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Putin: No intention to deploy Russian troops in Venezuela

June 06, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) — President Vladimir Putin has told reporters that Moscow has no intention to deploy its troops or set up military bases in Venezuela. He added that Russian experts have been in Venezuela to service Russian-made weapons bought by Caracas.

Putin, who was meeting Thursday with the head of international news agencies, was responding to a question about a tweet by U.S. President Donald Trump earlier this week that said Moscow had informed Washington it had pulled out its personnel from Venezuela.

“We aren’t creating any bases or sending troops there,” Putin said. “But we will be keeping our obligations in the sphere of military and technical cooperation.” The Russian leader said the U.S. sanctions against Venezuela have hurt ordinary people and warned Washington against using force.

WikiLeaks’ Assange arrested at Ecuador embassy in London

April 11, 2019

LONDON (AP) — Police in London arrested WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at the Ecuadorean embassy Thursday for failing to surrender to the court in 2012, shortly after the South American nation revoked his asylum.

Ecuador’s president Lenin Moreno said a tweet that his government withdrew Assange’s status for repeated violations of international conventions. Moreno described it as a “sovereign decision” due to “repeated violations to international conventions and daily-life.”

Assange took refuge in the embassy in London in 2012 and has been holed up inside ever since. “Today I announce that the discourteous and aggressive behavior of Mr. Julian Assange, the hostile and threatening declarations of its allied organization, against Ecuador, and especially the transgression of international treaties, have led the situation to a point where the asylum of Mr. Assange is unsustainable and no longer viable,” Moreno said in a video statement released on Twitter.

Police said Assange has been taken into “custody at a central London police station where he will remain, before being presented before Westminster Magistrates’ Court as soon as is possible.” Video posted online by Ruptly, the agency wing of Russia Today, showed about five to six men in suits forcibly escorting Assange out of the embassy building, surrounding him as he staggered down the steps and boarded a police van.

Police said officers were invited into the embassy by the ambassador following the Ecuador government’s withdrawal of Assange’s asylum. Assange had not come out of the embassy for years because he feared arrest and extradition to the United States for publishing thousands of classified military and diplomatic cables through WikiLeaks.

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt thanked Moreno for breaking the impasse, saying on Twitter that Assange “is no hero and no one is above the law.” His arrest came a day after WikiLeaks accused the Ecuador’s government of an “extensive spying operation” against Assange.

WikiLeaks claims meetings with lawyers and a doctor inside the embassy over the past year were secretly filmed. WikiLeaks said in a tweeted statement that Ecuador illegally terminated Assange’s political asylum “in violation of international law.”

Russian air force planes land in Venezuela carrying troops: reports

MARCH 24, 2019

CARACAS (Reuters) – Two Russian air force planes landed at Venezuela’s main airport on Saturday carrying a Russian defense official and nearly 100 troops, according to media reports, amid strengthening ties between Caracas and Moscow.

A flight-tracking website showed that two planes left from a Russian military airport bound for Caracas on Friday, and another flight-tracking site showed that one plane left Caracas on Sunday.

That comes three months after the two nations held military exercises on Venezuelan soil that President Nicolas Maduro called a sign of strengthening relations, but which Washington criticized as Russian encroachment in the region.

Reporter Javier Mayorca wrote on Twitter on Saturday that the first plane carried Vasily Tonkoshkurov, chief of staff of the ground forces, adding the second was a cargo plane carrying 35 tonnes of material.

An Ilyushin IL-62 passenger jet and an Antonov AN-124 military cargo plane left for Caracas on Friday from Russian military airport Chkalovsky, stopping along the way in Syria, according to flight-tracking website Flightradar24.

The cargo plane left Caracas on Sunday afternoon, according to Adsbexchange, another flight-tracking site.

The flights carried officials who arrived to “exchange consultations,” wrote Russian government-owned news agency Sputnik, which quoted an unnamed source at the Russian embassy.

“Russia has various contracts that are in the process of being fulfilled, contracts of a technical military character,” Sputnik quoted the source as saying.

A Reuters witness saw what appeared to be the passenger jet at the Maiquetia airport on Sunday.

Venezuela’s Information Ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Russia’s Defense Ministry and Foreign Ministry did not reply to messages seeking comment. The Kremlin spokesman also did not reply to a request for comment.

The Trump administration has levied crippling sanctions on the OPEC nation’s oil industry in efforts to push Maduro from power and has called on Venezuelan military leaders to abandon him. Maduro has denounced the sanctions as U.S. interventionism and has won diplomatic backing from Russia and China.

In December, two Russian strategic bomber aircraft capable of carrying nuclear weapons landed in Venezuela in a show of support for Maduro’s socialist government that infuriated Washington.

Maduro on Wednesday said Russia would send medicine “next week” to Venezuela, without describing how it would arrive, adding that Moscow in February had sent some 300 tonnes of humanitarian aid.

Venezuela in February had blocked a convoy carrying humanitarian aid for the crisis-stricken country that was coordinated with the team of opposition leader Juan Guaido, including supplies provided by the United States, from entering via the border with Colombia.

Source: Reuters.

