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Putin to meet with Merkel in Sochi, discuss Iran, Ukraine, and energy

Will they find common ground?

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After over a year of poor relations between Moscow and Germany spanning a multitude of issues ranging from Russia’s annexation of Crimea, differences in position relative to the ongoing war in Syria, alleged hacking of the German FM office, and the alleged poisoning of the Skripals, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is set to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi today.

More recently, Washington and Berlin have been at odds recently over Trump’s withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear accord on Iran’s nuclear program, the reimposition of sanctions on Tehran, and companies that do business with Iran, NATO defense spending, military strikes in Syria, and the North Stream project, with the Iran issue taking the fore. The Anti-Trump rhetoric in Europe at this time is somewhat staggering in its response to Trump’s actions, which undermine Europe’s economic and security interests.

Given Russia’s good relations with Iran, including the new deal between Moscow and EAEU nations and Iran, Berlin looks to Russia to help secure the status of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which Trump scrapped Washington’s commitment to last week, as well as reviving peace talks with the Ukraine, Syria, and energy cooperation between Moscow and Berlin.

France24 reports:

SOCHI (RUSSIA) (AFP) –
Russian President Vladimir Putin is due to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on Friday, as Moscow and Europe make rare joint efforts to save the Iran nuclear deal.

The pair’s first face-to-face meeting in a year will take place less than a week before French President Emmanuel Macron is due to visit Russia.

The meeting will take place in Putin’s Sochi residence and is expected to be dominated by US President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out from the Iran agreement.

The fallout over the Iran deal is a rare topic for rapprochement between Europe and Moscow, whose relations are marred by disagreements over the Syria conflict, Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and the subsequent war in eastern Ukraine.

These tensions have only worsened in recent months following the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in Britain that led to an unprecedented wave of expulsions of Russian diplomats from Western countries.

As part of the historic 2015 Iran deal, Tehran agreed to curb its nuclear program by pledging not to seek an atomic bomb in exchange for the lifting of some international sanctions on the Middle East country.

The Europeans now want to avoid at all costs Tehran abandoning the deal and relaunching its program to acquire a nuclear weapon.

They also want to protect their economic interests in Iran, threatened by Washington’s reintroduction of sanctions.

The Kremlin, allied with Iran in its support for the Bashar al-Assad regime in the Syrian conflict, has in recent days increased its diplomatic efforts to try to maintain the agreement it described as “crucial for regional stability and for the stability of the entire world”.

Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was in Moscow Monday before visiting Brussels for talks Iran said were aimed to “seek assurances” from countries that signed the deal.

Merkel’s visit comes ahead of Macron’s trip to Saint Petersburg on May 24.

Putin and Merkel last met for bilateral talks in May 2017, also in Sochi.

“It will be a very interesting exchange of views, since there has been no direct contact (between the two leaders) for a very long time,” said Kremlin advisor Yury Ushakov.

Putin, who worked as a KGB agent in Dresden in the late 1980s, and Merkel, who grew up in East Germany, speak each other’s languages.

– Syria, Ukraine and energy –

The pair are also expected to discuss the Syrian crisis and the conflict between Kiev and eastern Ukraine’s pro-Russia rebels.

Berlin and Moscow, along with Paris, signed peace agreements in Minsk in 2015 that aimed to put an end to a conflict that has left more than 10,000 dead since it began in April 2014.

On May 12, Merkel expressed concern about the situation in Ukraine, where she said there are “violations of the truce every night and loss of life every day”.

According to Moscow, the two leaders will try to organise a four-way meeting with the presidents of France and Ukraine to advance a possible UN peacekeeping meeting. The last summit between the four countries in October 2016 was inconclusive.

Merkel and Putin are also expected to discuss the construction of a second North Stream underwater pipeline linking the two countries via the Baltic Sea, a project several EU countries oppose.

North Stream 2 aims to double the capacity of North Stream 1 by the end of 2019, and allow more Russian gas to arrive directly to Germany via the Baltic Sea, bypassing Ukraine.

It’s beginning to look like a particularly vulnerable time for German, and European foreign policy in general, relations with Washington’s foreign policy interests. The Iran deal is a major issue for both Germany and the other European signatories, and Trump’s undermining of it is a huge slap in the face to Europe in a manner that really can’t be overstated, after the European signatories for France, Germany, and Britain travelled to Washington to safeguard it.

