A German lawmaker has condemned the European Union and Chancellor Angela Merkel’s anti-Russia policy, saying the EU bans are destroying the country’s businesses, with dozens of reported bankruptcies.
Franz Wiese, a Brandenburg lawmaker and member of the eurosceptic Alternative for Germany party, made the remarks on Monday.
“Approved by the European Union and conducted by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the anti-Russian sanctions policy is destroying small and medium businesses in Brandenburg as well as in the rest of the country,” said Wiese.
According to Wiese, Merkel’s anti-Russia policy has so far resulted in the bankruptcy of 90 German companies.
Wiese’s remarks came a day after neighboring Czech Republic’s President Miloš Zeman criticized the Western sanctions on Russia over the crisis in Ukraine, describing the policy as counterproductive and provocative. Zeman also called for the immediate abandonment of such bans.
Western powers have imposed several rounds of sanctions against Russia over accusations that Moscow is involved in the deadly crisis in neighboring Ukraine, which broke out when Kiev launched military operations against pro-Russians in eastern Ukraine last year. Russia has denied the allegation.
In a tit-for-tat measure, Moscow imposed yearlong food bans on the United States, the EU, Australia, Canada and Norway in August last year.
The move is estimated to cost European agricultural industries millions of dollars in damage. Prior to the food ban, Russia received a quarter of its produce from the EU nations.
On April 27, Russia said it will tighten an existing ban on the import of fruits and vegetables from Bulgaria over concerns that Sofia may be attempting to send European products into Russia, using false documents.
Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service has been spying for US intelligence agencies for years. Merkel’s Office should have been informed in 2008 about this practice, but the federal government has not undertaken any corresponding measures, a German magazine wrote.
It became known on Thursday the German Federal Intelligence Service (BND) overheard communications of European companies and politicians for the NSA, according to Deutsche Wirtschafts Nachrichten.
However, Merkel’s Office seems to have done nothing to stop these activities, though it was informed about US espionage attempts in 2008.
According to the available information, the NSA was trying to get information about the multinational arms companies EADS and Eurocopter. This was contrary to German interests, and the BND had rejected the requests at that time.
However, now it has become clear that the BND assisted the US National Security Agency (NSA) in spying on European targets over the last few years.
The revelation was perceived by many German politicians as “scandalous”. They demanded an end to such ‘collaboration’ with the US and argued that the chancellor’s office should probably have been aware of the spy agencies’ cooperation.
Germany’s BND intelligence agency spied on European politicians and companies for the NSA for over a decade, Spiegel Online revealed. But an internal probe showed that at least 40,000 of those spying requests were against German and EU interests.
Over the course of 10 years, the NSA sent the BND thousands of so-called ‘selectors,’ which included IP addresses, emails, and phone numbers, Spiegel reported.
Several times a day, the BND downloaded the NSA selectors into their monitoring system and used them to spy on targets. The results were sent to the German agency’s headquarters in Pullach for evaluation, and then to some extent to the NSA, Zeit Online revealed, adding that the NSA sent about 800,000 ‘selectors’ to the BND in total.
Among the selectors were European politicians, whose names were not revealed. It was mentioned that the list included French authorities. Among the companies spied upon were the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS) and Eurocopter.
Since at least 2008, BND employees felt that some of the selectors ran contrary to the mission profile of the intelligence agency and the goal of the German Foreign Ministry, as they were not covered by the 2002 Memorandum of Agreement between Germany and the US, aimed at combating global terrorism.
However, it wasn’t until 2013, in the midst of the Edward Snowden revelations, that an investigation into the spying activities took place. That probe revealed that 2,000 of the selectors actually violated German and Western European interests, with many used to spy on politicians. However, those revelations were not reported to the Chancellor’s Office. Instead, one of the BND’s department chiefs simply asked the NSA to stop making such requests.
But upon re-examination following parliamentary request, the BND came to the conclusion that up to 40,000 selectors were actually directed against Western European and German interests. The Chancellor’s Office was notified of the findings in March.
Chancellery Minister Peter Altmaier informed members of the parliamentary oversight committee of the latest developments on Wednesday. BND chief Gerhard Schindler was excluded from the meeting.
