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Russia: US airstrikes on Syria illegal

Russia's envoy to the UN has accused the US of violating international law by carrying out airstrikes on Syria. US envoy Nikki Haley said the strikes were justified and threatened further action. Russia's deputy envoy to the UN, Vladimir Safronkov, on Friday warned that the US' airstrikes on a Syrian base could have damaging consequences on regional and global stability. "The United States attacked the territory of sovereign Syria," Safronkov said during an emergency UN Security Council meeting in New York. "We describe that attack as a flagrant violation of international law and an act of aggression." The comments come after the US launched a barrage of Tomahawk missiles on a Syrian airbase in Shayrat in the early hours of Friday morning. The White House said the attack was in retaliation to an alleged chemical strike earlier this week on the Syrian rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun that killed more than 80 people. Read more: Seven decades, seven facts: US policy on Syria in brief The United States' Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, said the response was "fully justified" and warned that the US was prepared to do more but hoped that it would not come to that. "The United States will not stand by when chemical weapons are used," Haley said. "It is in our vital national security interest to prevent the spread and use of chemical weapons." Britain and the UK came out in the strong support of the US strikes, saying that such a response was "appropriate" after Tuesday's possible chemical attack. Both the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and its allies in Moscow have denied perpetrating the attack, saying any nerve agents released must have belonged to the rebels and could have been hit by a conventional strike. Report: US investigating Russian involvement in gas attack The Associated Press (AP) press agency reported that US military officials were probing whether Russia had participated in the alleged chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun. A US official, speaking to AP on condition of anonymity, reported of a Russian or Syrian drone seen hovering over the site of Tuesday's attack and was seen again later as citizens scampered into a nearby hospital for treatment. The hospital was reportedly bombed shortly afterwards in what may have been a bid to cover up the attack. The US military said it was still reviewing the evidence. Russia vows to bolster Syrian air defenses Following Friday morning's attack, Russian officials promised to strengthen the Syrian army's air defenses to protect both Syrian and Russian military infrastructure. Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said that a "complex of measures" designed to strengthen the Syrian army's defense capabilities would be implemented to help "protect the most sensitive Syrian infrastructure facilities." Russia had previously supplied the Assad regime with state-of-the-art S-300 and S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems. Konashenkov also said that Russia's own air defense systems were reliably protecting its warplanes at the Hemeimeem air base in the Syrian province of Latakia, as well as on its navy outpost in Syria's Mediterranean port of Tartus.

Russia’s envoy to the UN has accused the US of violating international law by carrying out airstrikes on Syria. US envoy Nikki Haley said the strikes were justified and threatened further action. Russia’s deputy envoy to the UN, Vladimir Safronkov, on Friday warned that the US’ airstrikes on a Syrian base could have damaging consequences on regional and global stability. ... Read More »

