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Ukraine crisis triggers increase in support for national service in Poland

Increasing numbers of Poles favour a return to national service to boost the strength of the country’s armed forces owing to the crisis in Ukraine. When Poland ditched conscription in 2008 and moved to creating a professional army opinion polls showed 54 per cent of the population backed the idea. But the results of a new opinion poll published in Gazeta Wyborcza, a respected Polish newspaper, has revealed that figure has now fallen to 47 per cent, while those in favour of a return to conscription has jumped from 26 per cent to 37 per cent. The war in Ukraine and Russia’s apparent return to imperial policy has increased anxiety in Poland over the future. The country has experienced Soviet invasion and occupation within living memory, and still retains a deep mistrust of Moscow. “Increased public support for conscription is probably linked to worries about security caused by the conflict in neighbouring Ukraine,” said Tadeusz Wrobel, from the military magazine Polish Arms. The same poll also showed that 24 per cent of Poles now feel the end of conscription has contributed to a decline in national security, compared to just 14 per cent six years ago. Barbara Badora, from CBOS, the company that carried out the research, added that support for conscription was even across all age groups. Despite the growing support for a return to conscription, and fears over the war in Ukraine, the Polish government says it has no plans to reintroduce the draft. “Today we have a system based on professional army and the level of training is improving all the time,” said Jacek Sonta, spokesman for the Polish defence ministry. “We have not even considered a return to conscription” (Source: The Telegraph).

Russia a greater danger than ISIS

Russia is both a tragedy and a menace. In an article in the Financial Times on Sunday (republished by Gulf News on Wednesday), Sergey Karaganov offered an arresting insight into the blend of self-pity and braggadocio currently at work in Moscow. It is as depressing as it is disturbing. Western policy makers seem to believe the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) is the greater danger. But Russia is the nuclear-armed rump of a former superpower and, ruled by an amoral autocrat, it frightens me even more. For Europe and, I believe, the US, there is no greater foreign policy question than how to deal with today’s Russia. The west “proclaimed itself victor in the Cold War”, according to Karaganov. Maybe the origin of the tragedy can be found in this remark. The West did not just proclaim itself victor; it was the victor. A defensive alliance defeated the Soviet Union because it offered a better way of life. That is why so many wanted to escape the Soviet prison, including many once-optimistic Russians. Yet President Vladimir Putin, the latest in a long line of Russian autocrats, has stated, instead: “The collapse of the Soviet Union was a major geopolitical disaster of the century.” It was, in fact, an opportunity, one that many in central and eastern Europe seized with both hands. The transition to a new way of life proved unavoidably difficult. The world they now inhabit is highly imperfect. But they have mostly joined the world of civilised modernity. What does this mean? It means intellectual and economic freedom. It means the right to engage freely in public life. It means governments subject to the rule of law and accountable to their people (Source: Gulf News).

Under Pressure, Ukraine Leader to Seek Aid on U.S. Visit

Seeking elusive military and economic aid from the United States, President Petro O. Poroshenko of Ukraine headed to North America on Tuesday, while also facing increasingly skeptical questions both here and abroad about the slow pace of change. A White House meeting with President Obama and an address to a joint session of Congress on Thursday are likely to generate fresh moral support, if little else, for Ukraine in its conflict with Russia. “It is a clear sign of solidarity and support from the United States,” Pavlo Klimkin, the foreign minister, said in a brief interview before leaving. Photo opportunities alone are enough to help Mr. Poroshenko domestically, although given its raft of problems, Ukraine would like more. Winter looms with gas supplies from Russia cut off; it is unclear that limited self-rule for Russian-backed separatists regions is enough to satisfy the Kremlin; and the country is spending itself toward bankruptcy. Ukraine’s leaders tried to put a celebratory face on new laws pushed through Parliament on Tuesday, even if they were mostly symbolic at this stage. One ratified closer economic and political ties with Europe, while the second tried to cement a recent truce with the separatists by supporting temporary self-rule for the regions of Luhansk and Donetsk. “We are fixing the 350-year-old mistake: Ukraine is Europe,” Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk, the prime minister, told Parliament, known as the Rada. “It’s a shame that this agreement is sealed with blood. But that was the choice. That was the price of independence” (Source: The New York Times).

