Lavrov to Pompeo: Free Maria Butina arrested on fabricated spy charges

By ethan / July 21, 2018

The US should immediately release Russian gun activist Maria Butina, who is being held in the US on espionage charges, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told his US counterpart over the phone, calling the case “fabricated.”

“Lavrov stressed that the actions of the US authorities that arrested Russian citizen [Maria] Butina on fabricated charges are unacceptable,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement, adding that the minister also called for her “immediate release” in his conversation with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Saturday.

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The Foreign minister raised the issue during phone conversations that were made at the request of the US and aimed at “further normalization of the US-Russian relations” following the summit between the US President Donald Trump and Russia’s Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. Lavrov and Pompeo also discussed the process of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, as well as the situation in Syria.

The 29-year-old Russian student and a gun activist was arrested in the US about a week ago and charged with acting as a foreign agent without registering her activities with the authorities. Butina has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

On July 16, a DC Federal Court rejected Butina’s bail plea and ordered her to be placed in custody pending trial over fears that she could flee or contact Russian intelligence officials. Her lawyer says the trial is being politicized and Russian embassy staff were only allowed to visit her in jail on Thursday.

The Russian Foreign Ministry has called Butina’s arrest politically motivated, adding that it could have been aimed at disrupting the Helsinki summit between Putin and Trump. On Thursday, the ministry also launched a campaign hashtagged #FreeMariaButina on Twitter to raise awareness of her case.

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China must speed up development of nukes to deter US aggression – state media

By ethan / July 21, 2018

China should reconsider the “sufficient” size of their nuclear weapons stockpile to scare off potential attackers, China’s Global Times said, pointing at the US’ “aggressive attitude” in the South China Sea and the Taiwan issue.

One of the lessons China has to learn from the Donald Trump-Vladimir Putin summit is that Washington respects military power in the first place and vast stockpile of nuclear weapons, in particular, the Chinese Communist Party-affiliated paper said in an editorial on Friday. The article suggests that Russia’s nuclear arsenal is behind the US leader’s “respect for the country and probably the only reason that had earlier deterred NATO from engaging “in open conflict in Ukraine and Syria with Russia.” 

“Just by looking at the US’ aggressive attitude in the South China Sea and the Taiwan question, we know that China’s nuclear strength is ‘far from sufficient.’ Part of the US’ strategic arrogance may come from its absolute nuclear advantage,” the editorial warned. It added that one day Washington may “turn this arrogance into military provocation” involving China.

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FILE PHOTO: Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Mustin (DDG 89) with a formation of Japanese ships during training in South China Sea © David Flewellyn/U.S. Navy

Thus, boosting nuclear weapons development to show determination to defend its core national interests must be a “top priority” for the country, the article stressed.

While Moscow and Washington are global nuclear hegemons by the number of warheads, Beijing lags behind the two powers in the nuclear club. Chinese forces possess approximately 270 warheads compared to the several thousand-strong US and Russian arsenals, according to a Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) 2017 report

Beijing is “slowly increasing” the number of warheads and is currently developing the Dongfeng-41 (DF-41) – a long-range ballistic missile possibly capable of striking any potential target worldwide. However, it is unclear when the new weapon will enter into service.

Apart from the recently sparked trade war between the two powers, Chinese and American forces have long flexed their muscles in the disputed waters of the South China Sea, which Beijing claims as its national territory. Despite the fact that the US is not among the claimant states, it insists that the area should remain international waters. Washington routinely sends “freedom of navigation” missions, which include warships and bombers, to the region, drawing ire from Beijing.

READ MORE: China hits out at US for authorizing submarine technology sales to Taiwan

Taiwan is another sore point in US-Chinese relations, as the island is seeking wider autonomy and even independence from mainland China. Washington recognizes Chinese authorities’ “One China” policy, stipulating the country’s integrity, but that has not stopped it from conducting rather provocative maneuvers in the region. In another instance of turning deaf ear to China’s vocal protests, the US State Department greenlighted submarine technology sales to Taiwan. 