Russia between anger and damage control on Syria

Moscow has criticized Washington's decision to launch missile strikes against a Syrian airbase. At the same time, it also seems to be conducting damage control. Russian experts warn of a direct confrontation. Maria Zakharova has rarely appeared as nervous as she did this Friday morning. Although she is known for being in control, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs press director was obviously flustered on this occasion, having to start over several times as she read a prepared statement on US airstrikes in Syria. The statement condemned the missile attacks, which targeted a Syrian airbase near the city of Homs. US President Donald Trump said the strikes were retribution for the recent chemical weapons attacks that claimed the lives of numerous Syrian civilians in the province of Idlib. The United States and other Western countries say that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's army was responsible for the attack. Assad and his Russian protectors deny the accusation, blaming rebels for the act instead. Zakharova said that the chemical weapons attack had simply given the US an excuse to launch a long-planned strike against Assad. Failed Russian foreign policy Andrey Kortunov, director of the Russian Foreign Affairs Council, a Moscow think tank, says that Russia was caught off guard by Washington's decision. "One needs to remember that Trump had been sending other signals before, and had hinted at a softer approach to Assad," he told DW. "And just the day before, Russia had also signaled that it would be willing to change its approach in Syria if Assad was indeed behind the chemical attacks." But Trump also seems to want to distance himself from his predecessor, Barack Obama, who famously spoke of a "red line" in Syria in 2012, only to shy away from launching military attacks against Assad when the Syrian president defiantly crossed that line in 2013. Moscow publisher and military expert Alexander Golz told DW that the US airstrikes signal the end of Russian diplomatic efforts in Syria. "For four years, Russia has been bragging about having hindered US aggression in Syria. Now it is clear that Moscow only delayed US involvement. It is also clear that dictators are shifty and thankless partners, and that Trump acts more decisively than Obama." Russia's military presence in Syria, which was established in 2015, lost all influence overnight as a result of the US strike. Russia's Ministry of Defense announced that the US missile strike against the Syrian army had been ineffective. Though a spokesperson went on to say that Moscow would help Syria strengthen its air defenses. Apparently, Russian combat troops stationed in Syria were not affected by the US airstrike. Washington said that it warned Moscow of the attack in advance. A new historical precedent? Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zakharova said that Russia's first reaction to the missile strike would be to withdraw from its agreement with the US on coordinated air operations in Syria. The agreement is designed to prevent encounters between fighter aircraft. Andrey Kortunov believes "the threat of a direct confrontation has increased, but not significantly." According to Alexander Golz, a direct military confrontation would be the absolute worst case scenario. He pointed out that such situations had been successfully averted in earlier conflicts like Korea or Vietnam, when Washington and Moscow each supported a diverse number of warring factions. "I think decision makers are very aware of the threat of a global conflict," Golz said. Thus far, reactions from Moscow have echoed a mix of shock and anger. But one also senses an effort to avoid further damaging the already faltering dialogue with the Trump administration. According to Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov, the Russian president regards the US operation as an "aggression" against Syria. Peskov went on to say, "With this step Washington has struck a significant blow to Russian-American relations, which were already in a sorry state." Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov voiced similar sentiments speaking in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent. "I hope this provocation will not lead to irreparable damage [to US-Russian relations]," said Russia's top diplomat. Not an end to diplomatic ties Vyacheslav Volodin, chairman of Russia's parliament, the State Duma, said the US operation benefited the so-called "Islamic State" (IS) terrorist militant group: "IS is applauding the USA today." He went on to say that the US must be kept from taking further aggressive action. Leonid Slutsky, chairman of the State Duma's Committee on International Affairs, told the Russian state television channel Russia 24 that the incident was "very disappointing." But Slutsky, a member of the ruling "United Russia" party, added that Moscow could "not wall itself off" to Washington. Slutsky also said that Russia should speak with new US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson when he travels to Moscow next week. Andrey Kortunov of the Russian Foreign Affairs Council believes that the dialogue between Moscow and Washington will become increasingly difficult after the missile strike.

Moscow has criticized Washington’s decision to launch missile strikes against a Syrian airbase. At the same time, it also seems to be conducting damage control. Russian experts warn of a direct confrontation. Maria Zakharova has rarely appeared as nervous as she did this Friday morning. Although she is known for being in control, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs press director ... Read More »

