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Russia detains model claiming Trump secrets

MOSCOW: Russia on Thursday detained a Belarusian model who claimed she had evidence of Russian efforts to help Donald Trump win office, sources told . Anastasia Vashukevich, known by her pen-name Nastya Rybka, was held for questioning at a Moscow airport on Thursday evening after she was deported from Thailand as part of a group convicted of participating in a “sex training course,” other passengers on the flight told source. Russian authorities detained her and several others including Alex Kirillov, a self-styled Russian seduction guru, witnesses said. Plain-clothes officials led away four of the group including Vashukevich and Kirillov, a woman who gave her name as Kristina told source after emerging at Sheremetyevo airport arrivals. Describing herself as Kirillov’s wife, Kristina said she heard the group shouting and asking for an explanation of “why they were being detained” and saying they were suspected of recruiting for prostitution, a crime punishable by up to six years in jail. A law enforcement source told TASS state news agency that four including Vashukevich and Kirillov were detained at the airport over recruiting for prostitution. Model claiming Trump secrets deported from Thailand Vashukevich was held with several others in a police raid last February in the sleazy seaside resort of Pattaya. In a case that veered between salacious and bizarre, Vashukevich said she had travelled to Thailand after becoming embroiled in a political scandal with Russian aluminium tycoon Oleg Deripaska — a one-time associate of Trump’s disgraced former campaign director Paul Manafort. She then set tongues wagging by promising to reveal “missing puzzle pieces” regarding claims the Kremlin aided Trump’s 2016 presidential election victory. But the material never surfaced and critics dismissed the claims as a publicity stunt. In the risque Pattaya seminar led by Kirillov, some participants wore shirts that said “sex animator” — though one person at the time described it as more of a romance and relationship course. Vashukevich pleaded guilty alongside seven others to multiple charges, including solicitation and illegal assembly at a Pattaya court on Tuesday, which ordered the group be deported. Kirillov, who has served as a quasi-spokesman for the mostly Russian group, told reporters as they arrived at court Tuesday that he believed they were set up. Model claiming to know Trump secrets arrested for running ‘sex training course’ “I think somebody ordered (our arrest)… for money,” he said. Vashukevich looked sombre as she entered the courthouse and did not respond to questions from the media. On Thursday afternoon, Vashukevich and the majority of the convicted were put on an Aeroflot flight for Moscow, bringing to an end the Thai side of a baffling case. Thailand’s immigration chief Surachate Hakparn said the last of the group would leave the country later that evening. They were also blacklisted from returning to Thailand. It was unclear what would happen to them on arrival in Moscow but as a Belarusian citizen, Vashukevich was expected to transit to Belarus. Vashukevich, who has more than 120,000 followers on Instagram and penned a book about seducing oligarchs, already faces legal problems in Russia. Deripaska won an invasion of privacy lawsuit against her and Kirillov in July after a video apparently filmed by the model showed the tycoon vacationing with an influential Russian deputy prime minister at the time. “I don’t think she wants to get out in Moscow,” a Russian friend in Thailand who helped with the case told source on Thursday. Both Washington and Moscow publicly shrugged off Vashukevich’s story, which the US State Department described as “bizarre”. Kremlin-connected Deripaska and Manafort, Trump’s ex-campaign manager, did business together in the mid-2000s. Manafort has since been convicted in the US of financial crimes related to political work he did in Ukraine before the 2016 election as well as witness tampering.

MOSCOW: Russia on Thursday detained a Belarusian model who claimed she had evidence of Russian efforts to help Donald Trump win office, sources told . Anastasia Vashukevich, known by her pen-name Nastya Rybka, was held for questioning at a Moscow airport on Thursday evening after she was deported from Thailand as part of a group convicted of participating in a ... Read More »

Do sanctions against Russia work?

