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Dutch PM pushes for UN tribunal over Ukraine MH17 crash

Mark Rutte's government is lobbying for the creation of a UN tribunal, which would prosecute suspects in downing of the Malaysian plane, officials have said. Most of the 298 victims in last year's incident were Dutch. A UN tribunal would give "the best guarantee of cooperation from all countries" in seeking justice, Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on Friday. The news comes only a day after Malaysia announced it would file a draft resolution calling for such a tribunal to be established. "Based on all insights, information and advice, we say this is by far the most-preferred route. We do have a back-up plan, but a UN tribunal is our best option," said Rutte, stating the official stance of his government in the Netherlands for the first time. Flight MH17 was likely shot down over Ukraine battlefields last year, sparking international outrage. Authorities in Kyiv and the pro-Russian rebels still trade accusations on who might have fired the alleged missile which hit the civilian plane. The incident, which killed 298, also raised the stakes in the stand-off between Russia and the West, with each supporting a narrative compatible with their own interests. 'More questions' than answers The MH17 crash is being investigated by a team of international experts from the Netherlands, Australia, Malaysia, Ukraine and Belgium. Although no suspects have been named yet, the team recently announced it is looking into several people including potential "decision-makers as well as perpetrators." On Thursday, a Russian aviation official criticized a draft report by the Dutch Safety Board, saying it "raises more questions than it gives answers." The confidential report was made available to representatives of Malaysia, Ukraine, the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, Australia and the Netherlands in early June. Malaysian idea open to consideration Russian representatives criticized the Malaysian initiative on Thursday, with Deputy Foreign Minister Gennadiy Gatilov calling it "not timely, and counterproductive." However, Russia did not raise formal objections after Malaysia presented its case in the UN Security Council. "Our sense was that all council members, including Russia, were open to further consider the matter," said Malaysian diplomat Johan Ariff Abdul Razak.

Mark Rutte’s government is lobbying for the creation of a UN tribunal, which would prosecute suspects in downing of the Malaysian plane, officials have said. Most of the 298 victims in last year’s incident were Dutch. A UN tribunal would give “the best guarantee of cooperation from all countries” in seeking justice, Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on Friday. The ... Read More »

Germany’s von der Leyen calls for more NATO defense spending

Germany's Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen has urged NATO states to adhere to the two-percent target for military spending. She was speaking on the 60th anniversary of West Germany joining the alliance. Speaking in Berlin on Tuesday, von der Leyen (pictured above, left) warned the NATO members against fixating purely on the target of spending two percent of gross domestic product (GDP) on military spending. "In the future, the two percent target cannot be the measure of all things," von der Leyen said, saying that the results of increased expenditure should be the decisive factor. The Christian Democrat said that Germany would aim to increase its annual defense budget to meet NATO's target, following an appeal from Jens Stoltenberg, NATO's secretary-general. "We will reach for this target. Security needs investment," von der Leyen said. The question facing the allied military organization, Von der Leyen said, is how the deployment, the ability to keep forces on the ground and the equipment of the military can be changed. "Then the map would look very different to the one we currently have in front of us," she said. Ukraine crisis and terrorism threat This year only five of the 28 NATO countries achieved the two percent target. Germany missed the goal, spending 1.2 percent of the country's GDP on defense. Germany already plans to increase defense spending from 33 billion to 35 billion euros per year ($39.25 billion) by 2019, but such an increase would still leave it well short of the NATO target. "The good news is that tomorrow ... the cabinet will decide on a budget, which, keeping the defense budget in mind, will reverse the trend of declining military spending," von der Leyen said. Stoltenberg, who said Germany was "always a very strong partner" in its 60 years as a NATO member, welcomed Tuesday's pledge, but added that nobody expected the increase in spending "to take place in the next year." Germany's Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier supported the increase in defense spending on Tuesday, saying that "more is expected from us Europeans." Like von der Leyen, however, the Social Democrat stressed that efficient spending of resources was crucial; the German military is currently battling a string of problems with its equipment and vehicles.

