The Times’ Obsession with Russia: Russia Continues to Train and Equip Ukraine Rebels, NATO Official Says

World  – Europe

The Times – November 3, 2014

Rebel election officials said that Aleksandr Zakharchenko, left, had won in Donetsk  and that Igor Plotnitsky had won in Luhansk. Associated Press

Rebel election officials said that Aleksandr Zakharchenko, left, had won in Donetsk and that Igor Plotnitsky had won in Luhansk. Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Hundreds of Russian troops are still training and equipping separatists in Ukraine, NATO’s top military commander said Monday, activities that are heightening tensions with the West and Ukraine’s government that were aggravated by Sunday’s elections in the breakaway regions of eastern Ukraine.

As the Russian Foreign Ministry appears to be moving toward recognizing the results of the voting, which was dismissed by the United States as a “sham,” Western officials are increasingly concerned that the Kremlin may be taking the steps necessary to establish an enclave that remains outside Kiev’s control.

During a visit to the Pentagon, the commander, Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, echoed those worries, telling reporters that “I am concerned that the conditions are there that could create a frozen conflict.”

Moscow followed that blueprint after the war with Georgia in 2008, establishing enclaves in Abkhazia and South Ossetia to ensure that the territorially compromised nation could not join NATO. It did the same earlier with Transnistria, a breakaway territory of Moldova where Russians have been stationed.

The concern now is that a buffer zone between Ukrainian and separatist forces, established as part of a September cease-fire, may become a de facto border of the new enclave. Meanwhile, the border between eastern Ukraine and Russia has remained open.

“We have seen a general trend towards a hardening of this line of demarcation and much more softening of the actual Ukraine-Russia border,” General Breedlove said.

“The Ukraine-Russia border is wide open,” he added. “It is completely porous. Russian equipment, resupply, training flows back and forth freely.”

Though the Kremlin has denied that it has sent forces into Ukraine, General Breedlove said about 250 to 300 Russian soldiers are still in the country.

“These are not fighting formations,” he said. “These are formations and specialists who are in there doing training and equipping of the separatist forces.”

And as the Sunday vote approached, he reported, some Russian military units edged closer to Russia’s border with Ukraine, an intimidating move that appeared intended to caution the Ukrainian government not to intervene.

“Some of those formations have moved closer to the border,” General Breedlove said. “We believe that was probably to bring some pressure on and make sure that the elections went according to the separatists’ plans.”

On Saturday, in another show of force, a column of about 60 unmarked military trucks drove through Donetsk.

In total, Russia has seven battalions near Ukraine, down from the 18 battalions — about 20,000 troops — it had there in August. But the forces are enough to maintain Russia’s influence in the area and to buttress Moscow’s efforts to help the separatists.

On Monday, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) reported that pro-Russian fighters had fired on one of its surveillance drones the day before as it was filming pro-Russian forces on the move near a Ukrainian checkpoint. “New drones under fire east of the contact line,” the group said in a post on Twitter.

The organization issued a statement saying the drone was flying at an altitude of about 5,000 feet near Mariupol, in the south of the Donetsk region, on the pro-Russian side of the front. It was filming a civilian truck when “a canvas covering on the back of the truck was removed, revealing a truck-mounted antiaircraft gun, which immediately fired numerous rounds” at the drone but missed.

Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, has said he does not want a crystallization of the status quo into a frozen conflict, but the Russian Foreign Ministry nevertheless issued a statement saying it would respect the outcome of separatist elections.

Russia “respects the choice made by residents of the southeast” of Ukraine, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Grigory Karasin, later told the Interfax news agency.

“Our position is that the elected representatives of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions thereby received a mandate to hold negotiations with the central Ukrainian authorities and, acting as part of their political dialogue, tackle all the problems that have accumulated over many months,” Mr. Karasin said.

The ministry statement stopped short of recognizing the outcome of the vote, but still drew a din of criticism from European officials.

Steffen Seibert, the spokesman for Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, told reporters in Berlin that it was “incomprehensible that there are official Russian voices that are respecting or even recognizing these so-called elections.”

The turn of events in the rebellious territories ruled out any early lifting of European sanctions imposed on Russia and could lead to further sanctions if security deteriorated, Mr. Seibert said.

The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said in a statement, “I consider today’s ‘presidential and parliamentary elections’ in Donetsk and Luhansk ‘People’s Republics’ a new obstacle on the path toward peace.”

The Ukrainian government has refused to negotiate directly with the rebel leadership outside of the O.S.C.E.-brokered cease-fire talks that include European and Russian officials, and it calls the separatist leadership “terrorists.” President Petro O. Poroshenko described Sunday’s elections as a farce.

The rebel central election committee in Donetsk said Aleksandr Zakharchenko, a former electrician, had won the election with about 78 percent of the vote. Mr. Zakharchenko commanded a pro-Russian militia, Oplot, until August, when the Donetsk Supreme Soviet elevated him to prime minister, replacing a Russian citizen in a leadership shuffle intended to put a local face on the movement. Mr. Zakharchenko is a Russian-speaking ethnic Ukrainian.