Konstantin von Notz, deputy parliamentary leaders of the Greens, told Leipziger Volkszeitung newspaper that he found it “hard to imagine” that the Chancellor’s Office was unaware of the collaboration between the two spy agencies.
“The limit has now been exceeded. The chancellor must explain the situation,” he added.
Left Party leader Gregor Gysi has called the collaboration a “scandal” and demanded an end to “conformism with the US administration,” Deutsche Welle reported.
Reprieve | April 19, 2015
A court in Germany is set to take evidence from a Yemeni victim of the USA’s secret drone programme – in the wake of revelations that military bases on German soil play a key role in the strikes.
Faisal bin Ali Jaber, an environmental engineer from Sana’a who lost two relatives to a 2012 drone strike, has won the right to give evidence next month, as part of a constitutional claim filed in Germany.
The claim, filed in October last year by international human rights organisation Reprieve and its German partner, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), seeks measures by the German administration to stop the use of German territory for illegal actions by the U.S. in Yemen. They argue that the German government is acting in breach of the German constitution by allowing the U.S. to use its air base at Ramstein for illegal drone attacks abroad.
Mr Jaber lost his brother-in-law Salim – a preacher – and nephew Waleed – a local police officer – to a US drone strike on the village of Khashamir on 29 August 2012. Salim often spoke out against extremism, and had used a sermon just days before he was killed to urge his congregation to reject Al Qaeda.
The case represents the first time that a court in a country which provides support to the US drone programme will hear from one of its civilian victims. The U.S.’ campaign of drone strikes – carried out in secret by the CIA and U.S. Special Forces – has come in for widespread criticism due to a lack of transparency and accountability. Many legal experts have argued that it violates both domestic and international law, while humanitarians have warned of the large number of civilians killed in the strikes.
Kat Craig, Legal Director at Reprieve and Mr bin Ali Jaber’s lawyer: “This is a crucial step in efforts to gain accountability for the civilian victims of secret US drone strikes. It also highlights that the US is not alone in this campaign – support is quietly provided by allies including Germany and the UK. Faisal’s story demonstrates how the misguided drone programme is not simply unacceptable, but deeply counterproductive. Not only is it killing civilians; it has even killed the very people who should be our allies in fighting extremism. Let’s hope this marks the start of some long overdue scrutiny of a programme characterised by secrecy.”
Andreas Schüller, Mr bin Ali Jaber’s attorney at ECCHR, said: “Germany must now take effective measures to stop the US from using Ramsteinn airbase for combat drone missions.”
This file photo shows a previous “Cologne Wailing Wall” exhibit displaying photographs of Palestinian children killed by Israel’s aggression
A German court has shut down a long-standing anti-Israel exhibition in the western city of Cologne, accusing its organizer of anti-Semitism and glorification of violence.
The German municipal court said the permanent exhibit, which displayed numerous pictures of the Palestinian children who were killed and injured during the Israeli regime’s bloody offensive against Gaza last summer, violates a law designed to protect minors.
Walter Hermann, the organizer of the exhibit, has protested for years against Israel with his exhibit dubbed the “Cologne Wailing Wall.”
Hermann, 76, whose anti-Israel campaign is named “Peace Demonstration,” told the German Express newspaper that the wanted to draw public attention to Israeli policies against Palestinian people.
The court ruled that Hermann will face a fine of USD 635 and a possible second trial should he continue to display the pictures. The anti-Israel activist intends to appeal the ruling.
Earlier in 2010, the city partnerships of Cologne-Tel Aviv and Cologne-Bethlehem issued a joint statement condemning the anti-Israel exhibit.
According to the statement, “The anti-Semitic and anti-Israel presentation” of the Cologne Wailing Wall “feeds anti-Israel resentments.”
In its latest major act of military aggression against Gaza, the Israeli regime started airstrikes on the Palestinian territory in early July 2014 and later expanded its campaign with a ground invasion. The war ended in late August that year.
Nearly 2,200 Palestinians lost their lives and some 11,000 were injured in the assaults. Gaza Health officials say the victims included 578 children and nearly 260 women, adding that more than 3,100 children were injured in the offensive.
Moreover, the UN has said that up to 1,500 children were orphaned in the Israeli war.