The European Union is mulling its own Magnitsky Act — meaning more pressure on Russia. Time to ask what impact current US and EU sanctions have had on the creaking Russian economy so far. The Dutch government has held talks with EU member states aimed at establishing an EU sanctions regime against Russia based on human rights violations, which is known as an EU Magnitsky Act, adding to existing sanctions. "It appears to have momentum and is going forward," Bill Browder, who has campaigned for the legislation known as the Magnistky Act in the US, told DW. "If successful, this would have a devastating effect on Putin and his cronies because they keep a huge amount of their money and property in the EU." But will it? EU sanctions were established in March 2014 after Russia's encroachment in Ukraine and have been in force since. Reviewed every six month by the European Council, they are now in place until January 31, 2019, and include asset freezing, an import ban on items from the Crimea and Sevastopol and a ban on tourism to the same areas. The US State Department said two weeks ago Washington intended to impose a new round of sanctions on Russia. The US already slapped Russia with more sanctions in August following the March attack on ex-Russian intelligence agent Sergei Skripal in the UK. The intended effect is to exert pressure on the Russians and undermine President Vladimir Putin's ambitious foreign policy without damaging other global economies. Mixed effects Sanctions have knocked 6 percent off Russia's GDP since 2014, a Bloomberg report noted recently. The GDP of the "world's biggest energy exporter" is now 10 percent smaller than might have been expected at the end of 2013, before the Crimea crisis, it said. Lower oil prices have hit the economy, but sanctions are the "bigger culprit," the report said, adding that Russia's economy is over 10 percent smaller compared with what might have been expected at the end of 2013. Growth has been sluggish at 1-2 percent in the last two years. The International Monetary Fund recently predicted the Russian economy would grow by 1.7 percent in 2018 and 1.8 percent in 2019. Russia has done much to insulate itself from sanctions, but the government's forecasts of growth of over 3 percent by 2021 are in doubt. Western sanctions have played a key factor over the past four years, the study by Bloomberg Economics said. "Part of the gap is likely to reflect the enduring impact of sanctions both imposed and threatened over the last five years," Scott Johnson, an analyst at Bloomberg Economics, said. Inflation-targeting But the 6 percent gap is also due to other factors, such as the central bank's inflation-targeting strategy and the pessimism that has hit most emerging markets. ''In a short term, the impact of oil prices is much more important for Russia than any sanctions,'' said Sergey Khestanov, a professor at the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA) . Oil income makes up 40 percent of federal budget revenues and is trading at its highest level in more than four years. Russia has also been helped by the collapse in the ruble, which has boosted export revenues. Russian economy adjusts The Bank of Russia said this week it expected the impact of possible new US sanctions on Russia's economy would be smaller than it was in 2014-2015. "We are not willing to argue that all the negative effects [of possible new sanctions], which we may face, will affect us in a painless manner, and that it will not have any impact on the Russian economy," the director of the bank's Research and Forecasting Department, Alexander Morozov, said in a statement. "This is certainly not the case. But the effect cannot be overestimated since in most of the scenarios it will be much less than the one we observed in 2014-2015." Countereffects One side effect has been to induce the central bank to create reserves, making the Russian economy more stable after the Finance Ministry introduced a fiscal rule protecting the economy from fluctuations in oil prices. The other factor is of course political. Sanctions have so far failed to dislodge Putin or create much of a dent in his hold on power.

The European Union is mulling its own Magnitsky Act — meaning more pressure on Russia. Time to ask what impact current US and EU sanctions have had on the creaking Russian economy so far. The Dutch government has held talks with EU member states aimed at establishing an EU sanctions regime against Russia based on human rights violations, which is ... Read More »

UK investigates biggest Brexit funder Arron Banks

UK officials have launched a criminal investigation into a prominent backer of the campaign for Britain to leave the European Union. Aaron Banks has been accused of siphoning Russian cash into the election effort. Britain's National Crime Agency on Thursday said it had launched a criminal investigation into the pro-Brexit millionaire Arron Banks over cash used to promote Britain's exit from the European Union. The UK Electoral Commission said it suspected that Banks "was not the true source" of money loaned to the Leave campaign, and that he had tried to conceal its real origins. The commission said it had investigated financial transactions which appeared to come from companies registered in Gibraltar and the Isle of Man. Since 2000, UK laws have effectively forbidden overseas or foreign donations to registered political campaigners. "Our investigation has unveiled evidence that suggests criminal offenses have been committed which fall beyond the remit of the commission," said the commission's director of political finance, Bob Posner. "This is why we have handed our evidence to the NCA to allow them to investigate and take any appropriate law-enforcement action." Banks, on tax haven Bermuda when the news emerged, said he welcomed the inquiry and that it would be a chance for him to clear his name. "I am confident that a full and frank investigation will finally put an end to the ludicrous allegations leveled against me and my colleagues," Banks said in a statement issued by Leave.EU. "I am a UK taxpayer and I have never received any foreign donations." Meetings at Russian embassy The Electoral Commission also said another prominent Leave campaigner, Elizabeth Bilney, was being investigated. The probe into Banks follows the revelation that he held a series of secret meetings with senior Russian embassy officials in London around the time of the referendum. Embassy staff were reported to have presented Banks with a lucrative investment opportunity in a Russian gold company, although the deal never went ahead. Banks — who is said to have been the single biggest donor for the Leave.EU campaign — has previously faced questions in the UK parliament about the source of his wealth. The commission said it had reasonable grounds to suspect that Banks was not the real source of loans that were made to a company called Better for the Country Limited, of which Banks was a director. 'Ludicrous allegations' The commission also said it had passed evidence to the National Crime Agency (NCA), to investigate offenses that went beyond the breaking of electoral law. When asked to comment on allegations of possible Russian influence on the vote, a spokeswoman for British Prime Minister Theresa May said there was "no evidence to suggest that is the case." Russia has denied backing the pro-Brexit effort in an effort to weaken and divide the European Union. In the referendum of June 2016, 51.9 percent of those who voted backed leaving the EU while 48.1 percent voted to remain.