Poland accuses Russians of deliberately causing jet crash

Polish prosecutors have said they will press charges against three Russian air controllers for deliberately causing the 2010 crash that killed Poland's President and 95 others. Russia has rejected the allegations. Polish prosecutors said on Monday that new evidence into the 2010 plane crash near Smolensk in western Russia suggested that two Russian air traffic controllers and a third official in the control tower had deliberately contributed to the accident. According to the prosecutors, the evidence was taken from recorded conversations between the plane's pilots and the Russian controllers. However, the prosecutors said that no further details could be revealed before investigators had questioned the three men implicated in the probe. The crash in April 2010 killed Polish President Lech Kaczynski and his wife, as well as the country's central bank chief, a number of high ranking military chief of staff and several lawmakers. The officials were headed to Russia's Katyn forest to commemorate the 22,000 Polish officers executed by Soviet secret police in 1940 - a massacre the Kremlin denied until 1990. Although previous enquiries attributed the disaster to human error and bad weather, Poland's Law and Justice (PiS) party, led by Kaczynski's twin bother Jaroslaw, believes the crash was deliberate and has been conducting its own probe. Jaroslaw Kaczynski has made a range of allegations about to crash, suggesting that there was an explosive onboard, that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the assassination and that former Premier and current EU President Donald Tusk was complicit in the orchestrating the crash and hindering the subsequent investigation. "An analysis of the evidence ... has allowed prosecutors to formulate new charges against air traffic controllers, citizens of the Russian Federation," Polish Deputy Prosecutor General Marek Pasionek told a news conference. The individuals implicated in the probe were guilty of "deliberately causing a catastrophe... that resulted in the deaths of many people," he said. The Polish government had already pressed charges against the two air traffic controllers in 2015, one for "being directly responsible for having endangered air traffic" and the other for "unintentionally causing an air traffic disaster." The latest charges, however, are much more serious, suggesting the men had deliberately sought to crash the plane. Russia disputes accusations The Russian government responded quickly to reject the PiS' accusations. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Monday that "of course we cannot agree with such statements." "You know that an investigation is also ongoing on the Russian side. The circumstances of this tragedy, this catastrophe, are already very well elucidated and investigated," he said. A previous Russia-led investigation into the crash found that the fault lay exclusively with the Polish pilot, placing no blame on the Russian air controllers. The Polish government has also repeatedly called on Moscow to return the plane wreckage, something Russia says it will only do once it has completed its own inquiry into the accident. However, Polish prosecutors said that fragments of the plane would be sent to labs abroad to check of evidence of explosives, while justice officials have also been exhuming the victims' remains to establish the cause of death.

Polish prosecutors have said they will press charges against three Russian air controllers for deliberately causing the 2010 crash that killed Poland’s President and 95 others. Russia has rejected the allegations. Polish prosecutors said on Monday that new evidence into the 2010 plane crash near Smolensk in western Russia suggested that two Russian air traffic controllers and a third official ... Read More »

Belarus cracks down on mounting protests

Belarusian police have arrested dozens of people after its president warned of a Western plot to oust him. Mounting protests against the authoritarian president have drawn thousands of people in recent weeks. Belarusian police carried out arrests of protesters attending a banned demonstration in the capital, Minsk, on Saturday amid a rising wave of discontent challenging the country's authoritarian government. About 700 protesters braved the threat of a crackdown after police earlier raided the offices of a human rights organization and arrested an opposition leader. While it remains unclear exactly how many protesters were detained, the human rights group Viasna said more than 400 people had been arrested. Among those arrested were about 20 journalists, according to the Belarusian Journalists' Association. The nongovernmental organization (NGO), said authorities raided its office ahead of the protest and arrested 57 people, including foreign observers. The group has recorded more than 100 arrests of opposition supporters in the days leading up to Saturday's protests. Police on Saturday also detained leading opposition leader Vladimir Nekliayev as he was on a train to Minsk. President Lukashenko in power for 23 years Belarus has witnessed rare protests drawing thousands of people in recent weeks against a new tax for those who work less than six months a year. Facing pressure, the government then suspended collection of the tax. The protests have channeled broader discontent against a mismanaged state-run economy under President Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled the country for 23 years. Lukashenko initially allowed the protests but this week warned Western intelligence agencies were supporting a "fifth column" of provocateurs to overthrow him. State television tried to back up the claim by reporting the discovery of alleged weapons caches. Like his close ally Russian President Vladimir Putin, Lukashenko has long warned of a "color revolution" such as those in Ukraine and Georgia toppling his government.

Belarusian police have arrested dozens of people after its president warned of a Western plot to oust him. Mounting protests against the authoritarian president have drawn thousands of people in recent weeks. Belarusian police carried out arrests of protesters attending a banned demonstration in the capital, Minsk, on Saturday amid a rising wave of discontent challenging the country’s authoritarian government. ... Read More »

‘There’s a pro-European mood in Bulgaria’