Link: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-venezuela-politics/russian-air-force-planes-land-in-venezuela-carrying-troops-report-idUSKCN1R50NB.

Trump floats idea of Brazil becoming NATO member

Washington (AFP)
March 19, 2019
President Donald Trump raised the possibility Tuesday that Brazil could become a member of NATO as he hosted far-right President Jair Bolsonaro for security talks at the White House.
“I… intend to designate Brazil as a major non-NATO ally or even possibly, if you start thinking about it, maybe a NATO ally,” Trump told reporters in the Rose Garden.
“I have to talk to a lot of people, but maybe a NATO ally, which will greatly advance security and cooperation between our countries.”
Asked earlier as he hosted Bolsonaro in the Oval Office whether Brazil should be granted NATO privileges, Trump replied: “We’re looking at it very strongly. We’re very inclined to do that.”
“The relationship that we have right now with Brazil has never been better,” Trump added. “I think there was a lot of hostility with other presidents. There’s zero hostility with me.
“And we’re going to look at that very, very strongly in terms of whether it’s NATO or something having to do with alliance.”
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which marks 70 years since its founding in April, last month cleared the way for Macedonia to become its 30th member.
Trump has been unstinting in his criticism of NATO’s European members, accusing them of freeloading on the protection offered by the US military while not spending enough on their own armed forces.
Before taking office Trump called NATO “obsolete” and soon after a NATO summit last July summit he questioned whether the US would honor the alliance’s founding principle of mutual defense for newest member Montenegro.
Source: Space War.

Candidate for EU’s top job slams Greece over Venezuela

February 07, 2019

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — The conservative candidate for the European Union’s top job has sharply criticized Greece’s stance on Venezuela’s political crisis, saying Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is “blocking initiatives on a European level” that would support those “fighting for a democratic Venezuela.”

Manfred Weber, who heads the European Parliament’s largest center-right group, said Thursday it was “a tragedy to see how the Greek government is now behaving on (a) European level.” Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself interim president last month, saying President Nicolas Maduro’s re-election in May was fraudulent. The United States and a number of European Union countries have backed Guaido, but Greece’s governing Syriza party has expressed its “full support and solidarity” for Maduro.

Weber is running in May 23-26 European elections to succeed his EPP Christian Democrat party colleague Jean-Claude Juncker to run the European Commission. He told reporters in Athens: “Everybody who has eyes in his head must see that in Venezuela we have a dictatorship, a socialist dictatorship.”

He suggested the European Union should change its decision-making process in foreign affairs from requiring unanimous votes to allowing decisions to be taken through majority votes instead. That, he said, would ensure decisions “are not anymore in the hands of governments like here in Greece which have obviously more contact with (Russian President Vladimir) Putin and Maduro and not so much with the free world of democratic countries.”

Weber was in Athens to attend a two-day EPP group meeting. Greece’s left-wing government says it backs an EU initiative to try to find a political solution to the Venezuela crisis but has refused to endorse Guaido. Government officials had no immediate response to Weber’s remarks.

Greek opposition leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis, a close ally of Weber, said Greece’s support for Maduro had hurt the country’s standing. “I’m very sorry to say this but the position of the Greek prime minister on this issue is a disgrace for our country,” Mitsotakis said. “It isolates Greece and it really reduces our political influence abroad.”

EU chief calls for elections in Venezuela amid aid crisis

February 07, 2019

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay (AP) — A top European Union official on Thursday called for a peaceful solution to Venezuela’s crisis through free and transparent presidential elections as desperate residents gathered at the Colombian-Venezuela border demanding embattled President Nicolas Maduro allow in emergency food and medicine.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said an international coalition does not plan to impose a solution but is focused on finding answers to avoid violence or foreign intervention within Venezuela.

“We can have different points of view and readings about the causes of the crisis,” Mogherini said. “But we share the same objective, wishing to contribute to a politically peaceful and democratic solution.”

The “International Contact Group” met in Uruguay’s capital to discuss Venezuela’s crisis for the first time since opposition lawmaker Juan Guaido declared himself interim president of the South American nation.

Guaido, who has backing from some 40 countries including the United States, is seeking to oust Maduro following a 2018 election that many countries say was a sham. Maduro has support from several countries, including Russia and China.

Uruguayan President Tabare Vazquez is leading the meeting attended by leaders of 14 countries, including Spain, Italy, Portugal and Sweden. But as the gathering got underway, tensions were playing out farther north in the Colombian border town of Cucuta. Humanitarian assistance from the U.S. is in Colombia and is en route to the town over objections from Maduro, who blames the White House for leading a coup against him.

The Venezuelan military has barricaded the bridge at the border crossing between the two countries in a bid to block the aid from passing. About a dozen human rights activists on Thursday stood at the metal gate at the entrance to the bridge on Colombia’s side. They held flags while Colombian police trucks carrying armed officers and other authorities drove by throughout the day.

Venezuelan Luis Escobar said his wife had advanced breast cancer and urged Maduro to accept the aid. In tears, he described how his wife was unable to get treatment in Venezuela and that by the time they were able to see a doctor in Colombia, her illness had significantly progressed.