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1 year of liberation: Mosul people living among rubble & dead bodies while ISIS still around

By ethan / July 21, 2018

Dead bodies, ruined houses and the risk of Islamists coming back are only a few perils people in Mosul have to cope with. Life in the liberated city is still full of fears, hopelessness and grief, RT’s Ruptly agency revealed.

It’s been a year since the US-backed Iraqi forces defeated Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) in the city of Mosul that had become their de-facto capital. Baghdad has declared a major victory in the war that gripped the country for several years in a row. On the back of the liberation, disturbing reports began emerging, telling of all-out destruction, extrajudicial killings and a looming humanitarian crisis. A new report from the ground now reveals that, since then, things haven’t improved a lot. 

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The ruins of al-Nuri Mosque are seen in Mosul, Iraq, on January 4, 2018. © Khalil Dawood

A Ruptly crew went to the city to talk to local people who went through enormous hardships while living in war-torn Mosul. A man named Mohammed Qadir told the crew a harrowing story of his small daughter being killed in the bombings in April last year. The girl was hiding in the toilet with her little sister when a bomb struck the man’s house.

“You know when a mortar falls you hear the sound, it’s loud. When this [projectile] fell we didn’t hear it even though it was right here. This is where it happened.” Shrapnel severely mutilated the girl, but the nearby doctors refused to save her.

“They said: ‘We are not going to treat her. Our priority is the fighters. We can give her an injection so she dies immediately. Better for her to die at home.’”

As locals struggle to get their lives back to normal, decomposing corpses continue to lie under the rubble. “Yes, there are two bodies still down there. And there are four more bodies in that house behind us,” Qadir said before adding: “The stench coming from them is very strong. Our children are getting sick because of this.”

Meanwhile, Iraqi commanders warn that IS fighters may still be holing up around Mosul and the rest of the country. “No, we cannot say for sure that it is 100 percent [that IS has been eliminated]. … Still, there are few IS sleeper cells hiding in places such as the desert, the jungles, in islands of the Tigris River, and some hiding amongst civilians,” Major General Najmi Al-Juhuri told Ruptly. “We receive tens of phone calls on a daily basis, with people leading us to sleeper cells or guiding us to IS elements appearing anywhere,” he added.

Aid agencies, for their part, are sounding the alarm about the dire state of affairs in Mosul. “It is unfair to say nothing has changed there, but what call for is that the chance should go quicker,” Benoit de Gryse, operations manager with Medecines Sans Frontieres (MSF), told RT.

“We see that the level of destruction that happened a year ago is still visible, even infrastructure hasn’t been repaired yet, hospitals haven’t been reopened yet, there’s a lack of water,” he warned.

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‘Fake revolution’: Kiev summons Italy envoy after Salvini rips into ‘foreign-funded’ Ukraine unrest

By ethan / July 21, 2018

Ukraine is expecting the Italian ambassador for a chat at its Foreign Ministry after Matteo Salvini, Italy’s Interior Minister, slammed the 2014 Euromaidan protests and coup in Kiev as “pseudo-revolution” sponsored from abroad.

“On Monday, we’ll be meeting with the Italian ambassador [Davide La Cecilia]. He’s a nice person and we understand that he can’t be held responsible for the words of the politicians in his home county,” Olena Zerkal, Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister, told the local Channel 5 on Friday.

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FILE PHOTO: Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini © Tony Gentile

Salvini made the comments that infuriated the Ukrainian authorities during his interview with the Washington Post, which was published earlier this week. US journalist, Lally Weymouth, tried to grill the minister over his support for Crimea’s return to Russia. The journalist called the referendum that took place in the region “fake.”

“Compare it to the fake revolution in Ukraine, which was a pseudo-revolution funded by foreign powers – similar to the Arab Spring revolutions,” Salvini shot back, pointing out that 90 percent of Crimeans voted for the return of the peninsula to the Russian Federation.

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry responded with a statement, saying that Salvini words were “not grounded in real facts and in contradiction of recognized principles and norms of international law.”

Zerkal also attempted to downplay Salvini’s words on Friday by saying that “it was hard to expect any different rhetoric from him,” following Salvini’s previous visit to Crimea while being an Italian lawmaker.

