WASHINGTON, June 18 -- The United States is sending 1,000 additional troops to the Middle East after last week's attacks on the two tankers in the Gulf of Oman, US Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan said in a statement on Monday.
"In response to a request from the US Central Command (CENTCOM) for additional forces, and with the advice of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and in consultation with the White House, I have authorized approximately 1,000 additional troops for defensive purposes to address air, naval, and ground-based threats in the Middle East," Shanahan said. "The recent Iranian attacks validate the reliable, credible intelligence we have received on hostile behavior by Iranian forces and their proxy groups that threaten United States personnel and interests across the region," he added. "The United States does not seek conflict with Iran. The action today is being taken to ensure the safety and welfare of our military personnel working throughout the region and to protect our national interests," he noted. "We will continue to monitor the situation dilligently and make adjustments to force levels as necessary given intelligence reporting and credible threats," Shanahan concluded.
On June 13, two tankers caught fire in the Gulf of Oman after an attack. The crews, with Russian nationals among their members, were evacuated by the Iranian rescue services and taken to the port of Jask. US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said that Iran is responsible for the attacks. Tehran has denied any involvement in the incident. The Kokuka Courageous tanker, registered in Panama and owned by a Japanese transport company, was carrying methanol from Saudi Arabia to Singapore. The Marshall Islands-flagged Front Altair vessel, owned by Norway's Frontline, was sailing from the United Arab Emirates to Taiwan with petrochemical feedstock.
ANKARA, June 17 -- The supplies of Russia’s S-400 missile defense systems to Ankara will begin in the first half of July, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters after returning from the summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA) in Dushanbe, Tajikistan.
"We discussed with Russia the S-400 issue, this is a closed chapter. There haven’t been any problems. I think the supplies will begin in the first half of July," Erdogan said, according to the NTV TV channel. Ankara is not planning to give up its S-400 contract, Erdogan stressed. "We have put our signature, we will fulfill what we have started. As part of the loan, Russia gave us various benefits and granted a loan with such interest rates which do not exist on the international market," he explained. Turkey’s National Defense Ministry is preparing a reply to a letter sent by Acting US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan on Washington’s decision to suspend Turkey’s participation in a program on training Turkish pilots in the US on the F-35 bombers in the wake of the S-400 deal. "Very soon, maybe even this week the letter will be sent to [the US side]," Erdogan said.
The first reports that Russia and Turkey were in talks on the S-400 supplies emerged in November 2016. Moscow confirmed that the contract had been signed in September 2017. Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said back then that the deployment of S-400 systems would begin in October 2019. According to Sergei Chemezov, the director general of Russia’s Rostec state corporation, the contract’s price tag is $2.5 bln. Turkey is the first NATO member state to buy these missile systems from Russia. The US has been vigorously trying to stonewall the S-400 deal. Earlier Washington warned Ankara that should the deal with Russia be implemented, the US would not supply its F-35 fighter-bombers to Turkey. The S-400 Triumf is the most advanced long-range air defense missile system that went into service in Russia in 2007. It is designed to destroy aircraft, cruise and ballistic missiles, including medium-range missiles, and can also be used against ground installations. The S-400 can engage targets at a distance of 400 km and at an altitude of up to 30 km.
DUSHANBE, June 15 -- Russian President Vladimir Putin has wished Chinese leader Xi Jinping a happy birthday, presenting him with Russian ice cream, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
On June 15, Xi Jinping turned 66. "The president praised Xi Jinping’s role in the development of bilateral relations and pointed to his recent successful visit to Russia," Peskov said. Xi Jinping thanked the Russian president, adding that Putin was very popular in China. A few years ago, Chinese businessmen participating in the Eastern Economic Forum told Putin that the Chinese people were especially fond of Russian ice cream. The Russian leader brought some ice cream as a present for Xi Jinping when he next visited China.
ST.PETERSBURG, June 7 -- Russia may increase the number of its military specialists in Venezuela if it sends such a request, Director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Latin American Department, Alexander Shchetinin, told reporters on Friday on the sidelines of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum.
"We have got contracts on maintenance works for what has been supplied to Venezuela. Any works demand a certain involvement of people," the diplomat said, noting: "If more [specialists] are needed, we will send them." "This is an absolutely technical issue related to implementing certain contracts on a particular volume of work," the diplomat said, noting that more specialists could arrive if needed. "Some of them will leave and the others will come." In late March, two planes with Russian servicemen arrived in Venezuela. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov later said that the military specialists, who are currently in Venezuela, are repairing the equipment under an agreement on military and technical cooperation between Moscow and Caracas.