In Luhansk, election officials said Igor Plotnitsky, a former public health inspector, had won with about 63 percent of the vote. The elections in both regions offered few plausible alternatives, and separatist officials said the purpose of the voting was to legitimize the leadership and compel Kiev to negotiate with them.

European Union Lowers Growth Forecasts as Business Confidence Sags

“The economic and employment situation is not improving fast enough,” said Jyrki Katainen, the European Commission vice president for jobs and growth. Credit

“The economic and employment situation is not improving fast enough,” said Jyrki Katainen, the European Commission vice president for jobs and growth. Credit

“The economic and employment situation is not improving fast enough,” said Jyrki Katainen, the European Commission vice president for jobs and growth.

The Times – 5 November 2014

BRUSSELS — European Union officials on Tuesday sharply lowered growth forecasts as member states like France, Germany and Italy showed weak economic performance, and as business confidence suffered from heightened geopolitical risks.

Growth is expected to be a meager 1.3 percent in the 28-member bloc this year, instead of the 1.6 percent predicted in the spring, said the European Commission, the union’s executive arm. And the economy is not expected to get much better in 2015, when growth in Germany, the region’s economic engine, is expected to grind down to about 1 percent.

“The economic and employment situation is not improving fast enough,” Jyrki Katainen, the European Commission vice president for jobs and growth, said in a statement accompanying the closely watched economic forecast.

The European Commission’s Report on Economic Growth [PDF]
Shipping containers in the Hamburg harbor. Gross domestic product in Germany shrank by 0.2 percent from the first quarter.
Eurozone Recovery Stalls, With Weakness in Germany and France.
Shop windows in Rome advertise sales. The latest economic news dashed hopes that Italy was emerging from a decade of stagnation.
Italy Falls Back Into Recession, Raising Concern for Eurozone Economy.
Olli Rehn, the European Union’s commissioner for economics and monetary affairs, said growth this year is expected to flatline in the 28 countries of the Union.  E.U. Predicts Anemic Growth and High Unemployment in 2014.

Unless there are additional signs of growth and job creation in the next five years, “people could despair of the European project,” Pierre Moscovici, the European commissioner for economic and monetary affairs, said at a news conference on Tuesday.

The recovery on the Continent continues to lag those in the United States and Britain. Over the next two years, annual growth in Britain is expected to be close to 3 percent, and the unemployment rate is projected to be 5.5 percent in 2016, according to the data released Tuesday. The unemployment rate in the European Union is not expected to fall below double digits, where it has been since 2012, until 2016.

The gloomier outlook will most likely raise expectations for the European Central Bank to take additional steps to stimulate the economy, though economists said they did not expect policy makers to take action at a meeting on Thursday.

The report on Tuesday did not take into account how the European economy might get a boost from a 300 billion euro, or $375 billion, plan to invest public and private money into infrastructure projects. Jean-Claude Juncker, who took office this month as president of the European Commission, has pledged to present that package before the end of the year.

But how much of an effect that would have on lackluster growth remains to be seen. The spending program is unlikely to “change the whole world,” Mr. Katainen said, but “its contribution can be significant.”

The lower forecasts, especially in the 18-nation euro area, where the commission cut its projection for growth this year to 0.8 percent from an earlier 1.2 percent, are a measure of how quickly optimism about a recovery has dissipated. France has failed to grow as hoped, and Italy struggles to make overhauls. There are also signs that the German economy is stalling.

In one of the more drastic downgrades for 2015, the commission lowered Germany’s forecast for growth by nearly a full percentage point to 1.1 percent.

Among the problems facing European economies like Germany is the prospect of a “new cycle of sanctions and countersanctions” related to the restrictions that the United States and the European Union imposed on Russia in retaliation for its role in the Ukraine crisis, and reciprocal moves by Moscow, European Union officials said.

Those tensions “could pose a larger roadblock to European growth prospects than currently envisaged in the forecast,” the officials said in a report accompanying the forecasts.

The tensions might also “have triggered a wait-and-see attitude among firms,” the officials wrote in a section of the report that focused on Germany.

Germany is expected to post growth of 1.3 percent this year, down from an earlier forecast of 1.8 percent. The French economy is expected to grow 0.3 percent this year, down from an earlier estimate of 1 percent.

Italy appeared to stand out as a poor performer: Its economy was predicted to shrink 0.4 percent this year compared with a forecast in May for growth of 0.6 percent.

The commission also expressed concerns about inflation, which it said would remain very low this year and would not come close to the target of just under 2 percent anytime soon. It projected an annual inflation rate of 1.6 percent in the European Union in 2016.

“With confidence indicators declining since midyear and now back to where they were at the end of 2013, and hard data pointing to very weak activity for the rest of the year, it is becoming harder to see the dent in the recovery as the result of temporary factors only,” officials wrote in their report.

The commission said it expected growth rates to improve somewhat in 2015, rising to 1.5 percent in the European Union and to 1.1 percent in the eurozone.