Despite the Crimean people overwhelmingly voting to reunite with Russia in March 2014, Ukraine still considers the peninsula its own territory and bans politicians, public figures and artists who travel to Crimea.

Thousands of anti-government protesters occupied Kiev’s Independence Square (Maidan) in late 2013 and early 2014, with deadly clashes eventually leading to the ousting of then-Ukrainian President, Viktor Yanukovych.

During the unrest, US Assistant Secretary of State, Victoria Nuland, who made numerous trips to Kiev and was even spotted handing treats to the demonstrators, boasted that Washington had invested $ 5 billion into the promotion of democracy in Ukraine.

The new pro-Western government sent tanks to eastern Ukraine in spring 2014 where the population refused to recognize the coup. The US and the EU cited Russia’s reunion with Crimea and the conflict in Donbass as they slapped Moscow with several waves of sanctions targeting individuals, companies and whole sectors of economy.

READ MORE: Italy may become 1st EU nation to support lifting of anti-Russia sanctions

Salvini told the Washington Post that it was high time to lift those sanctions “because they didn’t prove to be useful, and according to the data, they hurt Italian exports.”

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Viral drone VIDEO slammed over dangerously close flyby to superjumbo jet

By ethan / July 21, 2018

The drone community has condemned an operator for reckless flying after footage released this week showed a drone coming dangerously close to the world’s largest commercial passenger jet, the Airbus A380.

Filmed at Plaine Magnien Airport on the tropical island of Mauritius, the video shows the take-off of an Emirates A380. As the jet starts to ascend, it becomes apparent that the drone is hovering dangerously close to the aircraft’s flight path, hovering less than 100 meters from the tip of its left wing.

Capable of carrying more than 500 passengers in a typical three-class configuration and 850 passengers in a densified all-economy cabin version, the aircraft was identified as Dubai-based carrier Emirates’ flight EK702 to Dubai, according to photography and video site, FStoppers.

The dramatic clip originally surfaced online after being posted to Facebook by Frenchman Thierry Paris, who describes himself as an A380 captain for Air France. While he has since taken the footage down, a repost of the video by AnthonyVlog has garnered more than 65,000 views since Tuesday.

READ MORE: ‘Reckless’ drone flies dangerously close to landing plane in Vegas (VIDEO)

There was speculation that the video was fake and the footage even became subject of a detailed analysis by the portal Droning On, which came to the conclusion that it was real.

Meanwhile, the pilot’s antics have been slated by fellow drone enthusiasts online. FStoppers writer Oliver Kmia warned that the incident will “surely fuel the fire of the anti-drone crowd.”

“However, adding new regulations and restrictions won’t stop stupid people from doing this kind of thing,” Kmia added.

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Fear not humans: Artificial intelligence to create millions of jobs, predicts PwC

By ethan / July 21, 2018

Artificial intelligence (AI) and related technologies will generate as many jobs as they displace over the next 20 years, according to a report by audit firm PwC which focused mainly on the United Kingdom.

The research found that while AI could displace roughly seven million jobs in the country, it could also create 7.2 million roles, resulting in a modest net boost of around 200,000 jobs. It has also estimated that about 20 percent of jobs would be automated over the next 20 years and no sector would be unaffected.

Technologies such as robotics, drones and driverless vehicles would replace human workers in some areas, but also create many additional jobs as productivity and real incomes rise and new and better products are developed.

In the health and social work sector the number of people employed could rise by almost one million, while jobs in manufacturing could fall by roughly 25 percent, a net loss of almost 700,000 roles.

“Major new technologies, from steam engines to computers, displace some existing jobs but also generate large productivity gains,” PwC’s Chief Economist John Hawksworth said in a press release. “This reduces prices and increases real income and spending levels, which in turn creates demand for additional workers,” he added.

“Our analysis suggests the same will be true of AI, robots and related technologies, but the distribution of jobs across sectors will shift considerably in the process.”

The report highlighted that London, which is home to more than a quarter of the UK’s professional, scientific and technical activities, will benefit the most from AI, with a 2.3 percent boost, or 138,000 extra jobs. The east Midlands is expected to see the biggest net reduction in jobs – 27,000 – a 1.1 percent drop.