VATICAN CITY, June 6 -- Pope Francis will receive Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Vatican on July 4, Agence France-Presse reported on Thursday, citing a statement by Vatican Spokesman Alessandro Gisotti.
"I can confirm that the Holy Father will receive Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Vatican on July 4," Gisotti said. The Kremlin earlier confirmed that Putin was expected to make a visit to Italy but said nothing about the date of the visit and the president’s plans to meet with Pope Francis. In November 2018, Russian Presidential Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that the date of Putin’s visit to Italy would be agreed on through diplomatic channels. He pointed out that the invitation for the Russian leader to visit Italy had been mentioned during Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s visit to Russia on October 24, 2018. In April, Kremlin Aide Yuri Ushakov told reporters that the Russian president planned to visit Italy in the summer. Italian Ambassador to Russia Pasquale Terracciano said later that Putin was expected to visit the country in July.
KUALA LUMPUR, MAY 31 -- The Malaysian government wants strong evidence to show that Russia is responsible for the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 tragedy in 2014, says Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
"They are accusing Russia, but where is the evidence? "We know the missile that brought down the plane is a Russian-type missile, but it could also be made in Ukraine. "You need strong evidence to show it was fired by the Russians. "It could be by the rebels in Ukraine, it could be Ukrainian government because they too have the same missile,” he said during a dialogue and media conference with the Japanese Foreign Correspondent Club (FCCJ) here on Thursday (May 30).
Dr Mahathir said Malaysia accepted the investigation report by Holland but only up the point where the plane was brought down by a missile made by Russia. He said while the government agreed that the plane was brought down by a Russian missile, it could not be ascertained that the missile was launched by Russia. The Russians were a military people and they would know that MH17 was a passenger plane, he added. "I don’t think very highly disciplined party is responsible for launching the missile,” he said. The Prime Minister said Malaysia should also have been involved in the examining the black box as the plane belonged to Malaysia and there were Malaysians passengers. "We may not have the expertise, but we can buy the expertise. For some reasons, Malaysia was not allowed to check the black box to see what happened. "We don’t know why we were excluded from the examination but from the very beginning, we see too much politics in it, and the idea was not to find out how this happened but seemed to be concentrated on trying to pin it on the Russians. "This is not a neutral kind of examination,” said Dr Mahathir.
Had a neutral party examined and made the conclusion, Malaysia would be willing to accept the findings but here we have parties with political interests in the matter, he added. Flight MH17, which departed from Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam on its way to Kuala Lumpur, was shot before crashing near Torez in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine, about 40km from the Russian border on July 17, 2014. The incident killed 298 people, including 15 crew members. Dutch-led Joint Investigation Team (JIT) said the team was convinced that a BUK TELAR missile was used to down MH17, and that it originated from the 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade (53rd Brigade), which is a unit of the Russian Army in Kursk in the Russian Federation.
BEIJING, May 30 -- China and Russia plan to sign around 30 agreements during Chinese President Xi Jinping's upcoming visit to Russia at the beginning of June, Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Zhang Hanhui told a briefing on Thursday.
"I think that around 30 agreements will be signed," Hanhui said. He added that he cannot tell yet the concrete number of agreements and their specific contect. "I cannot yeat provide this information as consultations continue," he noted. The diplomat said that Xi and Russian President Vladimir Putin will sign two joint communiques during the visit, one on bilateral relations, and the second on issues "on the international agenda and strategic stability" of mutual interest. Other joint documents will focus on cooperation in economy, trade, energy, investment and other spheres.
WASHINGTON, May 26 -- The only thing that can be negotiated with the Venezuelan government is the departure of incumbent Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, the US State Department said in a statement published on Saturday.
The US expressed hope that the upcoming talks between members of the Venezuelan opposition and government officials in Oslo will focus on this issue. "The United States supports the desire of the Venezuelan people to recover their democracy and bring the illegitimate Maduro regime to an end. Previous efforts to negotiate an end to the regime and free elections have failed because the regime has used them to divide the opposition and gain time," the statement says. "Free elections cannot be overseen by a tyrant. As we have repeatedly stated, we believe the only thing to negotiate with Nicolas Maduro is the conditions of his departure. We hope the talks in Oslo will focus on that objective, and if they do, we hope progress will be possible," the US State Department continued. The US also demanded to release "800 political prisoners the Maduro regime held as of May 20". "We join supporters of democracy in Venezuela throughout the world in condemning their illegal imprisonment by the Maduro regime and in demanding their immediate release," the statement concluded.