Will the UK stand for yet another war in Iraq?

The atrocious murder of David Haines puts the United Kingdom and in particular Prime Minister David Cameron front and center in the evolving battle against ISIS. It’s not as though he is short of work, with a referendum in Scotland this week and a problematic relationship with the European Union among current elections next year dominating a crowded schedule. But the PM must now mobilize the British public for another campaign in Iraq, mindful that the last one was widely opposed. Revulsion at the beheading of three hostages will likely provide a bedrock of support. There are a wide variety of options including: surveillance and support operations, limited airstrikes against ISIS positions in Iraq, extending those airstrikes to ISIS targets in Syria or even inserting Special Forces in support of the Syrian resistance, Iraqi Kurds or the Iraqi military. Cameron has been forthright about his government’s determination to take down ISIS, saying at the weekend: “Step by step we will drive back, dismantle and ultimately destroy ISIL [also used as an acronym for the group] and what it stands for. We will do so in a calm, deliberate way but with an iron determination.” He added: “We will do everything in our power to hunt down these murderers and ensure they face justice, however long it takes.” Implying the UK would join in air strikes, British Defense Minister Michael Fallon has told Royal Air Force personnelinvolved in surveillance flights: “There may well now be in the next few weeks and months other ways that we may need to help save life and protect people” (Source: CNN).

Romania: Russia playing games with gas supplies to spread concern

Romania’s energy minister said on Tuesday Russia was playing games with gas supplies to cause concerns in EU states, after analysts warned that Moscow could use the flows to retaliate against sanctions imposed over its role in Ukraine. Razvan Nicolescu said Russia’s state-owned Gazprom had warned of an imminent 10 percent cut in gas to the country on Monday, only to say supplies would keep to their normal levels until at least Thursday a day later. “I expect such situations to happen again. It is a game attempting to cause concern in some EU states. It has happened in Poland, Slovakia, Austria,” Nicolescu told an energy seminar. “I think those who play such games are going to lose a lot in the medium and long term by … damage to their reputation.” Nicolescu said Gazprom had given no reason for the initial planned cut. The company was not available to comment but said it was satisfying the needs of its “European partners,” in a statement after its board meeting on Tuesday. With winter approaching, Russia’s customers have been on particularly high alert for any sign Moscow could use its role as Europe’s biggest gas supplier to strike back at economic penalties imposed by the EU and Washington over Ukraine. The United States, NATO and Ukraine’s government have accused Russia of sending troops into eastern Ukraine to bolster pro-Moscow separatist rebels. Russia has dismissed the charge. Poland, Slovakia and Austria have reported slight declines in shipments in recent days from Russia (Source: Reuters).

Does France have what it takes to become a major diplomatic player in the fight against ISIS?

Few would dispute that the French have compelling military intelligence on Syria due to historic and strategic reasons, but its data on Iraq is limited – considerably inferior to that of the United States. Paradoxically, Paris will not intervene in Syria to oust Bashar al-Assad, a move President Francois Hollande was pushing for last August before he was thwarted at the last minute by his US counterpart, Barack Obama. Now France says it is ready to take part in the US-led air strikes against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) targets in Iraq. So what has changed? For several months, facing ISIL’s rapid expansion, Hollande and his minister of foreign affairs, Laurent Fabius, frequently made reference to last year’s backtracking on military intervention in Syria, which they consider one of their greater policy failings. They believe the Russians took advantage of Obama’s perceived lack of resolve to act decisively – not only in Syria but also in the Crimea. That’s why the French now feel obliged to participate in the US-led initiative against ISIL, even though France was in a better position militarily to take action in Syria due to their superior military intelligence in the country. Paris will now be forced to rely on US intelligence and to receive and execute orders from Washington. Notwithstanding the scepticism of the French people, there are some domestic political calculations behind France’s willingness to take part in the intervention in Iraq. Let’s consider Hollande’s plummeting approval ratings – he has scored 12 percent in recent popularity polls. Perhaps he reckons that a bold international move could demonstrate his leadership skills to the electorate. After all, his inability to lead from the front is the major criticism levelled against him these days (Source: Al Jazeera).