The Times of Israel reports that an Israeli op-ed writer has advocated the nuclear annihilation of both Iran and Germany.
In an article written in Hebrew for Israel National News, Chen Ben-Eliyahu advocates the use of 20 or 30 nuclear bombs against Germany in revenge for the holocaust and also against Iran which the author suggests is an existential threat to Israel.
“Twenty, thirty atomic bombs on Berlin, Munich, Hamburg, Nuremberg, Cologne, Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Dresden, Dortmund and so on to assure the job gets done. And the land will be quiet for a thousand years,” he wrote.
“To an existential threat we must respond with an existential threat,” he wrote, “not with speeches in Congress. We must make it clear to the Iranians that Israel will wipe out their nuclear program and Tehran and Isfahan as well.”
The German federal television channel ZDF got into a bit of trouble recently after a citizens’ media monitoring group called them out over false reporting on the presence of Russian tanks in eastern Ukraine.
A German media monitoring organization has filed a complaint against federal channel ZDF over false reporting on the situation in eastern Ukraine, Deutsche Wirtschafts Nachrichten has reported.
The complaint, filed by a citizens’ group known as the Permanent Open Committee of Media Monitoring, revolves around a photo accompanying a recent news segment airing on ZDF about alleged Russian military presence in eastern Ukraine.
The segment, which described the alleged movement of Russian tanks and missile systems into eastern Ukraine, featured a photo with the caption “Russian armored vehicles moved through Isvarino in the Lugansk region, February 12, 2015,” citing “Ukrainian army spokesman Andrei Lysenko in Kiev.” The only problem is that the image in question was actually taken several years earlier, in 2009, and in South Ossetia, not Ukraine.
In their complaint to ZDF, one of Germany’s largest broadcasters, the Open Committee notes that “it would be interesting to know why such an image, which has nothing to do with the news in question, is being repeated, meant as it is to convince a third party of the truthfulness of assumptions about an “invasion by [Russian] armor.”
Maren Mueller, one of the founders of the Open Committee and a former media worker herself, believes that much of German coverage of events in eastern Ukraine is tainted by distortions, half-truths and outright lies. Mueller says that “the coverage of events in Ukraine by the media has reached the height of fantasy, and is not worth taking seriously.” She notes that the tank story is just one example of the kinds of distortions that regularly occur. Recently, German media watchers forced an ARD correspondent to retract his words on the deaths of two civilians in Krasnoarmeysk, after the latter had erroneously claimed that the deaths were caused by “the bullets of the new rulers,” meaning the anti-Kiev rebels. The channel has since been forced to issue an apology over the mistake.
Ms. Mueller believes that among the biggest problems of the German media’s coverage of events is the “dangerous closeness” between the media’s line and that of the description of the conflict being provided in the government.
Last week a senior American official faced embarrassment on the Senate floor after it turned out that photos of Russian tanks he was presenting as proof of Russian involvement in Ukraine were also from the war in South Ossetia. After finding out that the photos weren’t from the Ukraine war, Inhofe stated that “the Ukrainian parliament members who gave us these photos in print form as if it came directly from a camera really did themselves a disservice. We felt confident to release these photos because the images match the reporting of what is going on in the region. I was furious to learn one of the photos provided now appears to be falsified from an AP photo taken in 2008.”
The eastern Ukrainian militias have stopped all military action in accordance with the Minsk peace deal. They will suppress any provocations that may be organized by Kiev forces, said Aleksandr Zakharchenko, head of Donetsk People’s Republic.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has ordered troops to cease fire at Sunday midnight local time (22:00 GMT) in line with the Thursday Minsk agreement. Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said on his Facebook page that “all National Guard and Interior Ministry units will halt fire at midnight.”
Meanwhile, Defense Ministry spokesman of Donetsk People’s Republic, Eduard Basurin, has ordered that all eastern Ukrainian militia units halt fighting “on the entire line of contact,” RIA Novosti reports. A similar statement has come out of the self-proclaimed Lugansk People’s Republic, saying that local militia are to stop all combat actions at midnight.
Earlier, leaders of the restive Ukrainian republics said their regions have ratified the peace deal.
