s president Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, stressed that Egypt has always had strong ties with Russia and that this does not affect cooperation with the US. Since signing a peace treaty with Israel in 1970, Egypt has been receiving some LE9.1 billion ($1.3 billion) in annual US military aid. Egypt had strong ties with Russia in the 1950s and 1960s, as the Soviet Union was the main supplier of arms to Egypt until the early 1970s. After Morsi’s ouster, the United States held the delivery of Apache helicopters but decided to lift its ban in April. The attack aircrafts are yet to be delivered, with El-Sisi calling on the US to send them in a recent televised interview with American station, CBS (Source: Aswat Masriya).

ISIS Is Russia’s Problem, Too, and This Chechen Is One Reason Why

Red-bearded Abu Omar has become a symbol of much that Washington hates and fears in its war on ISIS or ISIL, as the group is widely known: he is a foreign fighter—a convert to Islam, no less—and a veteran of the U.S.-trained Georgian military. He’s proved able to implement devastating tactics against the Kurdish and Iraqi armies, and wreaked havoc with the moderate Syrian rebel forces the Americans are rushing to train. According to U.S. intelligence, he is a member of the shura council, a group of the top ISIS leaders; he helped organize the seizure of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, and now commands ISIS forces in northern Syria that are the focus of the American-led bombing campaign. His units are believed to have about 1,000 foreign fighters in their ranks, and may have been responsible for holding foreign hostages. But Abu Omar also is a figure whose history on the battlefield extends into the rebellious Russian province of neighboring Chechnya, where his mother had her roots. And even as he plots defenses against American and allied air raids, he is taunting Vladimir Putin and his allies in Grozny. One of the friends, a drop-out from Georgian Technical University who wore a beard and no mustache, a look typical of many would-be jihadis, said that most of his friends were thinking of hopping on a bus and going first to Turkey and then to join Abu Omar’s troops in northern Syria, “to die for Allah.” The current front line around Kobane, Syria, is only a day’s drive away. To them, anybody supporting Bashar Assad or joining the war against ISIS is taken to be a direct enemy (Source: The Daily Beast).

Will Turkey put 'boots on the ground' in Syria?

When the Turkish parliament reconvenes Sept. 30 after a summer recess, the Turkish government is expected to submit authorization requests detailing Turkey’s potential role in the US-led coalition against the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria. On Oct. 2, the parliament is expected to vote on the requests, which are likely to ask for authority to engage Turkish ground forces outside Turkey’s borders. Separate authorization requests are expected for the Iraqi and Syrian theaters. Although the Turkish opposition stands firmly against using ground forces outside the country’s borders, the government appears to be arguing for a broad authorization in case there is a sudden strike against Turkey, while at the same time arguing that Turkey will mainly provide logistical and humanitarian support to the coalition. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan detailed Turkey’s plan on Sept. 27 while saying he was attempting to persuade the international community to establish a safe zone inside Syria along the Turkish border, a no-fly zone in Syria and military training for the Syrian opposition to bring about the end of the Syrian regime. Ankara still considers the main problem in Syria to be its long-lasting authoritarian government; top Turkish leaders think that once Syrian President Bashar al-Assad goes, all will be normalized in the country in a matter of time. Erdogan said Turkish ground forces might form a part of achieving this goal. “If there is a military operation, who will protect our borders? The military. Therefore, if there is a threat to the homeland, the military will engage in a military operation,” Erdogan said, while leaving the mission of such an operation vague. And it so happens that the US-led coalition’s goal is not to end the Assad regime, but to eliminate the IS threat (Source: Al-Monitor).

Turkey's Syria plan

One of the turning points in Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s five-day trip to New York for the UN meetings was the telephone call he got from US President Barack Obama and the meeting he had with Vice President Joe Biden immediately after the call. Speaking after those discussions, held at US request, officials said Turkey’s demands and proposals with respect to Syria were largely accepted. And the replies Erdogan gave to reporters’ questions on the flight back from New York show that Turkey’s course of action has begun to take shape. In a signal of determination, Erdogan stated during the flight that Turkey would fulfill the tasks it would receive following the work of the coalition, stressing that Turkey would take action following a security meeting in Ankara and the expected parliamentary approval of a government motion seeking authorization for cross-border military action. Ankara’s military course of action is also taking shape according to this plan. The General Staff has drawn up several options for the would-be safe zone on the Syrian side. Preparations have been completed to implement those plans on the ground in line with the instructions the government would give. Military experts stress that the belt to be set up on the Syrian side should be termed a “safe zone” rather than “buffer zone.” A buffer zone, they say, is set up between the forces of two warring countries and since Turkey and Syria are not fighting each other, a measure to be taken for security purposes cannot be called a “buffer zone.” According to military sources, the planned safe zone along the Syrian border will not have a uniform width, but be a sinuous belt of varying breadths (Source: Al-Monitor).

Croatia and the EU - what difference has a year made?

Fireworks, fanfares and a massed chorus of Ode To Joy heralded Croatia’s entry to the European Union last year. But the champagne moment did not last long. The country is still stuck in a seemingly endless recession that would tempt even the most sober-minded Croatian to reach for a stiff shot of rakija. It now seems unavoidable that Croatia will stagger into 2015 in recession for the sixth successive year. And finding the way out is proving a far from simple task. Over the past month, analysts have been raising the possibility of Brussels and the International Monetary Fund offering an economic aid programme. But that would depend on Croatia making big cuts to public spending and encouraging new businesses. At this point the first step seems unlikely. Cutting public spending would be political poison ahead of a general election due to be held towards the end of next year. As for helping new businesses, Croatia still seems to be finding its feet after decades as part of communist Yugoslavia. And though EU membership theoretically brings access to various funds for small and medium enterprises, actually getting hold of the cash can be a challenge. Ivo Friganovic raises his eyebrows and takes a ruminative puff of his cigarette as he considers the conundrum facing Croatian business owners. He is the senior director for innovation at HAMAG-BICRO, a government agency that looks to foster the growth of new businesses, focusing on scientific and technological fields. Before EU accession he warned that Croatia was “illiterate in business terms” – and he is disappointed to find that little seems to have changed. In particular he is frustrated that the country has yet to take advantage of EU structural funds to give companies a push in the right direction (Source: BBC).

Ukraine's Poroshenko Continues to Look West Despite Russia's Opposition

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has secured a temporary peace in the troubled east, which he says gives him a chance to move Ukraine towards its dream of a place in Europe — but Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin still holds cards that could thwart him. And, a month away from a parliamentary election which he hopes will bring a strong coalition of support for sweeping reforms, Poroshenko’s peace plan is coming under greater criticism at home — even from some of his erstwhile allies. A U.S. refusal to provide Kiev with high-precision weaponry required to beat Russian-backed separatists on the battlefield, and the European Union’s move to defer implementation of part of a key pact with Ukraine to appease Moscow have spelled the clear message that Western support for Kiev has its limits. Meanwhile, Poroshenko’s plan to give three years of limited self-rule to the separatists in the east — an idea which he still has to fully “sell” to his pro-Western political elite — is being undermined by the independence-minded rebels. They say they want no part of any grand scheme from Kiev. The main problem for Poroshenko is that his dream of taking Ukraine into the European mainstream is fundamentally opposed by Putin who appears set on doing all he can to make the former Soviet republic of 46 million ineligible as a European partner. This makes any further steps taken by Putin potential game-changers. Both NATO and the Kiev military say there has been a significant withdrawal of Russian forces from inside Ukraine after an intervention in August they say tipped the balance of power on the ground towards pro-Moscow rebels (Source: The Moscow Times).