Escobar says that he doesn’t want other Venezuelans to suffer his wife’s dire fate. “I am here because, unfortunately, my wife is going to die,” Escobar said. “But today I am here for Venezuelans who are suffering the same as my wife. The world has to know about this.”

Associated Press writer Christine Armario contributed from Cucuta, Colombia.

A look at what happened at the G-20 summit in Argentina

December 02, 2018

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Leaders of the world’s largest economic powers have agreed to overhaul the global body that regulates trade disputes, but they faced resistance from President Donald Trump over the Paris accord on climate change.

Here are some of the main developments at the Group of 20 summit, which wrapped up Saturday:

WORLD TRADE ORGANIZATION

All G-20 leaders called for reforming the World Trade Organization and the issue will be discussed during the group’s next summit in Osaka, Japan, in June. The gathering’s final statement, however, did not mention protectionism after negotiators said the U.S. objected to the wording. Trump has criticized the WTO and taken aggressive trade policies targeting China and the European Union.

U.S.-CHINA TRADE WAR

Financial markets will be cheered by the announcement that Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed at a dinner after the summit to have a 90-day truce in their trade battle.

Trump agreed to hold off on plans to raise tariffs Jan. 1 on $200 billion in Chinese goods. Xi agreed to buy a “not yet agreed upon, but very substantial amount of agricultural, energy, industrial” and other products from the United States to reduce America’s huge trade deficit with China, the White House said.

The cease-fire will buy time for the two countries to work out their differences in a dispute over Beijing’s aggressive drive to supplant U.S. technological dominance.

PRINCE UNDER PRESSURE

There were some awkward moments for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as some leaders called him out over the gruesome October killing of dissident Saudi newspaper columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the country’s consulate in Istanbul.

French President Emmanuel Macron was captured on video seemingly lecturing bin Salman, at one point being heard saying “I am worried,” ”you never listen to me,” and “I am a man of my word.” Macron said the crown prince only “took note” of his concerns.

British Prime Minister Theresa May also said she pressed bin Salman.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey said Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was the only G-20 leader to raise the issue during the official session. Erdogan called bin Salman’s response — that the crime had not been proven — “unbelievable” and complained that Saudi authorities have been uncooperative.

But it wasn’t all bad for bin Salman. He was not shunned, and on the gathering’s first day, he and Russian President Vladimir Putin engaged in a hearty grip-and-grin as the two seemingly reveled in their shared status as relative outcasts.

U.S. intelligence agencies concluded the Saudi prince was behind the killing. Saudi Arabia denies he played a role.

UKRAINE CONFLICT

Western leaders confronted Putin over Russia’s recent seizure of Ukrainian naval vessels and crews, but the diplomatic pressure didn’t seem to bring either side closer to solving the conflict. Russia and Ukraine have accused each other of being responsible for the standoff.

Trump cited Russia’s actions as the reason that he canceled a planned meeting with Putin on the sidelines of the summit. EU Council President Donald Tusk sharply criticized “Russia’s aggression” against Ukraine.

Putin tried to convince Trump and the leaders of France and Germany that Russia’s actions were justified — even pulling out a piece of paper and drawing a map of the disputed area to make his point.

CLIMATE CHANGE

The final communique signed by all 20 member nations said 19 of them reaffirmed their commitment to the Paris climate accord. The only holdout was the U.S., which has withdrawn from the pact under Trump.

Still, environmental groups praised the statement as welcome news.

“That G20 leaders signed up to the Paris Agreement reaffirmed their commitment to its full implementation in the resulting communique is important,” the World Wildlife Fund said. “It is also a reflection of the Argentinian government rightly making climate an important topic on the agenda.”

Greenpeace said that “the necessity of the U.S. being part of the effort to fight climate change cannot be denied, but this is a demonstration that the U.S. is still the odd one out.”

NAFTA

After two years of negotiations, Trump signed a revised North American trade pact with the leaders of Canada and Mexico on the sidelines of the summit. The deal is meant to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement, which Trump long denigrated as a “disaster.”

The new pact won’t take effect unless approved by the legislatures of all three nations, and there are questions about the pact’s prospects in the U.S. Congress, especially now that Democrats will control the House. Democrats and their allies in the labor movement are already demanding changes.

But Trump said on the way back to Washington that he plans to formally terminate NAFTA, so Congress will have to choose between accepting the new pact or going without a trade accord.

LOW EXPECTATIONS_LOW OUTPUT

Even the host country had lowered expectations ahead of the summit, saying before the gathering started that it might not be possible to reach a consensus for a final statement.

After sleepless days of round-the-clock talks by diplomats, a communique was produced, but analysts said leaders merely signed a watered down statement that skirted trade and other contentious issues.

“The G20 veered all over the road” at the summit and the leaders failed to fix trade, which is widely seen as a priority for boosting growth in jobs and economies, said Thomas Bernes, a distinguished fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation who has held leading roles with the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and Canada’s government.

“Leaders buried their differences in obscure language and dropped language to fight protectionism, which had been included in every G-20 communique since the leaders’ first summit. This is clearly a retrograde step forced by United States intransigence,” Bernes said.

Associated Press writers Peter Orsi and Angela Charlton contributed to this report.

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