The militias will stop all military action outside the territory of the Donetsk People’s Republic, Zakharchenko said. However, he said that the self-defense forces will reply to any provocative actions by the Kiev troops, including assaults and precision fire.
The DPR leader also said that rebels won’t release a large group of Ukrainian troops, who have been entrapped near the village of Debaltsevo since early February.
“Their every attempt to break out will be suppressed,” Zakharchenko is cited by RIA-Novosti news agency.
The rebels’ leader reminded that “there wasn’t a word mentioning Debaltsevo in the agreements” signed in Minsk on February 12, which means that “Ukraine simply betrayed the 5,000 people trapped in the Debaltsevo ‘cauldron’.”
Earlier, Basurin said that the Ukrainian troops near Debaltsevo won’t be shelled, but won’t be released as well, with surrender being the only option.
Zakharchenko has put his signature under a decree, which foresees the beginning of the ceasefire at 01:00 AM local time on Sunday – midnight for Kiev and 2200 GMT.
The DPR head also said that the Donetsk People’s Republic won’t grant control over its border with Russia to Ukrainian border guards: “Today an order will be issued to create the border guard service. Not a single Ukrainian soldier will enter our territory.”
Poroshenko warns of martial law
Meanwhile, Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko has once again warned that if the Minsk agreements fail, “martial law will be implemented not only in Donetsk and Lugansk, but in the whole country”.
Moscow has expressed hopes Kiev and the rebels, as well as all the sides, which supported the Minsk peace deal, including France and Germany, “will do everything for the signed agreements to be scrupulously implemented,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
“Ukraine’s official representatives… as well as those of several Western countries, the US in particular, have essentially expressed solidarity with the opinion of radical nationalists in the Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian parliament) and have began distorting the contents of the Minsk agreements,” the ministry said.
On Saturday, Poroshenko spoke to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande on the phone, with the three heads of state stressing that all sides must fulfill the obligations they’ve taken according to Minsk agreements, first of all, those concerning the ceasefire.
The Ukrainian president also had a telephone conversation with US president Barack Obama, during which the two leaders “agreed on the further coordination of efforts in the event of an escalation” in Ukraine’s southeast.
Poroshenko and Obama “discussed the situation in Donbass and expressed concerns about the situation in Debaltsevo,” according to the Ukrainian president’s website.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his US counterpart, John Kerry, also discussed the situation in southeastern Ukraine on the phone, and stressed “the importance of strict implementation of the ceasefire regime by the conflicting sides.”
Lavrov also emphasized that the Minsk peace deal “also includes obligations by Kiev to remove the financial and economic blockade of the [Ukrainian] southeast; to provide an amnesty; to stage a constitutional reform by the end of the year and adopt legislation on the special status of Donbass,” Russia’s Foreign Ministry said on its Facebook page.
The contact group, which includes representatives from the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, held video consultations on Saturday, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) said.
According to the OSCE, all parties agreed to take necessary measures to establish the agreed truce and de-escalation of the conflict, including in the areas of Debaltsevo and Mariupol.
The contact group will continue holding consultations on a regular basis to ensure the implementation of the Minsk agreements, a statement from the watchdog added.
The Minsk agreement provides for a security zone separating the Kiev forces and the rebels, a ceasefire beginning on Sunday and a heavy weapons pullout to be completed in 14 days. The deal was signed by the contact group, which includes the leaders of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics, a representative of the OSCE, Ukraine’s former president Leonid Kuchma, and the Russian ambassador to Ukraine,
A separate declaration supporting the deal was agreed upon by the so-called “Normandy Four” leaders – French President Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who also gathered in Belarusian capital.
In accordance with the deal, on Saturday the eastern Ukrainian republics also proposed amendments to the constitution. One of the key demands is to grant certain regions the right to define and form the structure of local governments themselves, Denis Pushilin, DPR representative at the Minsk talks, said.
The rebels also want the official status for the Russian language and other minority languages, spoken in Ukraine’s central regions, he said. Another proposed amendment foresees the decentralization of fiscal and tax systems, “up to the possibility of creating in free economic zones and other special economic regimes on certain territories,” Pushilin is cited by TASS news agency.