Bulgaria holds parliamentary elections on Sunday. Whatever the outcome, the next government would be well advised to continue the European course, says German Social Democrat politician Gernot Erler. DW: Mr Erler, what are your expectations for the parliamentary elections in Bulgaria on March 26? Gernot Erler: I hope very much that this election will give Bulgaria the chance to form a stable government again. The last couple of years were not a good era in Bulgarian politics, with three resigned cabinets and three transitional governments in the last three years. This is some kind of unfortunate record in the Balkans. In this regard it will be important that this is the beginning of a period in which an elected government can remain in office and govern successfully for the term of four years. What kind of government would you like to see in Sofia after the election? I'm quite certain it'll have to be a coalition government. When we look at the polls, we have at this point a stalemate situation between the two major parties, the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) and Boiko Borisov's GERB (Editor's note: a member of the European People's Party), which had run the country until recently. This is a challenge as both have said so far that they don't want to govern with each other. So the question is, how can a government be formed? In principle, an attitude like that is unsuitable for a democracy - democratic parties saying "No, we don't want a coalition under any circumstances." Speculation is rife as to the direction of foreign policy the new government may take. Some have mentioned Moscow's growing influence on Bulgarian politics. What do you expect in this regard? I'm very glad that the EU approval rate in Bulgaria is among the highest in the whole region. I also believe that, until now, Bulgarians have benefited from their governments' pro-European politics. This should continue by all means. Bulgaria is a key stability factor in the region and endeavors to have good relationships with all neighboring countries. Since we currently have great problems in some other regions of the western Balkans, it can be very important how Bulgaria performs there, how capable it is to act in order to advocate and strengthen the European idea there. What are the main problems that the new Bulgarian government must tackle? Regrettably, they haven't changed. First on the list is the fight against corruption and organized crime, along with continuing the reform of the judicial system. Simultaneously, Bulgaria has to regain trust, and this applies to the economic sector as well. Last year, foreign investment in Bulgaria plummeted by 60 percent, which indicates that there's a confidence gap on European markets when it comes to Bulgaria. Moreover, this view is shared by Bulgarian business representatives as well. Therefore it'd be very important to restore that confidence. Several political parties and politicians in Bulgaria recently tried to exploit an alleged danger posed by refugees and Turkey interfering in Bulgarian internal affairs for election campaign purposes. What's your view of that approach? We could indeed observe that sort of interference. For example, the Turkish ambassador in Sofia made an appearance during a campaign rally organized by one of the Turkish parties in Bulgaria (the DOST party), whose views are akin to those of the AKP and President [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan. On that account, the ambassador was summoned quite rightly - this was regarded as meddling with Bulgarian internal affairs. I can understand the Bulgarian side, especially since Ankara has issued clear recommendations to the Turkish population in Bulgaria as to who they should vote for. This is very close indeed to outside interference, and I understand very well that Bulgaria refuses to tolerate that. My understanding, however, has its limits when Bulgarian nationalists gather at the border and try to prevent expatriated Bulgarian Turks (or Turkish Bulgarians), who had fled communist Bulgaria prior to 1989, from entering the country. That is, of course, against the law. As far as the refugees are concerned - this issue should not be exploited for election campaign purposes. According to the latest count, there are now some 4,500 refugees in Bulgaria. If you compare that to other countries, also taking the country's size into account, this is a challenge that can be handled. And when you look at refugee routes, you'll see that Bulgaria is situated slightly remote from them, and that includes the famous Balkan route. Of course, we still need a functioning government in Sofia, also as a partner in a prudent refugee policy. How would you explain that, in contrast to other countries in central and Eastern Europe, a vast majority of Bulgarians endorse the country's EU membership? Bulgaria had to fight - as Chairman of the German-Bulgarian Forum in Germany I was right in the middle of it when we worked together to achieve EU membership. There was the fortunate decision to grant Bulgaria full membership status from 1 January 2007; however, that was not the end of the debate. We then had to establish the EU's Co-operation and Verification Mechanism (CVM), because some pledges and assurances were not implemented quickly enough by the Bulgarian side. This mechanism is still in force, and we continue to receive reports which are detailing the implementation of those measures. However, Bulgaria has benefited from EU accession. There has always been a pro-European sentiment in Bulgaria, which was a good basis for coping with the difficult path to EU membership. Although minor anti-European parties (the United Patriots, for example) exist in Bulgaria as well, it is gratifying to see that there's a vast pro-European majority in Bulgaria - something that is far from natural these days. Gernot Erler, of the center-left Social Democratic Party, is a member of the German parliament. Between 2005 and 2009, he was deputy foreign minister. Since January 2014, he has been the German government's representative in charge of relations with Russia. He is also the Chairman of the German-Bulgarian Forum. The interview was conducted by Alexander Andreev.