Germany’s Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen has urged NATO states to adhere to the two-percent target for military spending. She was speaking on the 60th anniversary of West Germany joining the alliance. Speaking in Berlin on Tuesday, von der Leyen (pictured above, left) warned the NATO members against fixating purely on the target of spending two percent of gross ... Read More »

Still no suspects in downing of MH17 over Ukraine

International investigators are looking into "persons of interest" related to the Boeing 777 that was likely shot down over Ukraine almost a year ago. Although no suspects have been named, prosecutors claim optimism. The inquiry into the plane crash which killed 298 is making "great strides" in finding the people responsible, Dutch prosecutor Fred Westerbeke told reporters on Tuesday. "We are getting closer to compelling evidence," he said at a press briefing in Rotterdam. Westerbeke heads a five-nation team investigating the fate of flight MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, which authorities believe was shot down by a missile above Ukraine battlefields on July 17 last year. Roughly two-thirds of the victims on board the Malaysia Airlines carrier were Dutch nationals, hence the Netherlands leading the investigation. The incident sparked international outrage, with pro-Russian rebels and Ukraine forces denying responsibility and blaming each other. 'Buk' still most likely cause The investigators still did not identify specific suspects, according to Westerbeke. However, the team has a number of "persons of interest," including potential "decision-makers as well as perpetrators," he said. Discoveries so far point to plane being shot down by a Russian made Buk missile, a weapon used both by the rebels and the Ukrainian army. Despite it being "the most likely scenario," investigators have not ruled out all other possible causes for the tragedy, Westerbeke said. The joint team of experts from the Netherlands, Australia, Malaysia, Ukraine and Belgium, has interviewed more than 100 witnesses so far, Westerbeke said, adding that the probe is expected to last at least until the end of the year. The five countries involved in the probe want to establish a UN tribunal to prosecute the guilty parties, a diplomatic source from the UN said last week. On Tuesday, Westerbeke said it was "not so important" to him whether the proceedings were held before a UN tribunal. "My greatest preference is a conviction with broad international support," he said. Russia had already rejected calls for the establishment of a UN tribunal, calling it untimely and "counterproductive."

International investigators are looking into “persons of interest” related to the Boeing 777 that was likely shot down over Ukraine almost a year ago. Although no suspects have been named, prosecutors claim optimism. The inquiry into the plane crash which killed 298 is making “great strides” in finding the people responsible, Dutch prosecutor Fred Westerbeke told reporters on Tuesday. “We ... Read More »

Obama urges Putin to fulfill Ukraine peace deal terms in rare phone call

روسی صدر ولادیمیر پوٹن نے جمعرات کے روز اپنے امریکی ہم منصب باراک اوباما سے ٹیلی فون پر بات چیت میں یوکرائن کے بحران اور متعدد دیگر بین الاقوامی امور پر گفتگو کی۔ وائٹ ہاؤس کے مطابق صدر اوباما نے اصرار کیا کہ روس مِنسک معاہدے پر عمل درآمد کو یقینی بنائے اور یوکرائنی علاقوں سے تمام روسی فوجیوں اور عسکری ساز و سامان کو واپس بلایا جائے۔ اس بات چیت میں اوباما اور پوٹن نے شام کی بگڑتی صورت حال پر بھی بات چیت کی جب کہ ایرانی جوہری تنازعے پر مل کر کام کرتے رہنے کا عزم بھی دہرایا گیا۔

In their first call since February, Russian President Vladimir Putin has phoned US President Barack Obama to discuss the Ukraine crisis. Also on the agenda were Iran nuclear talks, “Islamic State” and Syria. According to the White House, Obama told Putin on Thursday that he needs to live to up to the terms of a ceasefire deal with Ukraine which ... Read More »