Washington seems to be demonstrating to Europe its disregard for Europe’s security and economic interests. It emphasizes this fact in demanding that Germany dump its participation in the North Stream LNG and oil cooperation, which would suit only Washington’s anti-Russia foreign policy, rather than the energy interests of those European nations who stand to benefit ‘bigly’ from it. Washington’s joint military action in Syria received a condemnation as a violation of international law by members of the German parliament. Add to these the tariffs on aluminum and steel which adversely impacts European firms. It’s a growing list of conflicts of interest between Europe, particularly Germany, and the US.

But Trump isn’t slowing down. He’s keeping the harsh criticism coming, together with his administration’s continuance of stoking conflict with Iran. Meanwhile, the issues that Berlin has with Moscow are not as much issues that directly or even actually injure Germany, unlike Trump’s actions, hence, the situation is increasingly becoming such that it could be easier for Berlin to deal with Moscow on shared interests than with Washington. Essentially, Trump is the gift that just keeps on giving sour gifts, while Putin demonstrates actual and feasible approaches to achieving stability, both economically and security.

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Is this man the puppet master of Ukraine’s new president or an overhyped bogeyman?

Smiling to himself, Kolomoisky would be within his rights to think that he has never had it so good.

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Via RT…


It doesn’t actually matter if Ukrainian-Israeli billionaire Igor Kolomoisky is the real power behind Volodymyr Zelensky – the president elect has to get rid of the oligarch if he is to make a break with the country’s corrupt past.

The plots, deceits and conflicts of interest in Ukrainian politics are so transparent and hyperbolic, that to say that novice politician Zelensky was a protégé of his long-time employer was not something that required months of local investigative journalism – it was just out there.

Zelensky’s comedy troupe has been on Kolomoisky’s top-rated channel for the past eight years, and his media asset spent every possible resource promoting the contender against incumbent Petro Poroshenko, a personal enemy of the tycoon, who hasn’t even risked entering Ukraine in the past months.

Similarly, the millions and the nous needed to run a presidential campaign in a country of nearly 50 million people had to come from somewhere, and Kolomoisky’s lieutenants were said to be in all key posts. The two issued half-hearted denials that one was a frontman for the other, insisting that they were business partners with a cordial working relationship, but voters had to take their word for it.

Now that the supposed scheme has paid off with Zelensky’s spectacular victory in Sunday’s run-off, Ukrainian voters are asking: what does Kolomoisky want now, and will he be allowed to run the show?

‘One-of-a-kind chancer’

Born in 1963, in a family of two Jewish engineers, Kolomoisky is the type of businessman that was once the staple of the post-Soviet public sphere, but represents a dying breed.

That is, he is not an entrepreneur in the established Western sense at all – he did not go from a Soviet bloc apartment to Lake Geneva villas by inventing a new product, or even setting up an efficient business structure in an existing field.

Rather he is an opportunist who got wealthy by skilfully reading trends as the Soviet economy opened up – selling Western-made computers in the late 1980s – and later when independent Ukraine transitioned to a market economy and Kolomoisky managed to get his hands on a large amount of privatisation vouchers that put many of the juiciest local metals and energy concerns into his hands, which he then modernised.

What he possesses is a chutzpah and unscrupulousness that is rare even among his peers. Vladimir Putin once called him a “one-of-a-kind chancer” who managed to “swindle [Chelsea owner] Roman Abramovich himself.” In the perma-chaos of Ukrainian law and politics, where all moves are always on the table, his tactical acumen has got him ahead.

Kolomoisky’s lifeblood is connections and power rather than any pure profit on the balance sheet, though no one actually knows how that would read, as the Privat Group he part-owns is reported to own over 100 businesses in dozens of Ukrainian spheres through a complex network of offshore companies and obscure intermediaries (“There is no Privat Group, it is a media confection,” the oligarch himself says, straight-faced.)

Unsurprisingly, he has been dabbling in politics for decades, particularly following the first Orange Revolution in 2004. Though the vehicles for his support have not been noted for a particular ideological consistency – in reportedly backing Viktor Yushchenko, then Yulia Tymoshenko, he was merely putting his millions on what he thought would be a winning horse.