AI and its potential impact on society has been the subject of debate for many years. In 2014, the late scientist Stephen Hawking told the BBC that the “development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.” Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said in 2017 that we were in something of a “renaissance” and “golden age” when it came to machine learning and artificial intelligence.

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‘Foreign recruits’ mulled by German military raise ‘mercenary army’ debate

By ethan / July 21, 2018

In a bid to cope with shortage of recruits at home, German army reportedly floats an idea of opening its ranks to foreigners. Critics of the head-hunting proposal say the move might turn Bundeswehr into a “mercenary army.”

The German army may put up a call for foreigners to fill in understaffed military positions, according to a report by Augsburger Allgemeine. The Defense Ministry will reportedly attract foreign recruits into the Bundeswehr by offering a prospect of obtaining German citizenship.

The rationale behind the unconventional proposal is that anyone who decided to risk his life for Germany deserves to be its citizen. When asked to comment on the report, a military spokesman told the paper that “The Bundeswehr will grow, therefore we need qualified personnel. To this end, we try every available option.”

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FILE PHOTO © Hannibal Hanschke

The newspaper said it was the Bavarian Christian Social Union party (CSU), the sister party of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU, which put forward the proposal. Florian Hahn, the party’s defense policy speaker, however, clarified the issue, saying they were referring to EU nationals who may be invited to enlist in the Bundeswehr. “Within the scope of European free movement, modern models could apply here,” he told the newspaper.

Critics of the proposal argue it undermines the very idea of a citizen’s loyalty to his country. If foreigners were given right to getting into Bundeswehr ranks, even with a prospect of becoming German citizens, it would then become “a kind of mercenary army,” argued Karl-Heinz Brunner, a defense policy speaker with the Social Democrats. Any recruit must first become a German citizen before joining the army, he said: “Anyone who obtains the German passport as part of the integration procedure is cordially invited [to enlist].”

At the height of the Cold War the Bundeswehr comprised some 670,000 personnel, both military and civilians. Currently, there are 87,000 civilian personnel and 177,000 military staff employed by the military. A cap of 185,000 troops imposed back in 2011 will be broken after the Defense Ministry announced in 2016 a “long overdue” decision to recruit 14,300 additional soldiers over the next seven years.

Only a few European countries allow foreigners to serve in the military. France’s famed Foreign Legion is open for nationals of every state, while Spanish armed forces normally recruit citizens of its former colonies, except for Puerto Rico and the Philippines.

Aside from the Gurkha regiment comprised of the Nepalese men, the British army recruited Commonwealth nationals who permanently resided in the UK for five consecutive years before joining. In Russia, citizens of former Soviet republics who served a three-year contract in the armed forces become eligible for a fast-track citizenship procedure.

There was only one foreigner in the Bundeswehr as of 2016 – a Romanian military surgeon, Augsburger wrote. In a separate comment for the newspaper, the Defense Ministry said “[the idea of] allowing EU citizens to serve in the Bundeswehr is not new.” Europeans with “specific sought-after qualifications” can be considered for civilian service.

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Russia teams up with France to deliver aid to Eastern Ghouta – Foreign Ministry

By ethan / July 21, 2018

Russia and France will send a relief convoy to Syria’s Eastern Ghouta, delivering first aid kits and medication to local hospitals, the Russian Foreign Ministry said. The distribution of aid will be supervised by Moscow.

The two countries will launch a humanitarian project for Syria to provide care and medicine for people in Eastern Ghouta “who are still in need of medical attention,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said, citing a joint communique based on arrangements made by Russian President Vladimir Putin and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron in May of this year.

It will be the first joint humanitarian operation in Syria between Russia and a Western country.

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Rebel fighters gather and pray before they leave, at the city limits of Harasta, in the eastern Damascus suburb of Ghouta, Syria March 22, 2018. © Omar Sanadiki

The aid deliveries, which will go to local hospitals manned by Syrian Arab Red Crescent, “include first-aid medical equipment, namely emergency and trauma care, for 500 heavily wounded people as well as basic medication to treat 15,000 light injuries.”