‘Iron Felix’ rears his ugly head in Moscow

Allowing a vote on re-erecting a statue of "Iron Felix," the father of Russia's secret service, may be more than a symbolic gesture to appease the left in times of hardship, writes Fiona Clark in Moscow. I was there the night Felix Dzerzhinsky's statue was removed from its plinth in the center of Lubyanka Square - which is actually a round-about - just outside the headquarters of the then KGB. I watched as Moscovites climbed onto the statue, attached the hook from a crane and pulled it to the ground. "Iron Felix" was dead and so was 75 years of communist oppression at the hands of the secret police he had helped set up and run under Lenin. There was a palpable sense of optimism and euphoria in the air. Dzerzhinsky, known as the father of Russia's secret police, lead its first incarnation, the Cheka. Estimates of how many people were killed by the Cheka vary from 50,000 to 500,000. It was established in 1917 and not long afterwards Dzerzhinsky oversaw what was known as the "red terror" - a few months in 1918 when perceived enemies of the state were taken away and shot without a trial in order to remove any threat against the communist revolution. In a brief window between September and October that year it's said that as many as 15,000 so-called enemies of the state were shot within 24 hours of their arrest. Killing machine Russia Today, the Kremlin's English language news service, states: "The organization turned into a giant man-killing machine. At Cheka's headquarters in Moscow lights glared every night as hundreds were brought in for interrogations. Here Dzerzhinsky spent days on end, keen to take part in questioning and studying files. He virtually lived in his office, where a bed's [sic] been fitted for him." It goes on to quote a Red Army newspaper as saying: "Let there be floods of blood of the bourgeoisie - more blood, as much as possible." Over the years the communists and various nationalists have called for Dzerzhinsky's reinstatement. Until this week they'd been given a polite nod but not taken too seriously. But in what press reports are saying was an "abrupt change" of heart they are now allowed to pursue their case for a referendum which would be held in September. So, what possible reason could there be for not putting him back outside the windows of the KGB's successor, the Federal Bureau of Security of FSB? Deep scars Well, there are still a number of Russian's who vividly remember the scars these successive security organizations left on their families. People taken away at night and sent to gulags or shot and buried in mass graves just outside the city. If you go to Moscow it's a good idea to do a tour of the area around Lubyanka where they will show you the buildings where Stalin ‘enemies of the state' were taken to be shot. Usually churches or banks were used because they had solid basements so the sound of the shootings couldn't be heard. The bodies were then taken on trucks to Butovo just outside the city where they were buried in mass graves. After Stalin's death the killing rate eased off but the harassment remained. Even in the 1990's when things were meant to be freer with "Glasnost and Perestroika," friends have told me of how they would receive a phone call asking them to come into Lubyanka to meet "Nikita Nikitovich Nikitkin" who would then quiz them on things like "why they had foreign friends." Intimidation And these days the intimidation continues in slightly more subtle ways. Prior to an election the building administrator might knock on the door and ask if you're going to vote and who for, or if you're a student your university will tell you your services are required at a rally and if you don't go your grades may be affected. If you run a hospital you'll be told funding will be cut unless 90 percent of your staff and patients vote for the powers that be. (Yes, the doctors have to get the patients to vote in line as well - no coercion there!) It's ironic that the establishment of the Cheka prompted the now deceased American journalist, George Seldes, who had interviewed Lenin and worked in Russia before being expelled, to write: "Because of [the] Cheka, freedom has ceased to exist in Russia. There is no democracy. It is not wanted." Does this vote, should it go ahead, now represent the same thing? Has Russia in a short 24 years abandoned all its optimism and come full circle right back to where it was? The slew of recent anti-western laws and tightening of freedom of freedom of speech would suggest so. In fact I'd say there was more freedom in 1991 before the collapse of the Soviet Union than there is today. Seldes also wrote: "The Cheka is … a great success. The terror is in the mind and marrow of the present generation and nothing but generations of freedom and liberty will ever root it out." Fear still reigns. Unfortunately there's never really been much time without it - certainly not the generations needed. As one Russian friend put it this vote "is the end of all hope."

Allowing a vote on re-erecting a statue of “Iron Felix,” the father of Russia’s secret service, may be more than a symbolic gesture to appease the left in times of hardship, writes Fiona Clark in Moscow. I was there the night Felix Dzerzhinsky’s statue was removed from its plinth in the center of Lubyanka Square – which is actually a ... Read More »

Russian hackers suspected in cyberattack on German parliament

Prominent Russian hacker group Sofacy is suspected of being behind a cyberattack against the German parliament, an expert has said. The group is also at the center of a French investigation over an attack on TV5 Monde. The expert in the field told dpa news agency on Friday that there was "concrete evidence" that the attackers were members of the Sofacy group, sometimes referred to as APT28. The group has been operating since 2006 and is funded by the government, the source said. The unconfirmed attackers reportedly launched an unprecedented attack using several waves of so-called Trojan viruses to gradually extend their access to the German parliament's internal server. The Bundestag, Germany's lower house of parliament confirmed at the end of May that the hackers had managed to steal data during the intrusion. Security reminder The news comes after German parliamentarians were told to remain on high alert and be sure to follow cybersecurity guidelines in the future, according to an email seen by dpa on Friday. "Even though data siphoning ended on May 20, the threat is not over," Bundestag director Horst Risse wrote in the email, which also highlighted that parliamentarians should refrain from opening unknown links and files sent by email. According dpa, recipients of the memo were advised to change their passwords regularly and use encryption software for sensitive documents. French inquiry Security investigators in neighboring France are also reportedly looking into whether the same Russian hacking group was responsible for an attack on French broadcaster TV5 Monde in April. Transmissions were temporarily shut down for 18 hours after the station's website and social media accounts were hijacked with jihadist propaganda. "The investigations are at this stage looking towards a group of Russian hackers designated by the name APT28," a judicial source told French newspaper "L'Express."