UK officials have launched a criminal investigation into a prominent backer of the campaign for Britain to leave the European Union. Aaron Banks has been accused of siphoning Russian cash into the election effort. Britain’s National Crime Agency on Thursday said it had launched a criminal investigation into the pro-Brexit millionaire Arron Banks over cash used to promote Britain’s exit ... Read More »

Donald Trump confirms US will pull out of nuclear arms pact with Russia

President Donald Trump has announced he will pull the United States out of a Cold War-era nuclear weapons deal with Russia. The president has accused Russia of violating the 1987 pact, but provided no further details. The United States will withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia, President Donald Trump announced Saturday. Trump justified the move by accusing Moscow of violating the 1987 nuclear arms pact , but refused to provide further details. "[Russia] has been violating it for many years. I don't know why President Obama didn't negotiate or pull out," the president said following a campaign stop in Elko, Nevada. "We're not going to let them violate a nuclear agreement and go out and do weapons [while] we're not allowed to. We are going to terminate the agreement and then we are going to develop the weapons." Trump went on to indicate that he would reconsider, provided Russia and China agreed to sign up to a fresh nuclear deal. China is party to the current pact. "We'll have to develop those weapons, unless Russia comes to us and China comes to us and they all come to us and say let's really get smart and let's none of us develop those weapons, but if Russia's doing it and if China's doing it, and we're adhering to the agreement, that's unacceptable," Trump said. The landmark agreement, signed by then-leaders Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, prohibits the US and Russia from possessing, producing or testing ground-launched cruise missiles with a range of 300 to 3,400 miles (500 to 5,500 kilometers). US dreaming of 'unipolar world': Russia Russia has responded to Washington's impending withdrawal from the arms treaty by accusing it of striving to become the world's only superpower. "The main motive is a dream of a unipolar world. Will it come true? No," Moscow's state-run news agency RIA Novosti quoted a foreign ministry official as saying. "This decision is part of the US policy course to withdraw from those international legal agreements that place equal responsibilities on it and its partners and make vulnerable its concept of its own 'exceptionalism.'" Russian Senator Alexei Pushkov took to Twitter to condemn the move as "the second powerful blow against the whole system of strategic stability in the world," with the first being Washington's 2001 withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told the TASS state news agency that Trump's planned move was dangerous. "This would be a very dangerous step that, I'm sure, not only will not be comprehended by the international community but will provoke serious condemnation," he said. Second Trump-Putin summit still in the pipeline Trump's announcement comes just as US National Security Adviser John Bolton is set to begin a series of visits to Russia, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia. In Moscow, Bolton is expected to begin preparations for a second summit between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Although no date has yet been announced, a meeting is expected in the near future. That could be in November, when the two leaders will be in Paris for a commemoration ceremony marking the end of World War I. Another possibility would be around the time of the next G20 leaders' summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina, slated to begin November 30. Tensions between Russia and the US remain strained over the Ukraine crisis, the conflict in Syria and allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential vote and the upcoming midterm elections.