Grasp exceeds reach

But at some point in the post-Maidan euphoria, Kolomoisky’s narcissism got the better of him, and he accepted a post as the governor of his home region of Dnepropetrovsk, in 2014.

The qualities that might have made him a tolerable rogue on TV, began to grate in a more official role. From his penchant for using the political arena to settle his business disputes, to creating his own paramilitary force by sponsoring anti-Russian battalions out of his own pocket, to his somewhat charmless habit of grilling and threatening to put in prison those less powerful than him in fits of pique (“You wait for me out here like a wife for a cheating husband,” begins a viral expletive-strewn rant against an overwhelmed Radio Free Europe reporter).

There is a temptation here for a comparison with a Donald Trump given a developing country to play with, but for all of the shenanigans, his ideological views have always been relatively straightforward. Despite his Russia-loathing patriotism, not even his fans know what Kolomoisky stands for.

The oligarch fell out with fellow billionaire Poroshenko in early 2015, following a battle over the control of a large oil transport company between the state and the governor. The following year, his Privat Bank, which at one point handled one in four financial transactions in the country was nationalized, though the government said that Kolomoisky had turned it into a mere shell by giving $5 billion of its savings to Privat Group companies.

Other significant assets were seized, the government took to London to launch a case against his international companies, and though never banished, Kolomoisky himself decided it would be safer if he spent as long as necessary jetting between his adopted homes in Switzerland and Tel Aviv, with the occasional trip to London for the foreseeable future.

But the adventurer falls – and rises again. The London case has been dropped due to lack of jurisdiction, and only last week a ruling came shockingly overturning the three-year-old nationalization of Privat Bank.

Smiling to himself, Kolomoisky would be within his rights to think that he has never had it so good.

Own man

Zelensky must disabuse him of that notion.

It doesn’t matter that they are friends. Or what handshake agreements they made beforehand. Or that he travelled to Geneva and Tel-Aviv 13 times in the past two years. Or what kompromat Kolomoisky may or may not have on him. It doesn’t matter that his head of security is the man who, for years, guarded the oligarch, and that he may quite genuinely fear for his own safety (it’s not like nothing bad has ever happened to Ukrainian presidents).

Volodymyr Zelensky is now the leader of a large country, with the backing of 13.5 million voters. It is to them that he promised a break with past bribery, graft and cronyism. Even by tolerating one man – and one who makes Poroshenko look wholesome – next to him, he discredits all of that. He will have the support of the people if he pits himself against the puppet master – no one would have elected Kolomoisky in his stead.

Whether the oligarch is told to stay away, whether Ukraine enables the financial fraud investigation into him that has been opened by the FBI, or if he is just treated to the letter of the law, all will be good enough. This is the first and main test, and millions who were prepared to accept the legal fiction of the independent candidate two months ago, will now want to see reality to match. Zelensky’s TV president protagonist in Servant of the People – also broadcast by Kolomoisky’s channel, obviously, would never have compromised like that.

What hinges on this is not just the fate of Zelensky’s presidency, but the chance for Ukraine to restore battered faith in its democracy shaken by a succession of compromised failures at the helm.

Igor Ogorodnev

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Roger Waters – The People’s Champion for Freedom

In February 2019, Waters showed his support for the Venezuelan Maduro government and continues to be totally against US regime change plans there.

Richard Galustian

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Submitted by Richard Galustian 

Roger Waters is one of Britain’s most successful and talented musicians and composers but more importantly is an outstanding champion for freedom in the world, beyond compare to any other artist turned political activist.

By way of background, he co-founded the rock band Pink Floyd in 1965.

A landmark turning point of his political activism occurred in 1990, when Waters staged probably the largest rock concert in history, ‘The Wall – Live in Berlin’, with an attendance of nearly half a million people.

In more recent years Waters famously narrated the 2016 documentary ‘The Occupation of the American Mind: Israel’s Public Relations War in the United States’ about the insidious influence of Zionist Israel to shape American public opinion.

Waters has been an outspoken critic of America’s Neocons and particularly Donald Trump and his policies.

In 2017, Waters condemned Trump’s plan to build a wall separating the United States and Mexico, saying that his band’s iconic famous song, ‘The Wall’ is as he put it “very relevant now with Mr. Trump and all of this talk of building walls and creating as much enmity as possible between races and religions.”