Prominent Russian hacker group Sofacy is suspected of being behind a cyberattack against the German parliament, an expert has said. The group is also at the center of a French investigation over an attack on TV5 Monde. The expert in the field told dpa news agency on Friday that there was “concrete evidence” that the attackers were members of the ... Read More »

Europeans return to business in St. Petersburg

Tense relations between the West and Moscow have clouded the opening of the International Economic Forum in Russia's second-biggest city. But EU energy companies didn't seem to mind, signing a new gas deal with Gazprom. It's been billed as Russia's Davos, but the main thing St. Petersburg has in common with the Swiss ski resort these days is frosty temperatures. As the International Economic Forum (SPIEF) got underway Thursday, relations between Russia and the West remain at their lowest point since the Cold War. The ongoing stand-off over the crisis in Ukraine meant that most US business leaders had declined their invitation to attend the three-day summit in the palatial port city overlooking the Baltic Sea. For European executives, however, it's not so simple. The attendance list, which includes oil giants BP, Royal Dutch Shell and Total, suggests that European companies are growing increasingly anxious to return to business as usual. Nord Stream extended On Thursday, there was at least a semblance of normalcy, when energy firms E.ON, OMV and Shell inked a deal with Russian utilities giant Gazprom to expand the Nord Stream gas pipeline. The joint venture would see the two proposed new pipelines deliver up to 55 billion cubic metres annually by running beneath the Baltic Sea into Germany, and so circumventing conflict-ridden Ukraine. "The Nord Stream gas pipeline has shown that the transport of gas under the Baltic Sea is a reliable solution that is contributing to meeting energy needs," E.ON said in a statement. The EU relies on Russia for nearly a quarter of its gas supplies, but the crisis in Ukraine, which geographically separates the two, has repeatedly threatened to cut off deliveries. That has prompted Russian energy companies to look for alternative routes. One such effort is the so-called Turkish Stream underwater pipeline, which would bring Russian gas to Europe via the Black Sea. However, talks between the heads of Gazprom and the Turkish Energy Ministry scheduled for this week in St. Petersburg were postponed Wednesday. Losing to China The Nord Stream deal also comes as many European executives are growing increasingly worried that they could lose vital Russian business to rival China. Moscow and Beijing have taken significant steps towards deepening economic ties in recent years - culminating in 2014 with a $400-billion, 30-year gas supply deal. However, the Kremlin would not turn its back on Europe, former Russian finance minister Alexei Kudrin assured western executives in St Petersburg on Thursday, adding that the current impasse with the West posed one of the biggest challenges facing his country. Fight fire with fire But this week's developments suggested that things are likely to get worse before they get better. Speaking at the SPIEF, economic adviser to the Kremlin, Andrei Belousov, warned that Moscow may lash back at the EU, after European leaders on Wednesday voted to extend the economic sanctions against Russia until the end of January, 2016. "We are looking at a wide range of actions. I don't want now to name the measures that could be taken. Much will depend on what decision the EU takes," Belousov told reporters. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich was more blunt, telling The Associated Press in an interview on Thursday that Moscow's embargo on Western food "[would] stay" as long as the EU and the US kept their sanctions in place. Eye of the storm The sanctions imposed by Brussels and Washington have dealt a huge blow to the Russian economy, which this year posted negative growth for the first time since 2009. Spiralling oil prices have proved a further drag on the Kremlin's coffers. On Monday, the central bank in Moscow warned that if oil prices remain at its current level of $60 a barrel, the country's economy would shrink for the second year in a row in 2016. "Where are we in terms of growth? We are in the eye of the storm," Alexei Kudrin said in St. Petersburg. Meanwhile, meeting with businessmen outside the city, President Vladimir Putin urged Russians to hold on to their gold and foreign exchange reserves, saying they were "a safety cushion" which could help maintain political stability in the country.

Tense relations between the West and Moscow have clouded the opening of the International Economic Forum in Russia’s second-biggest city. But EU energy companies didn’t seem to mind, signing a new gas deal with Gazprom. It’s been billed as Russia’s Davos, but the main thing St. Petersburg has in common with the Swiss ski resort these days is frosty temperatures. ... Read More »

NATO accuses Moscow of dangerous ‘sabre-rattling’

