DEN HAAG, June 15 -- Investigators will next week announce criminal proceedings against suspects in the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 five years ago, allegedly by pro-Russian separatists.
MH17 was shot out of the sky over territory held by separatists in eastern Ukraine as it flew from Amsterdam to the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, killing all 298 people on board. There were 38 Australians, one New Zealander, 193 Dutch, 43 Malaysians and 12 Indonesians were aboard, as well as 10 British passengers. The other passengers were from Germany, Belgium, the Philippines and Canada.
Dutch prosecutors said yesterday a multinational investigation team would present its latest findings to media and families on June 19. A spokesman for the national Dutch prosecution service declined to specify what would be announced. Citing anonymous sources reported that the public prosecution service had decided to launch a case against several MH17 suspects. Also reported that criminal proceedings will be announced against individual suspects. No suspects were named in the reports.
The Joint Investigation Team, which seeks to try the suspects under Dutch law, has said the missile system came from the Russian 53rd Anti-Aircraft Brigade, based in the western Russian city of Kursk.
Investigators had said their next step would be to identify individual culprits and to attempt to put them on trial.
Dutch officials have said Russia has refused to cooperate. Russia is not expected to surrender any potential suspects who may be on its territory and authorities have said individuals could be tried in absentia. The Joint Investigation Team was formed in 2014 by Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine to investigate collaboratively. The Netherlands and Australia hold Russia legally responsible. Moscow denies all involvement and maintains that it does not support, financially or with equipment, pro-Russian rebels fighting Ukrainian government troops.
MOSCOW, June 12 -- Reporters Without Borders (RSF) hails the historic level of pressure from Russian civil society that led to investigative journalist Ivan Golunov’s release yesterday but points out that at least six other journalists are still detained in Russia.
Their profiles are presented below.
Ivan Golunov’s arrest highlighted the complete impunity enjoyed by corrupt police officers ready to bring the most absurd trumped-up charges against troublesome journalists. Their behaviour shocked Moscow but it is quite common in the rest of Russia. A young Chechen journalist, Zhalaudi Geriyev, has just completed a three-year jail sentence on equally fanciful drug charges. At least six other journalists continue to be detained arbitrarily just for doing their job. One of them, Igor Rudnikov, is due to be sentenced on 17 June and is facing up to ten years in a prison camp. “The past few days have shown that it is possible to snatch journalists from censorship’s claws in Russia if the level of support and solidarity is strong enough,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “But the scale of this victory will be limited if we allow Ivan Golunov’s fellow journalists to continue festering in prison. The time has come to mobilize for all the other journalists who are unjustly detained in Russia. I am and we are Igor Rudnikov, Remzi Bekirov, Alexei Nazimov, Roman Sushchenko, Alexander Tolmachev and Alexander Valov.”
A reporter for the alternative news website Grani.ru in Crimea (the Ukrainian region annexed in 2014), Bekirov particularly covered the persecution of the Tatar population and pro-Ukraine activists by the Russian de-facto authorities. He was arrested along with a number of other people in Crimea in March 2019 and is facing a possible life sentence on a charge of being one of the “leaders of a terrorist organization,” Hizb-ut-Tahrir.
The editor of the opposition newspaper Tvoya Gazeta in the Crimean city of Alushta, Nazimov was arrested in October 2016 and was sentenced to four years and seven months in prison for supposedly trying to extort money from the local branch of the ruling United Russia party, which he had criticized in his reporting.
The founder and editor of the leading independent newspaper in Russia’s western enclave of Kaliningrad, Rudnikov is well known for hard-hitting investigative reporting and had been the target of two murder attempts. He was arrested in November 2017 on a charge of trying to extort money from the local head of the special police, who had been the subject of some of his investigative reporting. A verdict is due in his trial on 17 June. His newspaper, Novye Kolesa, has meanwhile been forced to close.
The Ukrainian news agency Ukrinform’s Paris correspondent, Sushchenko was arrested while visiting a friend in Russia in September 2016 and was sentenced to 12 years in a harsh-regime prison camp at the end of a trial held behind closed doors. Most of the indictment was classified as a defence secret.
The editor of two publications in the southwestern Rostov-on-Don region, Upolnomochen Zayavit and Pro Rostov, Tolmachev arrested in December 2011 and was illegally maintained in pre-trial detention for nearly three years despite serious health problems. He was finally sentenced to nine years in a prison camp for allegedly extorting money from people he had criticized in his reporting.
The editor of the BlogSochi news website in the southwestern Sochi region, Valov is well known for criticizing the local authorities. He was arrested in January 2018 on a charge of trying to extort money from a local parliamentarian he had criticized, and was sentenced to six years in prison at the end of a sham trial. BlogSochi has meanwhile been hacked and is no longer accessible.
Russia is ranked 149thout of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.
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.
KIEV, May 29 -- Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky plans to make a working visit to Brussels on June 4 to hold meetings with top EU officials, Ukraine's Radio Svoboda said.
"The visit will take place on June 4. Zelensky is expected to meet with top EU officials, including European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker," the radio station said. In addition, Zelensky may also meet with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. Deputy Chief of the Ukrainian Presidential Office Vadim Pristaiko said on May 27 that Germany would be one of the first countries Zelensky would visit though a date for his visit hadn’t been finalized yet.
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.
KIEV, May 20 -- Vladimir Zelensky took the oath of office as President of Ukraine at the Ukrainian parliament (Verkhovna Rada) meeting on Monday.