President Donald Trump has announced he will pull the United States out of a Cold War-era nuclear weapons deal with Russia. The president has accused Russia of violating the 1987 pact, but provided no further details. The United States will withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia, President Donald Trump announced Saturday. Trump justified the move by accusing ... Read More »

Pro-Kremlin online harassment on trial in Finland

Reporter Jessikka Aro knew her work exposing Russian disinformation efforts was important by the viciousness of those trying to silence her. A Finnish court is due to decide whether the pro-Kremlin trolls went too far. Growing up in a country often ranked first in the world for press freedom, Aro could never have imagined how virulently those open channels could turn against her personally. Back in 2014, the reporter for public broadcaster Yleisradio wanted to learn more about Russian propaganda increasingly being disseminated in Finland, particularly via social media. "I thought that this is some very interesting and new phenomenon and this is a threat to Finnish people's freedom of speech," Aro told DW. "I [wanted] to take a deeper look into it and find out how influential such an operation actually is. I was really astonished to find out that it's quite big — super big actually." But shining a light in those dark crevices proved to be a danger to Aro herself. She began publishing what she learned, including on a trip to St. Petersburg, Russia, where she interviewed workers at a "troll factory" who were paid to create false online accounts and pump out fake stories he reaction from the pro-Russian side was instantaneous and fierce. Aro began being harassed incessantly on social media with an enormous amount of effort being put into the attacks. Her personal medical records were made public, she was photoshopped in demeaning ways and called all sorts of profanities along with being labeled a "NATO spy." Her every move was tracked. She went on vacation to Thailand and found afterwards that photos of her dancing at a concert had been published online with disparaging comments. Threats jump offline The torment took chilling steps beyond online, though, with phone calls including the sound of a gun being fired. Someone sent her a text purporting to be from her father, who had died two decades earlier. "I was hoping maybe this will end, but it just got worse and worse and worse," Aro said. "Even my own friends started liking and commenting these filth pieces about me, so I noticed that it really has influence." She was especially shocked by the high number of death threats she received, including one from someone she knew, whom she had to report to the police. But the frequency was such, she said, that the police could never investigate all of them, even if their seriousness was possible to ascertain. "I don't have the resources to go through all of them to see whether this person is a Russian troll or a Finnish troll influenced by Russian trolls or then an actual person who could be taken to jail," Aro said. Undeterred despite the massive personal toll it was taking, Aro continued reporting, receiving Finland's Grand Prize for Journalism for her work. Finally, she decided it wasn't enough simply to keep exposing the propaganda; Aro decided to fight back in court against the Finnish purveyors of Kremlin propaganda, long-time Moscow mouthpiece Johan Backman and Ilja Janitskin, who founded and runs the pro-Kremlin website MV-Lehti. Backman's Facebook profile lists one of his roles as a representative for the "Donetsk separatist movement" and photos include one in a smiling handshake with Syrian President Bashar Assad. Both men actively hounded Aro online, she alleges, and offline as well. She's suing them for stalking, aggravated defamation and incitement to aggravated defamation. The prosecutor is seeking prison sentences for the men and Aro is seeking a financial settlement as well. The court's verdict is expected on Thursday. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has expressed its support for Aro. "We welcome this trial, which is all the more emblematic because many reporters continue to be the target of troll armies seeking to discourage or even silence the journalists who cover them," RSF said in a statement. "As the two suspects have been clearly identified, we count on the Finnish judicial system to ensure that this is an exemplary trial and that it sends a clear message to those who harass journalists online." RSF's Finnish Chairman Jarmo Makela told DW this verdict would be very significant, and he was expecting a ruling of guilty. If so, Makela explained, "it will encourage authorities to deal with hate speech much more actively than they have done so far. We expect a clear line to be drawn between free speech and hate speech." Read more: Activist wants to shut down Russian internet troll factory Ben Nimmo, a senior fellow for Information Defense at the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab, agrees with Makela. "Trolling is one of the worst aspects of online life for journalists. It's online bullying gone wild, and Jessikka Aro has been one of the top targets. This case has exposed the sheer viciousness of the troll campaign against her, which has been designed to destroy her career and her morale." Nimmo said that regulation and enforcement against online harassment has not been able to keep pace with propagandists and abusers. "With this case, there's a chance that the law is finally catching up," he said. "Trolls breed in lawless spaces. Ms. Aro was one of the first journalists to report on the Russian 'troll factory' in 2015. It would be fitting if her case marked the moment when the law started closing down at least some of the trolls." And Aro has also turned the internet from a bully into a benefactor. She crowdfunded more than $30,000 (€26,000) for an investigation and book to be published in February titled "Vladimir Putin's Troll Empire."