Bulgaria holds parliamentary elections on Sunday. Whatever the outcome, the next government would be well advised to continue the European course, says German Social Democrat politician Gernot Erler. DW: Mr Erler, what are your expectations for the parliamentary elections in Bulgaria on March 26? Gernot Erler: I hope very much that this election will give Bulgaria the chance to form ... Read More »

Constant information drip deepens Donald Trump’s Russian woes

The steady trickle of new revelations about the Trump team's real and potential Russian connections is increasing pressure on the White House. And what's more, the issue is unlikely to go away any time soon. On Monday the director of the FBI - in what he himself deemed a highly unusual move - publicly stated that his agency was investigating possible ties between the Trump presidential campaign and the Russian government. While the head of the FBI only confirmed what had already been reported, the official confirmation was still widely described as a bombshell. Two days later, another revelation connected to the Trump campaign and Russia came courtesy of an Associated Press story. According to the report, Donald Trump's former presidential campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, secretly worked for a Russian oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, "to greatly benefit Putin." Citing documents, AP reported that in 2006, Manafort signed a $10 million annual contract for his work which included influencing politics in the US. Asked about the story on Wednesday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer appeared to downplay the report, calling it the business dealings of a former campaign staffer from a decade ago. He added that President Trump had not been aware of Manafort's previous work on behalf of Deripaska. Registered as a foreign agent? While it is accurate that the contract was signed ten years ago, Manafort was not just any campaign staffer, but the former head of Donald Trump's presidential campaign. Making the revelation even more potentially relevant is that the FBI is already looking into Trump associates' possible contacts with Russia and also, according to the report, that Manafort apparently did not register as a foreign lobbyist as required by the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA). Manafort, in a statement, said he had always acknowledged that he worked for Deripaska, but that he did not work for the Russian government. The statement did not address the reported nature of his work and whether he registered as a foreign lobbyist. "Legally, the issue is whether he violated a law by failing to register under the US Foreign Agent Registration Act," said Joseph Sandler, an attorney specializing in campaign and election law and a former general counsel for the Democratic National Committee. Failing to register as a foreign lobbyist with the US government is very rarely prosecuted. But it could be different in a high-profile case like this, when there is potentially a significant US foreign policy interest, said Sandler. "It is rare, but that's when they go after it," he said referring to potential US interests at stake. "The question here is whether Manafort was taking directions indirectly from the Russian government, even though he was paid by this oligarch in performing these services." No signed contracts Yoshiko Herrera, a scholar of US-Russian relations at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said it is clear that Deripaska was one of only a handful of oligarchs that were close to Putin during that time. "So if somebody is working for Deripaska, it is absurd to say that he has nothing to do with Putin," she said. "Nobody is going to work directly for the president of Russia. This is how it would work if somebody was working for the government. There are no signed contracts." It does, however, not mean that this was ordered by Putin, Herrera clarified. "Working for Deripaska means that he is working for somebody who is in communication with Putin; so there is a connection to the government, but it doesn't mean that Putin directed his work." Possible legal consequences aside, the new revelations about the conduct of Trumps' former campaign manager will also have a political impact, said Melissa Deckman, chair of the political science department at Washington College. "I think Americans are not buying the Trump administration's line that Manafort played a "limited role" in the campaign last summer," she said. Special prosecutor She also predicted that the constant trickle of new information about Russian involvement in the US election process would force Republicans to yield to Democrats' demands to task an independent, outside prosecutor to investigate the issue. "I think it is just a matter of time before Republicans in Congress acquiesce to a special prosecutor," Deckman said. All of this means that the issue is not going to go away any time soon, and that it could further damage a president who is already reeling from historically low approval ratings. Said Herrera: "The key question that is important for the United States right now is, Were Donald Trump or people around him secretly offered large sums of money in order to change US policy towards Ukraine, towards Russia, towards NATO?"