Situation in Venezuela
Juan Guaido Venezuelan opposition leader and speaker of the National Assembly, whose appointment to that position had been cancelled by the country’s Supreme Court, declared himself interim president at a rally in the country’s capital, Caracas, on January 23. On the same day, the United States recognized him as an interim president, and the countries of the Lima Group (excluding Mexico) and the Organization of American States followed suit. Venezuela's incumbent President Nicolas Maduro blasted the move as an attempted coup and announced cutting diplomatic ties with the United States.
Most European Union member states recognized Guaido as Venezuela’s interim president. Russia, Belarus, Bolivia, Iran, China, Cuba, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Syria and Turkey voiced support for Maduro.
On April 30, a group of military representatives expressed support for Guaido, which started a wave of massive anti-government protests in the country. Five people died and hundreds were injured in clashed with law enforcement. Non-governmental organizations reported that nearly 340 protesters were detained.
MOSCOW, May 22 -- Russian President Vladimir Putin has held a telephone conversation with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron to discuss the situation in Syria in the context of multiple ceasefire violations in Idlib, the Kremlin press service said.
"The sides comprehensively exchanged opinions on the Syrian issue, including in light of multiple ceasefire violations in Idlib by radical armed groups. The Russian president informed his colleagues about joint efforts with Turkey on stabilizing the situation in Syria's north-west, on protecting civilians and netralizing terrorist threats," the Kremlin said. "Special attention was paid to prospects of forming and launching a constitutional committee, with the consideration of agreements reached in October 2018 at the four-party summit (Russia, Turkey, Germany, France) in Istanbul. The sides agreed to continue coordinating efforts in the framework of political settlement of the Syrian crisis on the basis of UN Security Council Resolution 2254, in accordance with principles of ensuring Syria's sovereignty and territorial integrity," the press service added. On Monday, militants from the Idlib de-escalation zone, together with the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham terrorist group (formerly Jebhat al-Nusra, banned in Russia), launched an offensive at positions of Syrian govenrment forces, with the use of tanks. The Russian Center fore reconciliation of the conflicting sides in Syria said that the Syrian government forces are repelling the attacks. Militants also attempted to shell the Hmeymim airbase multiple times. Russian servicemen said that shellings and provocations by militants continued even after the ceasefire agreement entered into force on May 18.
Situation in Ukraine
The sides also discussed Ukraine in the telephone conversation. "The situation was discussed around the crisis in Ukraine given the bankrupt policies of the administration of Pyotr Poroshenko and the change of the state leadership in Ukraine," the Kremlin said. The parties agreed that "there is no alternative to the 2015 Minsk Package of Measures as a basis for the peace settlement," the press service added. "The Russian president reiterated the priority of carrying into effect the law on a special status for the certain areas of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, giving it a permanent nature, holding amnesty, disengaging forces and means on the earlier coordinated sections along the contact line, as well as moves to establish a direct dialogue between Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk," the press service said. Putin also "drew attention of the interlocutors to the discriminatory law ‘On the functioning of the Ukrainian language as the state language’ passed by the Verkhovna Rada. He expressed bewilderment about the refusal of some countries to discuss in the UN Security Council this document that goes against the Ukrainian Constitution, the Minsk agreements and Kiev’s international obligations to protect national and language minorities," the Kremlin noted. Vladimir Zelensky was inaugurated as Ukrainian President on Monday, May 20. On the same day, Prime Minister Vladimir Groysman announced his resignation, which means the Cabinet of Ministers will resign. On Tuesday, Zelensky signed a decree to dissolve the parliament and scheduled the snap parliamentary election for July 21.
CARACAS, May 21 -- Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has proposed to the opposition controlling the country's National Assembly to hold snap parliamentary elections in order to resolve the political crisis in the Bolivarian Republic.
"Today I am making a proposal to the opposition — let's try to compete in elections," Maduro said at a demonstration broadcast by Venezolana de Television. "Let's hold an early election to the National Assembly, in order to see whom the people support," he added. Snap elections would represent "a democratic, peaceful and constitutional solution" to the difficult political situation in the country, Maduro noted. Next scheduled parliamentary elections will be held in Venezuela in 2020. On January 23 Venezuelan National Assembly Speaker Juan Guaido proclaimed himself as the country's acting president. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has described it as a coup attempt and announced severing diplomatic relations with the United States. On January 28 the US imposed sancitons on Venezuela's state-owned PDVSA oil company.
Guaido was recognized as interim president by the Lima Group countries (except for Mexico), as well as by Albania, Georgia, the United States, and the Organization of American States. Several EU countries came forward with support for the Venezuelan parliament and expressed hope for new elections to resolve the crisis. Maduro was supported by Russia, Bolivia, Iran, Cuba, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Turkey. Belarus and China called for resolving all issues by peaceful means and spoke against any interference from the outside. The UN secretary general called for dialogue to resolve the crisis.