Reporter Jessikka Aro knew her work exposing Russian disinformation efforts was important by the viciousness of those trying to silence her. A Finnish court is due to decide whether the pro-Kremlin trolls went too far. Growing up in a country often ranked first in the world for press freedom, Aro could never have imagined how virulently those open channels could ... Read More »

Germany, unemployment, poverty, European Union, Eurostat

A humanitarian ceasefire in eastern Ghouta has broken down nearly as soon as it started. The UN is urging warring parties to allow aid into devastated areas. Syrian regime warplanes and artillery bombed eastern Ghouta on Tuesday, despite a Russian-brokered ceasefire in the rebel-held enclave. Damascus and Moscow said rebels shelled an evacuation route opened to allow civilians to leave eastern Ghouta. The UN said the fighting made it impossible to remove civilians or provide aid. "We have reports this morning there is continuous fighting in eastern Ghouta," U.N. humanitarian spokesman Jens Laerke said. "Clearly the situation on the ground is not such that convoys can go in or medical evacuations can go out." Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a daily five-hour "humanitarian pause" to airstrikes in eastern Ghouta. Moscow said it would only go into effect if rebels ceased attacks. The renewed fighting comes amid calls from the international community to implement a nationwide cessation of hostilities as the humanitarian situation worsens on the ground. Read more: Which rebel groups are fighting in Syria's eastern Ghouta? What the ceasefire entails: The five-hour cessation of hostilities was planned for 9 a.m to 2 p.m. local time (1200 UTC). The ceasefire is aimed at establishing a "humanitarian corridor" to allow civilians to exit from eastern Ghouta, considered one of Syria's last rebel strongholds. In agreement with the Syrian regime, the Russian Defense Ministry said it will help evacuate the sick and injured Read more: What foreign powers want from the Syrian war Massive casualties: Over the past week, more than 500 civilians have been killed by the Syrian government's latest offensive in eastern Ghouta. Russian warplanes formed an integral part of the offensive, according to independent monitors, rights groups and US authorities. Why now: As the conflict winds down, Damascus is attempting to consolidate territory across the country with the help of Russia to secure its interests during peace talks. Given that eastern Ghouta is one of the last remaining rebel strongholds, the Syrian regime is seeking to strike a fatal blow to the opposition movement before peace talks gain ground. Calls for ceasefire: With a growing civilian death toll, the international community has urged all warring parties to enact a nationwide ceasefire. On Saturday, the UN Security Council voted unanimously in favor of a 30-day humanitarian ceasefire. Better than nothing: Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for UN chief Antonio Guterres, responded to the announcement, saying: "Five hours is better than no hours, but we would like to see any cessation of hostilities be extended." Russia "can end" the violence: US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert urged Russia to use its "influence" to end the fighting. "The United States calls for an immediate end to offensive operations and urgent access for humanitarian workers to treat the wounded and deliver badly needed humanitarian aid," Nauert tweeted late Monday. "Russia has the influence to stop these operations if it chooses to live up to its obligations under the #UNSC ceasefire." Seven-year war: More than 300,000 people have been killed since the conflict began in 2011 following a government crackdown on protesters calling for the release of political prisoners and for President Bashar Assad to step down. Since then, the conflict has evolved into a multifaceted war, drawing in global superpowers, neighboring countries and non-state actors. Read more: The search for dead Russian mercenaries in Syria

A humanitarian ceasefire in eastern Ghouta has broken down nearly as soon as it started. The UN is urging warring parties to allow aid into devastated areas. Syrian regime warplanes and artillery bombed eastern Ghouta on Tuesday, despite a Russian-brokered ceasefire in the rebel-held enclave. Damascus and Moscow said rebels shelled an evacuation route opened to allow civilians to leave ... Read More »

