(Reuters) - The European Union signed an historic free-trade pact with Ukraine on Friday and warned it could impose more sanctions on Moscow unless pro-Russian rebels act to wind down the crisis in the east of the country by Monday.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko came to Brussels to sign a far-reaching trade and political cooperation agreement with the EU that has been at the heart of months of deadly violence and upheaval in his country, drawing an immediate threat of "grave consequences" from Russia.
Georgia and Moldova signed similar deals, holding out the prospect of deep economic integration and unfettered access to the EU's 500 million citizens, but alarming Moscow which is concerned about losing influence over former Soviet republics.
EU leaders meeting in Brussels demanded that, by Monday, Ukrainian rebels agree to ceasefire verification arrangements, return border checkpoints to Kiev authorities, free hostages and launch serious talks on implementing Poroshenko's peace plan.
"We expect progress in the next hours," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said. "If we don't see any steps forward on any of the points, then we are also prepared to take drastic measures."
EU leaders said they were ready to meet again at any time to adopt significant sanctions on Russia. Diplomats said they could target new people and companies with asset freezes as early as next week. More than 60 names are already on the list.
Although it has drawn up a list of hard-hitting economic sanctions against Russia, the EU is still hesitating over deploying them because of fears among some member states of antagonizing their major energy supplier.
"We are talking about possible sanctions against Russia but we do not have to introduce sanctions for the sake of sanctions. We do have a need for a dialogue. I hope this dialogue will take place and we will have a real ceasefire," Poroshenko told a news conference in Brussels.
Poroshenko has drawn up a 15-point peace plan to defuse the crisis in eastern Ukraine, where hundreds of people have been killed in clashes between security forces and pro-Russian rebels. A week-long ceasefire is due to expire later on Friday.
Poroshenko said on Friday he would take a decision on extending a ceasefire in the east of the country when he returns to Kiev following an EU summit in Brussels.
But, according to two EU diplomats, Poroshenko told the leaders of France and Germany he was proposing to...
BRUSSELS, June 27. /ITAR-TASS/. Participants in the EU summit did not take any decisions on imposing economic sanctions on Russia, the European Council said in a final statement on Ukraine at the EU summit, noting that new steps regarding Russia might be taken in the future, if the situation in east Ukraine required this.
"The European Council recalls that the European Commission, the EEAS and the Member States have been undertaking preparatory work on targeted measures [against Russia], as it requested in March , so that further steps can be taken without delay.
The final statement also emphasizes that "following its March conclusions and the decision not to recognize the illegal annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol, the European Council welcomes the work undertaken by the Commission to give effect to this policy and the decision to prohibit the import of goods from Crimea and Sevastopol which do not have a Ukrainian certificate".
Reasons for the decision
A source in the delegation of one of the western countries said on Friday that EU leaders possibly did not consider as appropriate imposing sectoral trade and economic sanctions against Russia.
“Although the confrontation in Ukraine’s east continues and there is evidence that volunteers and weapons continue arriving in the conflict’s area through the Russian border, at the same time we see positive signs including the parliament’s recall of the decision on the possibility of applying military force in Ukraine, as well as the start of the dialogue between Russia and Ukraine at the highest level,” the source said.
The diplomat believes, in this situation “the imposing of economic sanctions would be counterproductive and would possibly lead Russia to self-isolation and to further escalation of the conflict”.
State Secretary John Kerry is Baghdad-bound to deliver President Barack Obama’s plan for coping with a widening sectarian war that now stretches from Syria across Iraq and threatens to inflame the Middle East.
But the message from Mr. Obama to Iraq’s beleaguered and Shiite-dominated government remains unclear.
That may be a recurring theme in the Obama doctrine – that there is no doctrine, only a pragmatic approach to dealing with crises as they arise and an aversion to the sort of long-running military entanglements that cost so much blood and bullion since 2001.
In Iraq, as with previous crises, Mr. Obama’s objectives remain a work in progress, a short-term approach often decried as weak and wavering by his critics and defended as careful and reflective of the new limits to superpower capacity by his supporters.
Over nearly six years in the Oval Office, Mr. Obama has faced a cascade of crises in the Middle East – a region where, for decades, allies and adversaries had stayed pretty much unchanged and there was neither regional war nor comprehensive peace. But the reliable array of despots, dictators and ruling families has been swept away by the pro-democracy Arab Spring and its violent rebellions, extremist factions and secessionist struggles. On Mr. Obama’s watch, U.S. policy has mostly consisted of reaction.
So far, the President has hedged over whether he will back Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki or whether he wants him out. He won’t say whether he will accept a nascent Sunni state or a Kurdish declaration of independence, both of which would finally end Iraq’s century of fractious existence as a multi-ethnic state.