In February 2019, Waters showed his support for the Venezuelan Maduro government and continues to be totally against US regime change plans there, or any place else for that matter.

Here below is a must see recent Roger Waters interview, via satellite from New York, where he speaks brilliantly, succinctly and honestly, unlike no other celebrity, about FREEDOM and the related issues of the day.

The only other artist turned activist, but purely for human rights reasons, as she is apolitical, is the incredible Carla Ortiz.

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ISIS Says Behind Sri Lanka Bombings; Was ‘Retaliation’ For New Zealand Mosque Massacre

ISIS’s claim couldn’t be confirmed and the group has been  known to make “opportunistic” claims in the past, according to WaPo. 

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Via Zerohedge…


Shortly after the death toll from Sunday’s Easter bombings in Sri Lanka climbed above the 300 mark, ISIS validated the Sri Lankan government’s suspicions that a domestic jihadi organization had help from an international terror network while planning the bombings were validated when ISIS took credit for the attacks.

The claim was made via a report from ISIS’s Amaq news agency. Though the group has lost almost all of the territory that was once part of its transnational caliphate, ISIS now boasts cells across the Muslim world, including in North Africa and elsewhere. Before ISIS took credit for the attack, a Sri Lankan official revealed that Sunday’s attacks were intended as retaliation for the killing of 50 Muslims during last month’s mass shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand.

However, the Sri Lankan government didn’t offer any evidence for that claim, or the claim that Sunday’s attacks were planned by two Islamic groups (though that now appears to have been substantiated by ISIS’s claim of responsibility). The group is believed to have worked with the National Tawheed Jamaath, according to the NYT.

“The preliminary investigations have revealed that what happened in Sri Lanka was in retaliation for the attack against Muslims in Christchurch,” State Minister of Defense Ruwan Wijewardene told the Parliament.

Meanwhile, the number of suspects arrested in connection with the attacks had increased to 40 from 24 as of Tuesday. The government had declared a national emergency that allowed it sweeping powers to interrogate and detain suspects.

On Monday, the FBI pledged to send agents to Sri Lanka and provide laboratory support for the investigation.

As the death toll in Sri Lanka climbs, the attack is cementing its position as the deadliest terror attack in the region.

  • 321 (as of now): Sri Lanka bombings, 2019
  • 257 Mumbai attacks, 1993
  • 189 Mumbai train blasts, 2006 166 Mumbai attacks, 2008
  • 151 APS/Peshawar school attack, 2014
  • 149 Mastung/Balochistan election rally attack, 2018

Meanwhile, funeral services for some of the bombing victims began on Tuesday.

Even before ISIS took credit for the attack, analysts told the Washington Post that its unprecedented violence suggested that a well-financed international organization was likely involved.

The bombings on Sunday, however, came with little precedent. Sri Lanka may have endured a ghastly civil war and suicide bombings in the past – some credit the Tamil Tigers with pioneering the tactic – but nothing of this scale. Analysts were stunned by the apparent level of coordination behind the strikes, which occurred around the same time on both sides of the country, and suggested the attacks carried the hallmarks of a more international plot.

“Sri Lanka has never seen this sort of attack – coordinated, multiple, high-casualty – ever before, even with the Tamil Tigers during the course of a brutal civil war,” Alan Keenan, a Sri Lanka expert at the International Crisis Group, told the Financial Times. “I’m not really convinced this is a Sri Lankan thing. I think the dynamics are global, not driven by some indigenous debate. It seems to me to be a different kind of ballgame.”

Hinting at possible ISIS involvement, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said during a Monday press conference that “radical Islamic terror” remained a threat even after ISIS’s defeats in Syria.

Of course, ISIS’s claim couldn’t be confirmed and the group has been  known to make “opportunistic” claims in the past, according to WaPo. The extremist group said the attacks were targeting Christians and “coalition countries” and were carried out by fighters from its organization.

Speculation that the government had advanced warning of the attacks, but failed to act amid a power struggle between the country’s president and prime minister, unnerved citizens and contributed to a brewing backlash. Following the bombings, schools and mass had been canceled until at least Monday, with masses called off “until further notice.”

 

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