Syrian army to help Kurdish forces repel Turkish offensive in Afrin: reports

The Damascus government and Kurdish forces have reportedly agreed to join forces in Afrin to counter an ongoing Turkish offensive. Syrian state media report that the deployment of pro-regime troops is imminent. Damascus will deploy its militia fighters to Afrin "within the next few hours" to reinforce Kurds against the Turkish offensive, Syrian state agency SANA reported on Monday morning. The move aims to "support the steadfastness of its people in confronting the aggression which Turkish regime forces have launched on the region," SANA said, citing its correspondent in Aleppo. Syrian state television also announced that the deployment was imminent, without providing details. Read more: German Kurds protest Turkey's Afrin assault in Cologne Turkey's foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu reacted by saying any Syrian fighters deployed to "cleanse" the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and its Syrian offshoot the Democratic Union Party (PYD) would have "no problems," but if they enter to defend the Kurdish militia known as the People's Protection Units (YPG), which Turkey considers a terrorist organization linked to the PKK, then "nothing and nobody can stop us or Turkish soldiers. "This is true for Afrin, Manbij and the east of the Euphrates River," Cavusoglu added. Manbij is a second Kurdish-controlled enclave in Syria close to the Turkish border. Last month, Ankara launched an operation against the YPG which controls Afrin. Read more: Turkey's military offensive against Kurdish-held Afrin: What you need to know Erdogan and Putin to 'cooperate in fight against terrorism' The Turkish and Russian presidents discussed the latest developments in Syria and agreed to cooperate in the fight against terrorism, according to Turkish broadcaster Haberturk. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on the phone on Monday, with the Syrian regions of Afrin and Idlib the main topic of conversation. Monday's developments come a day after a senior Kurdish official told Reuters that the Kurds had reached a deal with Damascus. The agreement, supposedly brokered by Russia, further complicates the conflict in Northern Syria as rivalries and alliances among Kurdish forces, the Syrian government, rebel factions, Turkey, the United States and Russia become more entangled. What the Kurds said The agreement allows paramilitaries allied with the Syrian government to enter Afrin to support the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) in fending off Turkish forces, the DPA news agency reported, citing an anonymous source. Badran Jia Kurd, an adviser to the Kurdish-led administration in northern Syria, told Reuters that Syrian army troops would deploy along some border positions in the Afrin region. Jia Kurd said the agreement with Damascus on Afrin was strictly military with no wider political arrangements, but added: "We can cooperate with any side that lends us a helping hand in light of barbaric crimes and the international silence." Jia Kurd said there is opposition to the deal that could prevent it from being implemented. Read more: Are Turkey and Russia at odds in northern Syria? What does this mean? The Damascus government and Kurdish forces each hold more territory than any other side in the Syrian civil war. Their cooperation could be pivotal as to how the conflict unfolds. What is the Afrin conflict? Ankara launched an air and ground offensive on the Afrin region in January against the YPG militia. It views the YPG as terrorists with links to an armed insurrection in Turkey. For the Turkish government, attacking Afrin is about assuring geopolitical interests and domestic security. Are Kurdish goals compatible with Syria's? President Bashar al-Assad's government and the YPG have mostly avoided direct conflict. However, they have occasionally clashed and have very different visions for Syria's future. Both believe in a possibility for a long-term agreement, but Assad has said he wants to take back the whole country. How powerful are the Kurds? Since the onset of Syria's conflict in 2011, the YPG and its allies have established three autonomous cantons in the north, including Afrin near the Turkish border. Their sphere of influence has expanded as they seized territory from the "Islamic State" group with the help of the US. However, Washington opposes the Kurds' political ambitions, as does the Syrian government. What happens next? Jia Kurd has said forces are to arrive in two days, but the deal has not been confirmed. Read more: Who are the Kurds? Why do the Kurds want help from the Syrian government? "Over the years of the conflict, the Kurds have managed to manoeuvre about, sometimes with the rebels, sometimes with the regime," said Bente Scheller from the Heinrich Böll Foundation. "We also saw a long time back that not only the United States wanted to support them as a large international power, but Russia did too. So the Kurds looked for states and powers that support them because they have a lot at stake." Is the Kurdish-Syrian alliance a beneficial one? "I think in the case of Afrin at any rate," said Scheller, "because there it is very clear that Turkey has decided it has to carry through with an offensive, and the Kurds are in a very difficult position here. Of course, they have support from the other Kurdish-dominated parts of Syria, but obviously they feel this is not enough. There have also been air raids by Turkey and I think this has resulted in their turning to the regime for help." How does the future look? "As the Syrian conflict escalates and becomes more complex, more individual states consider it necessary to intervene," said Scheller. "Turkey claims it needs to clear all terrorist activity from the other side of its border, but this does not justify crossing the border with its own military." "We are not likely to see peace for a long time." Each evening at 1830 UTC, DW's editors send out a selection of the day's hard news and quality feature journalism. You can sign up to receive it directly here.