It’s not clear whether Mr. Obama is ready to order U.S. warplanes to deliver months of punishing air strikes – as he reluctantly did in Libya in 2010 – wielding air power without the risks of American boots on the ground. Nor is it clear whether the vague threat of air strikes will evaporate in the heat of domestic and international opposition, as it did last year when Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s used chemical weapons against his own people.
Do the new facts on the ground in Iraq – as they did in Crimea – matter more than the sanctity of long-existing borders?
The President has ordered hundreds of elite U.S. forces to Iraq but not to fight, only as advisers. He’s ordered a carrier battle group into the Persian Gulf. U.S....
Over a week after ISIS took over Mosul and started advancing toward Baghdad, President Obama has articulated the view of the United States on the situation in Iraq and the actions it will pursue. The plan is sensible. It captures well the complexity of the situation and what must happen for peace to be restored.
It is also unlikely to bring meaningful results, precisely because the conditions for success are unlikely to be met.
The President is facing growing criticism over the deterioration of the situation in Iraq and the emergence of a radical jihadi state in large parts of Iraq and Syria. Whereas some of the criticism is justified -- for example, that the administration's inaction in Syria contributed to the rise of ISIS -- much of it is not. The Iraqi mess is largely of Iraq's own making and that is where the solutions must originate.
In a political climate where expectations for instant solutions clouds the thinking of many politicians, the President has to be seen as proactive, while at the same time proceeding with caution. He does not want to take rushed and fruitless action that would cost American lives and money and may further undermine U.S. interests in the Middle East.
The option of total commitment to the disastrous and sectarian government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki would be foolish. U.S. power could reverse ISIS' advances, but at a steep price, which the American people will not tolerate.
Moreover, without addressing the root causes of Sunni discontent in Iraq, U.S. military intervention will only serve as a bandage over an untreated wound. President Obama seems to believe, correctly in my opinion, that full support for al-Maliki will not give him (or other Shiite leaders who may assume leadership in his stead) the incentives to rise above sectarian politics and promote a truly inclusive Iraqi state. And it could make things worse for the United States by alienating Sunni states, including longtime allies of the United States, and by further radicalizing Sunni youth, who would see U.S. actions as reflecting an anti-Sunni attitude. This could be a boon to jihadi groups and rejuvenate jihadis' anti-American agenda.
However, doing nothing is not an attractive option either. It incurs additional damages to the reputation of the United States and is hard to swallow coming on the heels of successive foreign policy failures. The President also cannot be seen as completely disengaged from the country the United...
KIEV, Ukraine — In the biggest single loss of life since Ukraine started battling pro-Russian separatists, rebels shot down a military transport plane early Saturday morning as it was landing in Luhansk, killing all 49 people aboard.
Rebels using an anti-aircraft weapon and large-caliber machine gun downed the Ilyushin-76, according to a statement by the Defense Ministry. The statement said the aircraft, which was carrying equipment and food as well as military personnel who were being flown in as part of a routine rotation, was approaching the city airport in Luhansk, a separatist stronghold. While the rebels control most of the city, the army has control of the airport.
Russian officials did not immediately react to the attack, but Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Saturday that negotiations would be impossible so long as the Ukrainian military continues its activity in the east.
“Rather than extending a hand to these people, inviting them to the negotiating table and agreeing on how to continue to live in the country all together, the military operation continues,” Lavrov said on Russia television. “Naturally, under the roar of cannon fire, shelling and strikes from combat aircraft, such dialogue is impossible.”
The deadly attack on the plane was certain to further escalate tensions between Moscow and Kiev, which has accused Russia of aiding the separatists by sending them heavy military equipment, a charge Russia has denied.
On Friday, the U.S. State Department confirmed Kiev’s suspicions, saying Russia has been sending the separatists military equipment, including tanks and rocket launchers.
U.S. State Department spokesperson Marie Harf said a convoy of three Russian tanks, several Grad rocket launchers and other military vehicles had crossed the border from Russia into eastern Ukraine over the previous three days.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the deployment of Russian equipment into Kiev, if accurate, would be a “serious escalation” in the conflict.
He urged Russia “to complete the withdrawal of its military forces on the border with Ukraine, to stop the flow of weapons and fighters across the border, and to exercise its influence among armed separatist to lay down their weapons and renounce violence.”
After the plane was shot down, there were reports of intensified fighting elsewhere in the region. The Ukrainian Air Force staged an airstrike on a police...
Pro-Russian rebels shot down a transport plane in eastern Ukraine, killing 49 servicemen and threatening to ratchet up east-west tensions over suspicions President Vladimir Putin is backing the uprising.
The killing of the 40 soldiers and nine crew was the deadliest strike on Ukrainian forces since separatists seized government buildings on April 6. The IL-76 aircraft went down as it neared Luhansk airport at 1:10 a.m. local time under anti-aircraft and machine-gun fire, authorities including the Kiev-based Prosecutor General’s Office said today.
“All linked to this terrorist action of such scale will be punished, for sure,” Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko said on his website, announcing tomorrow as a day of national mourning. “Ukraine needs peace, but terrorists must get a relevant response.”