While the Minsk deal is hoped to secure an end to the bloody and devastating internal conflict that has taken the lives of over 5,300 people in the UN’s estimates since last April, shelling in Donetsk was reported throughout the whole of Saturday.
An agreement has been brokered in Minsk to stop hostilities in Ukraine from Sunday. The deal was reached after marathon talks between the leaders of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine, and signed by the Ukrainian rebels.
“I believe we agreed on a big deal. We agreed to a ceasefire starting at 00:00 on February 15,” Russian President Vladimir Putin told the media after the talks were finished.
“The main thing achieved is that from Saturday into Sunday there should be declared – without any conditions at all – a general ceasefire,” Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko told journalists in a separate statement.
A compromise decision was taken over the disengagement line, which was the biggest stumbling block in the negotiation. According to the document, Kiev’s troops would pull back heavy weapons from the current frontline. The rebels would pull back from the line as it existed in September, when the previous ceasefire agreement was signed.
The security zone separating the warring parties must be at least 50km wide for artillery over 100mm caliber, 70km for regular multiple rocket launchers and 100km for heavier weapons with a longer range, such as Tochka-U ballistic missiles, the document states.
The weapons pullout must start on Sunday and be completed in no longer than 14 days. The OSCE is charged with implementing the ceasefire on the ground and will use its drone fleet and monitors to verify that both parties are sticking to the deal.
The ceasefire deal provides for withdrawal of all “foreign troops, heavy weapons and mercenaries” from Ukraine under an OSCE monitoring. “Illegal armed groups” would be disarmed, but local authorities in the future would be allowed to have legal militia units.
The agreement involves exchange of all prisoners, which is to be completed within 19 days. A general amnesty for the rebels would be declared by Kiev.
The national government’s control over the borders between Donetsk and Lugansk Regions would be fully restored a day after municipal elections, which would be held in the regions as part of a profound constitutional reform.
The agreement requires a political reform in Ukraine to ensure decentralization and a special status for its rebel provinces. It requires Ukraine to adopt legislation which would provide permanent privileges to the Lugansk and Donetsk Regions, currently self-declared republics, by the end of 2015.
The legislation would include the right for language self-determination and trans-border ties with Russia, as well as the authority of the local governments to appoint local prosecutors and judges, the document states.
Humanitarian and economic issues are also mentioned in the deal. Kiev would restore economic ties and social payments, which it cut in rebel-held areas, the document says. An international monitoring mechanism may be established for these payments.
During the transition period an internationally-monitored mechanism for humanitarian aid to the regions affected by the war would be implemented, the document sates.
Direct talks needed
Putin said that Kiev’s unwillingness to hold direct talks with the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics was among the reasons it took so much time to reach an agreement.
“They may be unrecognized, but we have to deal with real life here, and if everyone wants to agree and have sustainable relations, direct contacts are needed,” Putin said.
He added that the ‘Normandy Four’ expect the parties involved in the conflict to show restraint even in the days before the ceasefire takes effect.
The terms of the ceasefire are spelled out in a document signed by members of the so-called contact group, which includes representatives from the rebel forces, Kiev, Moscow and the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe, Putin said.
The members of the ‘Normandy Four’ – Putin, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande – supported a joint declaration describing the results of their work.
The declaration was not meant to be signed by the leaders, Germany FM Frank-Walter Steinmeier said.
If broken, no new memorandum possible
Head of the Donetsk People’s Republic Aleksandr Zakharchenko, who signed the Minsk document, said it required additional consultation and warned that “if these terms are broken, there will be no new meetings or memoranda.”
He added that he and Igor Plotnitsky, the head of Lugansk People’s Republic, agreed to sign the document “due to guarantees from the president of Russia, chancellor of Germany and president of France,” with the hope that it would allow their people to “achieve peaceful development.”
The new Minsk accord gives hope for de-escalation of the Ukrainian conflict, although it would require a major effort to build trust between the parties involved. The previous deal collapsed as neither Kiev nor the rebels implemented it fully, which means the threat of renewed hostilities in Ukraine continue to loom.
World leaders gathered in Germany to discuss international security on Saturday, with the meeting somewhat descending into ‘Russia-bashing’. But the West showed itself to be more divided than ever on Ukraine, with the EU and US drifting further apart.