"I do solemnly swear to defend the sovereignty and independence of Ukraine with all my deeds, to provide for the good of the Fatherland and the welfare of the Ukrainian people, to protect the rights and freedoms of citizens, to abide by the Constitution of Ukraine and the laws of Ukraine, to fulfill my duties in the interests of all compatriots, and to enhance the prestige of Ukraine in the world," the new President said. After that, Zelensky was presented with symbols of power - a mace, a badge of the President of Ukraine and the official seal, and the head of the Central Electoral Commission Tatyana Slipachuk, presented Zelensky the identification of the head of state.
MOSCOW, May 15 -- Talks between US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and Russian President Vladimir Putin demonstrate the serious approach of both Washington and Moscow to maintaining bilateral dialogue, chairman of the Valdai Discussion Club Andrey Bystritsky said Wednesday.
"These meetings and Pompeo's visit to Sochi itself represent an important signal. From the political point of view, the significance of this meeting is that it actually took place. Even if they reached some practical agreements, they will try to not disclose them publicly because those agreements will gradually show in what the parties in this discussion will do in the future," Bustritsky said. "In this case, Russia and the US demonstrated that are having a serious meeting, that the US secretary of state is ready to go to Sochi and spend a lot of time there in talks. Both sides demonstrate readiness to negotiate," he added. The talks also confirmed US President Donald Trump's intention to fulfill the promises he made during the election campaign, the expert noted. "In some sense, Trump is fulfilling his plans which he talked about before becoming president - he thinks that it is better to negotiate and reach agreements with Russians, as opposed to not talking and not reaching any agreements," the expert said.
Bystritsky said that one of the most important signals after Putin-Pompeo talks was the fact that the sides did not discuss the situation in Ukraine. "I would interpret this statement in the following manner: the basis formula is not being reconsidered. The Minsk Agreements remain in force. What is there to discuss? The agreements need to be implemented. Whether Ukraine is ready to fulfill them is another story," he explained. Among the topics on the international agenda discussed at the meeting, the most important issue is the situation around the Iranian nuclear deal, Bystritsky said. "Other issues, such as Venezuela and Syria, are important as well but also routine. It is clear that those are old conflicts, and it will be hard to overcome them completely. It is not clear how to resolve these problems," he concluded.
MOSCOW, May 1 -- Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree on granting the right to obtain Russian citizenship in a simplified procedure for certain groups of Ukrainian citizens.
The decree was published on Wednesday on the official Internet legal information portal. The document says that this simplified procedure of obtaining Russian citizenship applies to Ukrainian citizens, who have no citizenship of other states, who were born and reside permanently on the territories of the Crimean republic and the city of Sevastopol, those who had left the above mentioned territories before March 18, 2014 and also their children, including adopted children, husbands and wives and parents. The right to get Russian citizenship in a simplified procedure has been also granted to individuals without citizenship, who were born and resided in Crimea, and who had left the peninsula before it rejoined Russia, as well as other persons who were subjected to illegal deportation from the territory of the Crimean Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic.
The process of granting Russian citizenship will be also eased for Ukrainians and persons without citizenship, who have permission for temporary residence in Russia, a residence permit, a refugee identity card, a document on temporary refuge or a document of a participant of a state program on providing assistance to relocating to Russia fellow countrymen living abroad, those who resided in certain areas of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions of Ukraine in April 2014 and also their children, husbands and wives and parents. Besides, under the decree the right to obtain Russian citizenship in a simplified procedure will be given to the citizens of Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen and Syria, who were born on the territory of the Russian Socialist Federative Socialist Republic and held the Soviet Union’s citizenship. The applications on obtaining Russian citizenship filed by the above mentioned groups of citizens should be considered within three months. On April 24, Putin signed a decree enabling people living in the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics to receive Russian citizenship under a simplified procedure. According to the document, the decision has been made "in order to protect human rights and freedoms" based on universally accepted international laws.
KIEV, April 22 -- The presidential elections in Ukraine on Sunday resulted in a landslide victory for Volodomyr Zelensky, a 41-year-old lawyer and comedian who in very short time established a new party and defeated the incumbent president since 2014, Petro Poroshenko, by 73 % against 25 % of the votes.
Total voter turn-out was 62 %, well above the 42 % turnout in the presidential elections in North Macedonia the day before. The EU developed close relations to Poroshenko but seems to have got tired of his stalling of necessary anti-corruption reforms and was quick in congratulating Zelensky to his victory. In an unusually warm letter (22 April), presidents Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker expressed their “appreciation of Ukraine’s strong attachment to democracy and the rule of law throughout the electoral process”. While significant progress has been made in Ukraine since Ukraine’s “Revolution of Dignity” in 2014, much remains to be accomplished, according to their letter.
Despite his inexperience of politics, and avoiding questions from journalists during the election campaign, Zelensky was seen as untainted by corruption and supported by the majority of Ukrainians who wanted change and voted in protest against Poroshenko. Zelensky became popular when playing the president in a TV series by name “Servant of the people”, the same name as his party.
His victory is the more amazing as he von the elections despite preferring speaking Russian over Ukrainian and being of Jewish origin in a country with an anti-semitic past. In their letter, Tusk and Juncker assured Zelensky that he, as president of Ukraine, can count on EU’s support and invited him to a meeting at the earliest possible date. Zelensky will be facing huge challenges such as solving the ongoing conflict with separatists supported by Russia in its eastern Donbass region, where 13 000 people have been killed, and ramping corruption despite EU-inspired anti-corruption measures (32 points on Transparency International´s corruption index). Still he is optimistic about leading Ukraine towards EU and NATO membership in the coming years.