Images posted on YouTube, which couldn’t be independently confirmed, showed the night sky illuminated by a flash of light and fire around Luhansk airport.
The incident, which may fuel tensions between Moscow and Washington, Ukraine’s main ally, came as Russia threatened to cut off natural gas supplies to Ukraine and the U.S. accused Moscow of sending heavy weapons, including old-model tanks and multiple-rocket launchers, to the rebels, who say they are fighting a war against fascism.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande spoke with Putin today, saying they were very concerned about continued fighting in Ukraine and that conditions to de-escalate need to be put in place, Hollande’s office said in a statement.
The U.S. has information that at least three tanks crossed the border from Russia on June 12, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said in a statement yesterday. The military equipment came from a “deployment site” in southwest Russia, Harf said.
Fighting in Ukraine’s east continued today. Five border guards were killed and seven wounded when rebels attacked a convoy near the eastern coastal town of Mariupol, the State Border Service said on its website. Clashes also spread to Shchastya, the Luhansk city council said in a statement. Shchastya is about 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of Luhansk and 50 kilometers from the Russian border.
Rebels claimed to have shot down an SU-25 fighter jet over Horlivka, according to Russia’s Interfax news service. The pilot ejected and was captured, it said.
Clashes between Ukrainian authorities and...
JERUSALEM: Israel unveiled plans for 3,200 settler homes Thursday in retaliation for the formation of a Palestinian unity government backed by Hamas and the international community, raising the Palestinians' ire.
Tenders for nearly 1,500 new settlement houses and plans to advance some 1,800 others were issued just 72 hours after the new Palestinian government was sworn in, ending seven years of rival administrations in the West Bank and Gaza.
Both Washington and Brussels as well as other western states have shown support for the Palestinian line-up, but Israel says it will boycott what it denounces as a "government of terror".
The news drew a furious reaction from the Palestinians, who pledged to seek an anti-settlement resolution at the UN Security Council for the first time in more than three years.
Of the 1,454 tenders, 400 homes are to be built in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem and the rest in the occupied West Bank in what Housing Minister Uri Ariel described as "a fitting Zionist response to the establishment of the Palestinian government of terror".
"I believe these tenders are just the beginning," he added, his remarks becoming reality hours later when an Israeli official confirmed the government had moved to unblock plans for another 1,800 homes.
"The political echelon has ordered the Civil Administration to advance 1,800 new units," he told AFP, referring to a defence ministry unit responsible for West Bank planning issues.
Walla news website said the order, which relates to construction in 10 settlements, had come directly from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who had given the green light for plans "that he had ordered frozen some three months ago".
An Israeli government official said the tenders were for construction in a areas "that will remain part of Israel in any peace agreement" but there was no comment on the subsequent announcement of plans to advance another 1,800 new homes.
Hanan Ashrawi, a senior member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, said the Palestinians would seek UN intervention to bring Israel to account for its new settlement expansion drive.
"The executive committee of the PLO views this latest escalation with the utmost of seriousness and will counter it by addressing both the UN Security Council and the General Assembly as...
Israeli officials were angered this week after the Obama Administration found the loophole it needed to justify support for the new Palestinian Authority unity government, despite the involvement of the Hamas terrorist organization.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week warned that a Palestinian government including Hamas would mean an end to the peace process, andWashington initially appeared to back up that assessment.
But then US Secretary of State John Kerry did an apparent about-face while in Lebanon this week, telling reporters that his government would work with the new Palestinian regime. Kerry argued that doing so would not provide any legitimacy to Hamas, as none of the ministers in the new Palestinian government are directly affiliated with the terror group.
“Based on what we know now about the composition of this technocratic government, which has no minister affiliated to Hamas and is committed to the principles that I describe, we will work with it as we need to, as appropriate,” said Kerry.
Earlier, US State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf insisted that in America’s eyes, “it is not a government backed by Hamas” because “there are no members of Hamas in the government.”
That position seemed to conveniently ignore that the Palestinian unity government was only made possible by the reconciliation agreement between Hamas and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah faction, meaning Hamas has substantial influence.
Nor did Kerry or Harf bother to acknowledge the fact that the Palestinian government announced this week is a transitional regime, and that when new elections are held later this year, Hamas may very well win a commanding presence at the ballot box, as it did in 2006.
Whatever Washington’s motivation for joining the European Union and the UN in welcoming the new Palestinian government, Netanyahu was none too impressed.
“I’m deeply troubled by the announcement that the United States will work with the Palestinian government backed by Hamas,” the Israeli leader told The Associated Press. “All those who genuinely seek peace must reject President Abbas’ embrace of Hamas, and most especially, I think the United States must make it absolutely clear to the Palestinian president that his pact with Hamas, a terrorist organization that seeks Israel’s liquidation, is simply unacceptable.”
Determined not to allow the international...