The steady trickle of new revelations about the Trump team’s real and potential Russian connections is increasing pressure on the White House. And what’s more, the issue is unlikely to go away any time soon. On Monday the director of the FBI – in what he himself deemed a highly unusual move – publicly stated that his agency was investigating ... Read More »

US agencies may have spied on Trump communications, Republican lawmaker says

A leading Republican lawmaker has claimed the communications of Donald Trump's transition team - and maybe even the US president himself - were possibly captured in incidental surveillance against foreign targets. The chairman of the House intelligence committee, Republican Devin Nunes, told reporters on Wednesday that US spies may have swept up information on Donald Trump "inadvertently" during the president's transition period. The comments prompted the intelligence committee's ranking Democrat, Alan Schiff, to accuse his opposite number of acting on behalf of the White House, instead of behaving impartially. Read: US Congress hearings on Russia could descend into a partisan slugfest Citing anonymous sources, Nunes - who was himself part of the Trump transition team - said Trump and his associates may have been "monitored" as part of an "incidental collection." He added that the revelation did not bolster Trump's unproven assertion that he was wiretapped at the behest of outgoing President Barack Obama. 'Somewhat' vindicated Trump - potentially in hot water for his tweets accusing Obama and spy agencies of collusion that would have been illegal - welcomed Nunes' comments, saying he felt "somewhat" vindicated. "I very much appreciated the fact that they found what they found," Trump said. For Democrat Schiff, however, the comments created "profound doubt" about the efficacy of the investigation being carried out. In particular, he lamented the way that Nunes - as committee chairman - had shared the information with the president and media before the committee itself had been consulted. "This is not how you conduct an investigation," Schiff told a news conference. "You don't take information that the committee hasn't seen and present it orally to the press and to the White House before the committee has a chance to vet whether it's even significant." Chairman or patsy? In comments to the news organization CNN, Schiff said Nunes needed to decide "whether he is the chairman of an independent investigation... or he's going to act as a surrogate of the White House, because he cannot do both." The brief of the committee is to investigate potential Russian influence on the 2016 presidential race. It began before Trump took office on January 20. Read: Constant information drip deepens Donald Trump's Russian woes Lines of questioning from Republican and Democratic committee members appeared to diverge during Monday's questioning of security officials. While Democrats concentrated on unmasking Russian officials allegedly in contact with the Trump team, Republicans wanted to hear about the importance of identifying and prosecuting those responsible for intelligence leaks. Trump's claims about the Obama wiretap led the administration to claim the spying had been conducted not by the FBI or National Security Agency, but by Britain's GCHQ surveillance agency. The claim was vehemently denied by Britain.

A leading Republican lawmaker has claimed the communications of Donald Trump’s transition team – and maybe even the US president himself – were possibly captured in incidental surveillance against foreign targets. The chairman of the House intelligence committee, Republican Devin Nunes, told reporters on Wednesday that US spies may have swept up information on Donald Trump “inadvertently” during the president’s ... Read More »