The Americans led the harsh anti-Russian rhetoric at the conference, and once again, they did not exclude the possibility of lethal arms deliveries to Ukraine in the future.
Speaking to reporters, NATO’s top commander in Europe, General Philip Breedlove, said that although no troops would be sent to Ukraine, providing Kiev with lethal weapons and equipment was on the cards.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, British Conservative politician and former foreign secretary Malcom Rifkind, and US senator Lindsey Graham notably took a pronounced anti-Russian stance, blaming the Kremlin for the violence in Ukraine.
Moscow hit back, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stressing in his Munich speech that it is the US and its European allies who have played the key destabilizing role in Ukraine, from helping to overthrow the democratically elected government to failing to condemn the new Kiev government for shelling the civilian population in the east with cluster bombs.
“Through every step, as the crisis has developed, our American colleagues and the EU under their influence have tried to escalate the situation,” Lavrov said, adding that the West has always been urging world governments to enter into dialogue with opposition groups or figures, even when it came to extremist groups such as the Taliban. However, in Ukraine it has bluntly been supporting every one of Kiev’s actions.
Lavrov then spoke with US Secretary of State John Kerry, warning him that Washington’s plans to supply Kiev with military equipment might have “unpredictable consequences”, including “disrupting the efforts to resolve the crisis in southeastern Ukraine,” according to a Facebook statement by the Russian Foreign Ministry. He stressed that Russia and the US agree that the only basis for any solution is a comprehensive national dialogue on constitutional reform in Ukraine.
Russia will not sacrifice its national interest, but is ready to “engage constructively” with the US, Lavrov stressed.
At the press conference, the Russian top diplomat was pelted with questions implying that Moscow is responsible for the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.
“It felt like orchestrated hate fest. Obviously these people live in a surreal world. The US try to change the balance of forces in eastern Europe and the EU join the band wagon,” Srdja Trifkovic, foreign affairs editor of the Chronicles magazine told RT, adding that “whenever a major power wants to change the status-quo, the result is a crisis.”
Despite the recent efforts to try and to stop the violence and find a peaceful way out of the Ukrainian conflict, with French and German leaders having taken an initiative to discuss a peace plan with Russia’s President Putin and Ukraine’s President Poroshenko, the actions of the West are still “profoundly self-righteous,” critics say.
“What I saw today in the press conference is a total unwillingness from the European, Western side to even take into consideration the arguments of the other side…the questions they pose are so selective, so predetermined by their self-righteousness – that is not the way you try to get peace,” former security consultant at the OSCE Lode Vanoost told RT, adding that the West is hypocritical to a level “so profound that [its behavior] is not a serious way to try to get peace.”
However, despite the overwhelmingly anti-Russian rhetoric coming from the West, there are increasingly numbers of politicians who are softening their stance.
Following the Friday meeting of President Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande in Moscow, which was said to be “constructive,” the French leader revealed that the discussion included the creation of a larger demilitarized zone between the Kiev and militia-controlled territories. He also called for “quite strong” autonomy for Ukraine’s eastern regions.
Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy said on Saturday that Paris does not want a new Cold War, considering that Russia and France having a long history of common interests and values. The former state leader also said that it was Crimea that had chosen to join Russia and it “cannot be blamed” for its choice. Previously, former Czech president, Vaclav Klaus, said that Crimea has “always” been a part of Russia.
While the European leaders have largely been united in their support for the Kiev government, only a few have agreed with the United States on supplying weapons to Ukraine. Instead, the German leader stressed that the crisis “cannot be resolved militarily” and that sending more arms can only worsen the conflict.
The issue of military aid to Ukraine is now considered to be the main subject causing the divide in the West, with many in Europe realizing that the potential threat of an escalating conflict on its territory exists.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at the 51st Munich Security Conference on February 7, 2015. (RIA Novosti/Flickr MFA Russia)
Political analysts agree that hidden from the public eye, “there is definitely a big divide between the US and the EU on the whole issue of Ukraine,” Vanoost told RT. “It’s very difficult to know how the game will finish, because it’s not an open game, it’s behind the scenes,” Bruno Drweski, an analyst specializing in eastern Europe, said.