The Damascus government and Kurdish forces have reportedly agreed to join forces in Afrin to counter an ongoing Turkish offensive. Syrian state media report that the deployment of pro-regime troops is imminent. Damascus will deploy its militia fighters to Afrin “within the next few hours” to reinforce Kurds against the Turkish offensive, Syrian state agency SANA reported on Monday morning. ... Read More »

Russia pledges to defend its athletes as IOC mulls blanket ban over doping

A spokesman for the Kremlin has said that Russia will continue to defend its athletes against doping allegations. The statement came as the IOC board was meeting to discuss a possible Olympic ban on Russian athletes. Speaking to reporters in a conference call on Tuesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow will defend its athletes against doping allegations contained in a World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) report that was released last year. At the same time though, he stressed that the Kremlin was determined to maintain good relations with the International Olympic Committee (IOC). "We intend to defend the interests of our athletes, of the Russian Federation, to remain committed to the ideals of Olympism and preserve all ties with the IOC, and through these ties the problems that have arisen will be resolved," Peskov said. Peskov previously said that Russia was not planning to boycott the Olympics if the IOC imposed restrictions on the country's participation at the Winter Games, which are to open in Pyeongchang, South Korea, on February 9. IOC executive board meets Peskov's latest statement came as the IOC executive board gathered in Lausanne to discuss how to respond to evidence of state-sponsored doping at the highest level of Russian sports, which was outlined in the WADA-commissioned report compiled by Canadian law professor Richard McLaren. The executive board was to be presented with a report from one of two commissions set up to deal with the issue and the IOC's German president, Thomas Bach, was expected to announced what, if any, sanctions would be imposed on Russia later in the day. Anti-doping activists are demanding that the IOC impose a blanket ban on Russian athletes competing in Pyeongchang, but there has been speculation that it could opt for a softer option. Among the possible sanctions are a fine or allowing clean Russian athletes to compete under a neutral flag. Over the past few weeks the IOC has issued lifetime bans to 25 Russian athletes who competed at the Sochi Games, based on the reanalysis of doping test samples from 2014. Among them is Olga Zaitseva, who won silver in the women's biathlon relay in Sochi.

A spokesman for the Kremlin has said that Russia will continue to defend its athletes against doping allegations. The statement came as the IOC board was meeting to discuss a possible Olympic ban on Russian athletes. Speaking to reporters in a conference call on Tuesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow will defend its athletes against doping allegations contained in ... Read More »

Russia ‘increasing oil exports’ to North Korea

At a time when the United States is calling for more restrictions on fuel exports to North Korea, Russia may be attempting to avoid the total collapse of the regime in Pyongyang. Julian Ryall reports from Tokyo. The price of diesel oil and gasoline in North Korea has dropped sharply in the last month, according to reports from within the isolated republic, with Russia apparently stepping up supplies in spite of international efforts to isolate the regime of Kim Jong Un and force Pyongyang to abandon its development of nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missiles. According to "citizen journalists" who report on events inside North Korea for the Osaka-based Asia Press International (API) news agency, fuel prices began to fall in November after several months of fluctuations. Reports put the price of one kilogram of diesel oil at US$0.82 (0.7 euros) now, down 60 percent from early November, while gasoline is being sold for around $2 (1.68 euros) per one kilogram, down 25 percent. The sharp declines come despite increasingly stiff sanctions imposed on Pyongyang, including measures designed specifically to limit the amount of fuel that North Korea can obtain. Resolution 2375, adopted by the United Nations Security Council shortly after the North's sixth underground nuclear test on September 3, singled out fuel supplies for sanctions, and the US government has since stepped up its calls for China to halt the flow of oil over the border. Oil over the border One of API's correspondents claims, however, that "massive amounts" of fuel are coming into the border province of Yanggang from Russia. "It is difficult to know exactly how much fuel is getting into North Korea, but it does appear that Russia has recently been supplying Pyongyang with fuel," said James Brown, an associate professor of international relations and an expert on Russia-North Korean trade at the Tokyo campus of Temple University. "It appears that Russia, in particular, but also China, are losing patience with the US," he told DW. "They feel that they have done their part in putting new pressure on North Korea but that Washington should be doing more." While Beijing and Moscow supported sanctions in the autumn, North Korea went for more than two months without launching any missiles, Brown points out. Yet Washington made it clear that it was going ahead with joint US-South Korea air exercises, which began in South Korean air space on Monday. When the US confirmed that the largest ever joint air exercises - 230 aircraft practicing attacks on North Korea's nuclear facilities and missiles bases - would proceed as planned, Pyongyang resumed missile launches. The intercontinental ballistic missile launched on November 29 is understood to have a range of around 13,000 km, putting anywhere in the US within range. Read more: North Korea: UN political affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman visits Pyongyang Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump discuss Syria, Ukraine, North Korea in hour-plus call Hurting the North "Russia may very well feel that the US provoked the most recent missile test by the North and it is not at all clear that Beijing and Moscow will help cut off all fuel supplies because that that represents the 'nuclear option' that would really hurt the North," Brown said. "And while that is exactly what the US wants, Russia is extremely wary of the consequences of the North collapsing," he added. Moscow's concerns include conflict breaking out on its Far East border, a sudden influx of vast numbers of refugees or a civil war in the North in which numerous players are vying to win control of the country's nuclear weapons. Daniel Pinkston, a professor of international relations at the Seoul campus of Troy University, agrees that there are indications that Moscow is trying to "stabilize" the situation in North Korea in order to avoid a collapse, while some point out that restricting deliveries of fuel oil during the North's notoriously harsh winters would inevitably have a humanitarian cost on ordinary people. "There is also the argument that if the North Korean leadership feels that the screws are being tightened too much and that their situation is deteriorating and there are no prospects of it improving, then they might take some kind of coercive, kinetic action to change that situation," he said. Read more: US military base in South Korea mired in corruption scandal Escalate a way out "Even if they accept that they are in a relatively weakened position and have no chance of winning an all-out war, it is possible that they might try to escalate their way out of a deteriorating situation with the threat of some kind of action in return for concessions." There are also suggestions that Russian policy in the Far East is being shaped by President Vladimir Putin's hostility towards the West over the conflict in the Ukraine, while relations between Moscow and Washington are uncomfortable due to allegations of Russia meddling in the US elections. In addition, Brown points out that if Russia is able to obtain some kind of economic leverage over North Korea, it might give Moscow leverage that could be used to encourage the US to drop its hostility. "Similarly, that leverage might be used to encourage Pyongyang to dial back the aggression, making Moscow appear as the "responsible stakeholder in the region," he added.