Even so, weaker-than-expected growth this year is likely to make it much harder for countries like France and Italy to achieve the bloc’s mandated targets to keep budget deficits and government debt in check.

France and Italy could face disciplinary action and steep fines if they fail to show that they are making sufficient effort to bring their economies in line with European budgetary rules. Mr. Katainen said those recommendations would be published by the end of this month.

Over all, the commission said, the most recent figures indicate a slow fading of the legacy of the sovereign debt crisis, with many member states still weighed down by high unemployment, high debt and low output.

That prompted Mr. Katainen, the commission vice president, to call on member states to agree on the €300 billion spending plan to bolster demand.

“Accelerating investment is the linchpin of economic recovery,” he said.

Germany also “can play a significant role stimulating the euro area and E.U. economy” by saving less and spending more, Mr. Katainen said.

German medium-size businesses are already feeling the negative impact of Western sanctions imposed against Moscow, as Russia is turning towards Asia-Pacific nations for high-tech machinery and engineering systems.

“The innovative German machinery makers and engineering companies, mostly medium and small businesses, are being hit the hardest,” Volker Treier, deputy managing director of the German Chambers of Commerce (DIHK) said, as quoted by the Business Insider Tuesday.

Treier said he expects German exports to Russia to fall by about 20 percent in 2014.

“On the one hand, they are being directly hurt by the sanctions imposed by the European Union or due to lacking clarity about how they should be implemented. On the other hand Russian firms that placed the orders are facing higher financing costs due to a credit crunch and ruble’s devaluation,” Treier explained.

On Tuesday, the German-Russian Foreign Chamber of Commerce (AHK) said that, based on a new survey of German businesses operating in Russia, the so-called Mittelstand companies (small-scale businesses that form the backbone of Germany’s economy) were being hit badly by the fallout from Western sanctions, particularly in the industrial manufacturing sector.

“China is the distinct beneficiary” of Europe’s sanctions policy toward Russia, AHK President Rainer Seele said, as quoted by The Wall Street Journal Tuesday.

Breaking News: Tense stand-off between Million Mask March protesters and police in London

RT UK – November 05, 2014

Reuters / Bobby Yip

Reuters / Bobby Yip

Barricades have been erected in London’s Parliament Square and hundreds of police officers are on standby after protesters announced intentions to “blockade” the center of the capital.

In anticipation of the Million Mask March on November 5, officers from the Metropolitan Police, British Transport Police and the City of London Police Force will be on duty, with many others on standby.

In their invitation to the Million Mask March, Anonymous activists announced they intend to to cause traffic chaos in the capital:

“What I’d like to see is a MASSIVE Anonymous blockade of London City,” the demo’s website said. “Complete physical GRIDLOCK. Only thing that gets through are Fire & Rescue and ambulances. NOTHING ELSE MOVES.”

LIVE – Million Mask March floods London streets

 

The demonstration has been called by the hacktivist group Anonymous, whose manifesto states they protest against austerity, mass surveillance and human rights abuses.

The London march is part of a day of global demonstrations, which include rallies across Europe, the Americas and Asia.

Barricades have been erected in London’s Parliament Square and hundreds of police officers are on standby after protesters announced intentions to “blockade” the center of the capital.

In anticipation of the Million Mask March on November 5, officers from the Metropolitan Police, British Transport Police and the City of London Police Force will be on duty, with many others on standby.

In their invitation to the Million Mask March, Anonymous activists announced they intend to to cause traffic chaos in the capital:

“What I’d like to see is a MASSIVE Anonymous blockade of London City,” the demo’s website said. “Complete physical GRIDLOCK. Only thing that gets through are Fire & Rescue and ambulances. NOTHING ELSE MOVES.”

 The demonstration has been called by the hacktivist group Anonymous, whose manifesto states they protest against austerity, mass surveillance and human rights abuses.

The London march is part of a day of global demonstrations, which include rallies across Europe, the Americas and Asia.

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Last year’s London march saw more than 2,500 protesters take to the streets, in a rally which saw fireworks thrown at Buckingham Palace and a total of 15 arrests.

The heightened security measures come as the Metropolitan Police attempted to contact Anonymous, but no one came forward with any details.

“We are keen to talk with them to ensure they are able to protest; it is important that they talk to us so that we can work together to achieve a safe and successful event,” said Chief Superintendent Pippa Mills.

Rather than communicate directly with local authorities, Anonymous sent a message to the government, and to global world leaders: “To oppressive governments, we say this: we do not expect our campaign to be completed in a short time frame. However, you will not prevail against the angry masses of the body politic.”

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The group further addresses the British government, saying they have “made an enemy of Anonymous,” and that they have “angered them considerably.”

Speaking to RT, one source from the Anonymous movement said, “It’s a night of grievance on a night that’s historically about parliament and how it’s not always working in the people’s interests.”

“We burn an effigy of Guy Fawkes on a fire each year as a warning against standing against parliament so we just felt it would be symbolic,” the source said.

The Million Mask March was due to begin at 1800 GMT from Trafalgar Square.