Sanctions against Russia have economically hit the EU itself, but have not affected the US. The conflict is also happening on the European continent, not in America, with the EU generally not eager to further escalate it.
“First of all, the European Union is directly involved if the conflict escalates – which is not the case for the United States. Secondly, in the EU they are realistic enough to know that the government in Kiev is very unstable, that they don’t even have full control of all parts of their own military,” Vanoost explained, while speaking about the Western split in regard of the Ukrainian crisis.
However, toning down rhetoric puts some in the firing line, too.
After Merkel said that Europe wants security alongside with Russia, rather against it, and reiterated Berlin’s stance that the Ukrainian conflict must be resolved peacefully, US senator Graham lashed out at the German leader for her refusal to send arms to Ukraine.
“She can’t see how arming people who are willing to fight and die for their freedom makes things better,” the US politician said, adding that the West cannot “turn [its] back on the struggling democracy.”
In an effort to silence voices against harsher anti-Russian measures, US Vice President Joe Biden has labeled those questioning sanctions against Moscow “inappropriate and annoying,” Der Spiegel reported, quoting the participants of the Brussels meeting. The US official called on European countries to show unity when it comes to sanctions against Russia. Biden even reportedly added that critics of the policy should be aware that they also benefited from the current low price of oil.
“The Americans want to run this show, and they have no interest in stopping the crisis in Ukraine because it is really driving a wedge between the Europeans and Russia. And to their [the US’] mind, it is only pushing Europe ever so firmly back into the NATO fold,” Trifkovic told RT.
Meanwhile, Lavrov said Moscow is ready to guarantee agreements between the warring sides if a peaceful solution to the crisis is found, which would satisfy both Kiev and the eastern Ukrainian regions.
Quoting the “aggression” against the federal republic of Yugoslavia, the current crisis has been named “an ongoing assault against the Russian Federation” by the former deputy head of OSCE, Willy Wimmer. Calling for a hastier end to the conflict, which “is the best for all of us,” the ex official of the European security and cooperation organization said that “it’s better to have Polish apples in Russian stores than US tanks at the Russian border.”
An aide to the German chancellor has become the victim of a cyber-attack, according to media. The highly-sophisticated Regin virus that was found on her infected USB stick is reported to be a product of British and US spy agencies.
Having written a draft of a speech at work, one of Angela Merkel’s senior staff members decided to take it home to polish it on her private laptop in the evening. When the head of the Department of European Policy brought the USB stick with the document back to her work computer, virus scanning software revealed that it was infected, according to Monday’s report of Bild newspaper.
The USB stick was infected with the Regin spying software, but additional checks revealed no other infections on any of the 200 other high-security laptops in the Chancellery, sources from German security services said.
Regin was first warned of at the end of November by cyber-security company Symantec. A back door-type Trojan is able to “provide its controllers with a powerful framework for mass surveillance.”
According to the report, the virus demonstrates such a “rare degree of technical competence” that indicates it has probably been developed by a nation state – and it could have taken years. Regin is able to fulfill a range of customizable tasks, such as making screenshots, controlling the mouse cursor and stealing passwords, depending on the target of a spying operation.
Media reports associated Regin with the US National Security Agency (NSA) and its British counterpart Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). The virus is believed to begin operating in 2008, targeting governments, infrastructure operators, researchers, as well as private individuals and businesses.
French President Francois Hollande has called for a joint effort by the leaders of France, Russia, Germany and Ukraine to calm the conflict in Ukraine.
“Together with Mr. Putin, Mr. Poroshenko and Ms. Merkel, we should start a process aimed at reducing tensions. It should begin with reducing verbal tensions, followed by concrete actions in Ukraine,” the French president at a news conference following talks with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev in Astana.
According to Hollande, it is necessary to “focus on the future without forgetting the lessons of the past… The existing tensions and pressure do not contribute to resolving problems,” Hollande said.
He said that Ukraine’s territorial integrity should be preserved, but eastern regions should be granted “a certain level of autonomy.”
In April, the authorities in Kiev launched a military operation in the country’s eastern regions, which refused to accept the results of the February coup.
According to the latest UN estimates, the conflict has claimed the lives of 4,300 civilians and left 10,000 people wounded.