Europe’s far-right takes succor from Wilders’ ‘success’ in Dutch poll

Many had seen a win for far-right Geert Wilders in the Netherlands as a harbinger of elections in France and Germany this year. Despite his clear loss, populist figures around Europe claimed a 'partial victory'. Wilders' Party for Freedom (PVV) fell flat on Wednesday night winning just 20 seats, well beaten by Mark Rutte, the incumbent center-right prime minister. Despite the defeat, many far-right and populist parties - riding a wave of support since Brexit last summer and Donald Trump's win in the US presidential election - have heralded Wilders a success. - European leaders breathe easier as Rutte routs Wilders - Election night: as it happened Russia: 'Europe weakened' Konstantin Kosachev, chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Russian parliament, wrote on Thursday that Europe had been "weakened" by the elections in the Netherlands. "French Presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel might be able to breathe for the time being after the victory of Rutte. But the panic and fear among the established European elites facing the challenges of the 21st century remain palpable," Kosachev posted on Facebook. "An election in a single EU country does not change the problems." Russian hackers allegedly targeted the Netherlands as a "warm up" for elections in Germany and France this year, DW reported earlier this month. The Dutch secret service (AIVD) revealed that foreign countries, in particular Russia, had tried to hack into about 100 email accounts of Dutch government employees. Meanwhile, after security experts established that the Netherlands' electoral software was outdated, the Ministry of Home Affairs decided that all ballot papers be counted by hand. France: 'a success even though Wilders lost' The secretary general of France's far-right National Front party, Nicolas Bay, on Thursday said he was "encouraged" by gains for the anti-Islam and anti-EU Wilders, saying it was a "success even though Wilders lost." "It's a real success," Bay told France Inter radio, highlighting the rise in the number of seats won by Wilders' party from 15 to 20 and calling it a "partial victory even if not the final victory." Rutte's figures, he said, had been boosted late in the campaign by a standoff with Turkey in which his government had refused to let Turkish government politicians stage rallies in the Netherlands, where many Turkish expatriates live. Opinion polls show far-right Front National leader, Marine Le Pen winning the first round of France's presidential election in April, but then losing a decisive head-to-head vote in May. Le Pen wants to curb immigration and take France out of the eurozone if she wins the French presidential election on April 23 and May 7. Turkey: 'no difference between the social democrats and fascists' "Now the election is over in the Netherlands...when you look at the many parties you see there is no difference between the social democrats and fascist Wilders," Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister, said at a rally on Thursday. The minister then claimed "religious wars will soon begin" in Europe, despite the defeat of Wilders. "All have the same mentality. Where will you go? Where are you taking Europe? You have begun to collapse Europe. You are dragging Europe into the abyss," he said. Wilders had sought to capitalize on a diplomatic row between the Netherlands and Turkey during his election campaign, leading a small protest outside the country's embassy and calling President Recep Tayyip Erdogan a "dictator." A dispute over political campaigning for an April constitutional referendum in Turkey has intensified since a rally to be held in Rotterdam was cancelled last weekend. Erdogan and senior ministers have called the Dutch government "fascists" and "Nazis," while EU leaders have called the allegations offensive and "detached from reality." Germany: 'spirit right, tone wrong' "I can not hide the fact that we wanted the PVV and Wilders to have had a better result," the leader of the populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) Frauke Petry told the German press agency DPA on Thursday. "Wilders addressed the right issues in the election campaign and thus pushed the other parties a little way forward. But he might not always have had the right tone. Citizens want a clear message, but they are afraid of a hard tone," Petry said. AfD had been surging in the polls last summer, but with six months to go before German elections it has faded. A regular poll of German voters puts its support at 11 percent - down from 16 percent last summer, and other polls have put support as low as 8 percent. It needs more than 5 percent of the vote to win seats in parliament. The huge influx of migrants Germany experienced in 2015 and 2016 - arguably the biggest single issue to boost AfD's vote - has largely dropped off the radar as the numbers of new arrivals have declined. Voters weary of Angela Merkel after 12 years in office, who may have been leaning toward AfD, also have a fresh option in Martin Schulz, who became the Social Democrats' candidate for chancellorship in January. UK: 'a revolution against global governments' Marine Le Pen was interviewed by the former euroskeptic Ukip leader Nigel Farage on LBC radio on Wednesday evening. Farage praised Le Pen, saying she had "a connection with the French people" and asking her why she felt she was the best candidate in the field. Earlier in the day, Farage told Fox Business: "If I had said to you four years ago that Geert Wilders would be virtually neck and neck with the prime minister, you would've have said I must have been smoking something funny." "You know the fact that he's there neck and neck shows you the amazing advances that have been made," said Farage. "I think through the Netherlands, through the French elections, etcetera, you will see a continuance of this revolution against global governments." Farage said a win by Le Pen "would be as big as Brexit or Trump."

Many had seen a win for far-right Geert Wilders in the Netherlands as a harbinger of elections in France and Germany this year. Despite his clear loss, populist figures around Europe claimed a ‘partial victory’. Wilders’ Party for Freedom (PVV) fell flat on Wednesday night winning just 20 seats, well beaten by Mark Rutte, the incumbent center-right prime minister. Despite ... Read More »