Russia will set up a full-scale military unit in Crimea in response to the "rising foreign military presence"

Russia will set up a full-scale military unit on the annexed peninsula of Crimea in response to “rising foreign military presence” next to Russia, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Tuesday, Interfax news agency reported. One of his ministry’s key tasks now is to “deploy a full-scale and self-sufficient force grouping” in the Crimea region, Mr. Shoigu said. The statement comes a day after the North Atlantic Treaty Organization began military exercises with troops from the U.S. and other NATO members near the city of Lviv in western Ukraine. The exercises had been slated to take place earlier but were delayed to Sept. 15-26 because of the turmoil in eastern Ukraine. The U.S. and NATO accuse Russia of deploying tens of thousands of troops along its border with Ukraine. Moscow initially denied that its troops accompanied the annexation of Crimea, but President Vladimir Putin later admitted that troops were deployed on the peninsula before a local referendum on secession from Ukraine in mid-March. Russia has repeatedly said it has no troops on the Ukrainian territory (Source: The Wall Street Journal).

Zimbabwe, Russia sign $3 bn platinum mining deal

Russia and Zimbabwe signed Tuesday a $3 billion deal to jointly mine platinum in the southern African country, the world’s third largest producer, with Moscow providing the investment funds. The project will see production of nearly 600,000 ounces a year, making it the largest platinum mine in Zimbabwe. Veteran President Robert Mugabe said the deal, expected to create 8,000 jobs, “will see us rise as a nation”. “It will see our performance, socio-economic, also rise as greater development takes place,” he said. “We couldn’t do it with enemies. No. We can only do it with our friends,” said Mugabe, whose government has largely been shunned by most Western nations. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Industry Minister Denis Manturov signed the deal on behalf of Russia. Foreign Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi and Mines Minister Walter Chidhakwa signed the agreement for Zimbabwe creating Great Dyke Investments (Pvt) Ltd. The $3 billion will fund the development of the Darwendale Platinum mine northwest of the capital Harare and the construction of a smelter, according to the company’s chief executive Hesphina Rukato. “There is a provision for the establishment of a refinery subject to ongoing discussion. This will bring the total investment level to $4 billion.” Exploration is set to begin this year. Chidhakwa said the country’s platinum output should rise to 1 million ounces per year by 2019. Three miners already operating in the country — Zimplats, Mimosa and Unki — have a combined output of 430,000 ounces a year (Source: France24).

Putin Just Got Exactly What He Wanted in Eastern Ukraine

The “frozen conflict” that Russia has been angling for in Eastern Ukraine effectively begins today. The Ukrainian parliament approved two bills put forward by President Petro Poroshenko on Tuesday morning, offering amnesty to rebels not guilty of serious crimesand granting three years of self-rule to rebel-held territory in Donetsk and Luhansk. The bills are huge concessions to Russia and Russian-backed rebels. The decision to grant rebels self-rule, for example, makes official the results of the illegal referendum held in the east in May, when the separatists claimed to have secured nearly 90 percent of the people’s vote in favor of autonomy. British Foreign Secretary William Hague called the May referendum “illegal by anybody’s standards.” The Kremlin called for it to be immediately implemented. Four months later, look who got their way. According to Poroshenko, the three-year stipulation is necessary to ensure adequate constitutional reform, after which he expects Donetsk and Luhansk to somehow return to the fold of the Ukrainian government. “During this time we will be able to introduce the issue of profound decentralization which must also provide for respective amendments to the Constitution,” Poroshenko said. “There is nothing more important for us than peace.” He also called for local elections in November to determine who will control the self-ruled areas. A frozen conflict, when the Kremlin is involved, is what happens when, as the BBC put it, “a bloody, territorial conflict with no obvious solution is put on hold, with Russia stepping in to keep the peace on its own terms.” On Tuesday, the self-declared Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republicsannounced they are merging their militias into a single force, the United Army of Novorossiya, which will liberate Ukraine from “Nazi scum” (Source: The New Republic).