Russia will airlift the aid packages directly from France to Syria, and will also ensure their safety on the ground. The aid convoy will be sent in compliance with UN rules and humanitarian law, the Foreign Ministry has said.

It is crucial that Syrians get wider access to humanitarian relief, the statement noted, before adding that aid should be distributed fairly and freely all across Syria “where international humanitarian law must apply.”

Later, Putin and Macron discussed the humanitarian effort for Syria during a telephone conversation. The pair have been focusing on the “humanitarian aspect of Syrian reconciliation, including the joint Franco-Russian initiative on rendering assistance to the population of Eastern Ghouta,” the Kremlin said in a statement.

Eastern Ghouta, lying in close proximity to Damascus, was liberated by Syrian forces back in March following almost seven years of fighting in the area. The army has also lifted the blockade of a main highway connecting the Syrian capital to the rest of the country. 

The battle of Eastern Ghouta saw tens of thousands of civilians as well as numerous rebels flee through humanitarian corridors in search of safety. Daily humanitarian pauses began on February 27, as part of the Syrian Army and Russia’s efforts to help civilians – and later militants – escape the combat zone.

The Russian military has repeatedly said that the militants used civilians as human shields, targeting those trying to flee the terrorist-held enclave. After the much-anticipated liberation, the UN and other humanitarian groups such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) sent a number of aid convoys to provide care those who remained in the Eastern Ghouta area.

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Iran supreme leader threatens to block all Gulf oil exports if its own are stopped

By ethan / July 21, 2018

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has said that no country in the region will export oil if Iran’s exports are stopped. The same threat was earlier voiced by President Hassan Rouhani.

Speaking to Iranian ambassadors and senior diplomats on Saturday, Khamenei backed Rouhani’s earlier warning to close the Strait of Hormuz, thus blocking all oil shipments from the Persian Gulf. 

“[These] were important remarks that reflect Islamic Republic’s approach,” the Ayatollah said, according to his official website. He added that Iran’s Foreign Ministry must closely follow the approach. 

READ MORE: Who actually benefits from sanctions on Iran?

The statement comes in response to anti-Iran rhetoric by the US, which is currently pressing allies to cut off Iranian crude exports. During a recent tour, a senior State Department official warned that those failing to reduce Iranian oil imports to “zero” by early November would face US sanctions.

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Gold to prove crucial hedge against next financial crisis – analyst

By ethan / July 21, 2018

While unsteady financial markets are bouncing up and down due to trade and geopolitical conflicts as well as political uncertainty, some investors turn to less risky assets, principally to gold.

According to the recent report by the London-based consultancy Rosa & Roubini Associates, the latest developments in Italy could easily trigger another global financial crisis. Brunello Rosa, economics expert and CEO of the firm, says that escalation of political risks is likely to force investors to adopt a “moderate risk-taking stance, within a defensive positioning.”

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© Jewel Samad

“Gold will remain a crucial component of diversified portfolios, as a hedge against potential corrections across asset classes,” the analyst said, as quoted by Kitco News. He stressed that the precious metal could become a useful asset to hold in a volatile environment. If Italy drops the euro, financial markets will inevitably face falling equity prices, spikes in short-and long-term rates, and a rise in credit default spread premia, according to Rosa.

“Political developments in Italy have catalyzed investors’ attention over the last few weeks, as the possibility emerged that the country might leave the Eurozone, or that its new ‘populist’ government might adopt a much more confrontational stance on key EU matters, such as fiscal discipline and migrants,” he said.

Gold is being widely advocated by financial analysts as one of the major safe harbors for worried investors as the world has to move from an international monetary system dominated by the US dollar to a multi-polar currency system.

“The inherent weakness of this ‘non-system’ is clear, however, which may explain why many emerging market central banks are increasing their allocation to gold,” Dr Andrew Sheng, Distinguished Fellow of the Asia Global Institute, told US numismatic weekly Coin World.

“It is liquid and has neither credit nor default risk. The inescapable conclusion is that the only viable alternative asset for official reserves is physical gold, as it alone has the requisite liquidity, correlation characteristics, and trust,” he added. “Central banks seeking true risk diversification or insurance, therefore, should increase their gold holdings.”

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