German Foreign Minister Gabriel fears new arms race with Russia

Gabriel has also called for conventional disarmament while meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov in Moscow. The German politician is scheduled to meet President Putin later in the day. "We have concerns that we are entering into a new arms race," Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel told his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on Thursday during their meeting in Moscow. Gabriel also warned that Germany would regard any attempt to influence public opinion with the utmost seriousness. The German politician responded to revelations on Tuesday by WikiLeaks that the CIA had hacked into encrypted messages and used Frankfurt as a base for its digital espionage operations, saying that Germany did not have any information about the cyber attacks. The agenda for the visit, which comes on the heels of a visit to Poland, centers on sensitive topics in the German-Russian relationship including Ukraine, Syria and NATO. Although Gabriel has been Germany's foreign minister for just six weeks, the politician from the Social Democratic Party (SPD) is meeting with old acquaintances. As a former Minister of the Economy, Gabriel received Putin three times when he held that post. Tricky topics on the table Gabriel inherited a delicate relationship from his predecessor Frank-Walter Steinmeier, made more uncertain by the Trump administration's overtures to Russia and the Baltic and EU-member nations' fears of an increasingly resurgent Kremlin. The foreign minister told Interfax reporters that a "relapse into Cold War times" must be avoided "at all costs." In this charged atmosphere, Gabriel is seeking to make progress on certain key issues. He will continue a push for progress he began at the Munich Security Conference aimed at subduing the violent fighting that has flared up in East Ukraine in recent weeks, as a ceasefire between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian troops dissolved. Chancellor Angela Merkel's policy is to tie the removal of sanctions imposed against Moscow to a Russian adherence to the Minsk agreement. Gabriel and Lavrov will also discuss the six-year-long conflict in Syria andthe upcoming peace talks in Geneva and possibilities for stabilizing Libya, a key departure point for migrants seeking EU entry. NATO-Russia Council Despite the Baltic and Eastern European EU member states' fears of increased Russian aggression - which led NATO to station some 4,000 troops in the region - Gabriel is likely to appeal for regular meetings of the NATO-Russia Council (NRC) in an effort to de-escalate tension. Gabriel recently questioned the military alliance's two percent defense spending commitment. Before his reception by the Kremlin, the German politician met Thursday morning with leaders of Russian civil organizations at the German Ambassador's residence in Moscow. The assembled group included writers, editors and the leader of Greenpeace Russia.

Gabriel has also called for conventional disarmament while meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov in Moscow. The German politician is scheduled to meet President Putin later in the day. “We have concerns that we are entering into a new arms race,” Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel told his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on Thursday during their meeting in Moscow. Gabriel also ... Read More »

Trump supporters tricked into waving Russian flags at CPAC

Attendees of the annual conservative conference in the US have been duped into waving red, white and blue Russian flags emblazoned with the word Trump. Two young activists claimed responsibility for the devious prank. Supporters of US President Donald Trump inadvertently waved Russian flags at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Friday after two undercover protesters handed them out. DW correspondent Maya Shwayder witnessed several people being tricked into waving the Russian flag at the annual three-day gathering of conservative activists and elected officials. She reported that security guards later came round to collect the flags as one of the protesters called Trump a fascist. Several other people tweeted photos of the flags, which were emblazoned with the word Trump written in gold lettering. American monthly "The Atlantic" reported that two activists, Jason Charter, 22, and Ryan Clayton, 36, handed out about 1,000 of the red, white and blue flags ahead of Trump's speech at the conference. "Most people didn’t realize it was a Russian flag, or they didn’t care," Charter told the magazine. "I think there are multiple ways you can resist against Trump, and I think this is one way that’s extremely effective," he said. "It shows how Trump and Russia are so connected, they are like peas in a pod!" Trump used his position at CPAC to rail against the immigration practices of Germany, Sweden and France and to double-down on his policy agenda. Trump and his appointees have faced increasing criticism in recent weeks for their seemingly close ties to Russia. Trump fired his national security advisor Michael Flynn for contact with Russia while White House chief of staff Reince Priebus admitted pressuring the FBI to publicly dispute media reports of contact with Russian intelligence agents.

Attendees of the annual conservative conference in the US have been duped into waving red, white and blue Russian flags emblazoned with the word Trump. Two young activists claimed responsibility for the devious prank. Supporters of US President Donald Trump inadvertently waved Russian flags at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Friday after two undercover protesters handed them out. ... Read More »

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