At a time when the United States is calling for more restrictions on fuel exports to North Korea, Russia may be attempting to avoid the total collapse of the regime in Pyongyang. Julian Ryall reports from Tokyo. The price of diesel oil and gasoline in North Korea has dropped sharply in the last month, according to reports from within the ... Read More »

Deutsche Bank subpoenaed to provide Trump accounts’ data

Special counsel Robert Mueller has asked Deutsche Bank to share data on the US president's business dealings, as his investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the US election widens. A person familiar with Mueller's investigation told the news agency Reuters on Tuesday that Germany's largest bank received a subpoena from the US special counsel several weeks ago to provide information on certain money and credit transactions, confirming a report by German daily Handelsblatt published on the same day. Read more: Donald Trump owes Deutsche Bank big bucks Deutsche Bank has loaned the Trump organization an estimated $300 million (€253 million) for its real estate dealings prior to Donald Trump becoming president. The lender said Tuesday it would not comment on any of its clients, adding that Deutsche Bank "always cooperates with investigating authorities in all countries." Mueller is investigating alleged Russian attempts to influence the 2016 US presidential election and potential collusion by Trump aides. Russia has denied meddling in the election and Trump has called the special counsel's investigation a "witch hunt." Dealings with Russia suspected In June, Deutsche Bank already rejected demands by US House Democrats to provide details of Trump's finances, saying sharing client data would be illegal unless it received a formal request to do so. Read more: Trump releases financial disclosure for 2016 Representative Maxine Waters of California and other Democrats have asked whether the bank's loans to Trump, made years before he ran for president, were in any way connected to Russia. Deutsche Bank faces questions about a series of so-called Russian mirror trades, in which it allegedly helped Russian clients move money out of the country. Those trades are being investigated in multiple probes in the US and Europe. The Mueller investigation now wants the bank to detail any ties between those trades or other Russian financing as it seeks to identify anyone connected to Donald Trump, his family or advisers. Read more: Russian tax authorities homing in on Deutsche Bank Trump's relationship with Deutsche Bank stretches back some two decades and the roughly $300 million he owes to the bank represents nearly half of his outstanding debt, according to a July 2016 analysis compiled by Bloomberg news agency. That figure includes a $170-million loan Trump took out to finish a hotel in Washington. He also has two mortgages against his Trump National Doral Miami resort and a loan against his tower in Chicago. An internal investigation carried out by Deutsche Bank didn't yield any evidence of connections between the client relationship with Trump and the bank's mirror trades affair, a person briefed on the matter said.

Special counsel Robert Mueller has asked Deutsche Bank to share data on the US president’s business dealings, as his investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the US election widens. A person familiar with Mueller’s investigation told the news agency Reuters on Tuesday that Germany’s largest bank received a subpoena from the US special counsel several weeks ago to provide information ... Read More »

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