NATO's chief Jens Stoltenberg has said Russia's President Vladmir Putin was engaging in destabilizing and provocative activities. Moscow has announced it would add dozens more missiles to its nuclear Arsenal. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) chief Jens Stoltenberg on Tuesday condemned Putin's announcement to add nuclear missiles to his arsenal, saying Moscow was engaging in potentially provocative activities. "This nuclear sabre-rattling of Russia is unjustified. This is something we are addressing and it's also one of the reasons we are now increasing the readiness and preparedness of our forces," Stoltenberg said. NATO was responding to Russia's actions by ensuring the alliance could provide "the terms of protection of all allies against the enemy," the bloc's head asserted after a meeting with the European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker. NATO defense ministers were meeting in Brussels next week to discuss further plans. US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter was expected to update his European counterparts on the latest strategies for the organization. Russian officials warn NATO Vladimir Putin declared on Tuesday that his government would add 40 more intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) to its arsenal of nuclear weapons. His announcement came a day after US declared plans to station tanks and heavy weapons in NATO member states like Lithuania, situated on the border to Russia. "We have no other possibilities," Lithuanian Defense Minister Jouzas Olekas told the Reuters news agency. Olekas said that by doing nothing, his country would be inviting agression from Russia. He compared the situation with that of Ukraine. Moscow's officials condemned the plans as the most aggressive act by Washington since the Cold War. "The feeling is that our colleagues from NATO countries are pushing us into an arms race," Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov told RIA news agency. No end to conflict Relations between US, European Union countries and Russia have been tense since early last year, when Moscow annexed Crimea from Ukraine. Western countries accuse Putin of backing separatist rebels, who have since declared eastern Ukraine as their independent republic. More than 6,000 people have died in the conflict between Kyiv's army and rebel forces. A ceasefire accord between Kyiv and the rebels signed in March this year has failed to produce any results, prompting Western countries to uphold sanctions against Moscow and fortify their borders to Russia.

NATO’s chief Jens Stoltenberg has said Russia’s President Vladmir Putin was engaging in destabilizing and provocative activities. Moscow has announced it would add dozens more missiles to its nuclear Arsenal. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) chief Jens Stoltenberg on Tuesday condemned Putin’s announcement to add nuclear missiles to his arsenal, saying Moscow was engaging in potentially provocative activities. “This ... Read More »

Iran’s Rouhani says final nuclear deal ‘within reach’

ایرانی صدر حسن روحانی نے کہا ہے کہ جوہری ڈیل کی جزئیات پر ابھی بہت سے اختلافات دور نہیں کیے جا سکے ہیں۔ سرکاری ٹیلی وژن پر نشر کی جانے والی ایک نیوز کانفرنس میں روحانی نے کہا کہ اس جوہری ڈیل سے متعلق عمومی فریم ورک پر اتفاق رائے ہو چکا ہے لیکن تفصیلات پر اختلافات ابھی تک موجود ہیں۔ عالمی طاقتیں اور ایران تیس جون تک اس ڈیل کو حتمی شکل دینے کی کوشش میں ہیں۔ اس ڈیل کے تحت ایران اپنی متنازعہ جوہری سرگرمیوں کو محدود بنائے گا جس کے جواب میں اس پر عائد عالمی پابندیوں میں نرمی کر دی جائے گی۔

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has said a final nuclear deal is “within reach” despite some differences. His comments came after a Russian official said there had been an alarming slowdown in the pace of the talks. Speaking at a rare press conference on Saturday, Rouhani said key negotiations between Iran and the six-nation group, made up of Russia, the US, ... Read More »

Bundestag counting cost of cyberattack

جرمن پارلیمان کے کمپیوٹرز پر سائبر حملے میں اندازوں سے کہیں زیادہ نقصان ہوا ہے۔ ذرائع ابلاغ کے مطابق اس ہیکنگ کے بعد جرمن پارلیمان کو ایک نئے کمپیوٹر نظام کی ضرورت ہے۔ بتایا گیا ہے کہ مواصلات کے شعبے کی حفاظت پر مامور محکمے نے بھی کمپیوٹرز کو فوری طور پر تبدیل کرنے کی تجویز دی ہے۔ جریدے ڈیئر اشپیگل نے اپنی ایک رپورٹ میں لکھا ہے کہ سائبر حملے کو چار ہفتے گزر چکے ہیں اور ابھی بھی اعداد و شمار اور دستاویزات کی کسی نامعلوم مقام کی جانب منتقلی جاری ہے۔ ابھی تک یہ واضح نہیں ہے کہ اس ہیکنگ کے پیچھے کس کا ہاتھ ہے۔

Germany’s parliament has rejected rumors its IT system will need to be completely replaced following a recent cyberattack. Reports say large amounts of data are still being stolen from the network. Germany’s parliamentary speaker Norbert Lammert has dismissed media reports that all 20,000 computers in the country’s lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, would need to replaced. The job would ... Read More »

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