Archive for February, 2014

SOUTH KOREA SAYS N. KOREA FIRED 4 SUSPECTED SHORT-RANGE MISSILES

February 28, 2014

FoxNews on February 27, 2014, published an AP report on North Korea firing four suspected short range missiles into its eastern waters on February 27, South Korean defense officials said, in an apparent effort to protest ongoing U.S.-South Korean military exercises that Pyongyang calls a rehearsal for invasion. Excerpts below:

The projectiles that landed off the North’s eastern coast were believed to be short-range missiles with a range of about 125 miles. The South Korean Defense Ministry officials who discussed the launches spoke anonymously, citing ministry rules.

The officials said they were trying to learn exactly what North Korea launched and that South Korea has bolstered its monitoring on North Korea.
Yonhap news agency, citing an unidentified military official, reported the North Korean projectiles were suspected to be ballistic Scud missiles or an upgraded version of its newly developed surface-to-ship KN-02 missiles.

Kim Yong-hyun, a professor of North Korea studies at Seoul’s Dongguk University, said the North appears to have intended to protest the South Korean-U.S. military drills that began on February 24 or to grab international attention as there has been little progress over a push to resume disarmament-for-aid negotiations.

Last year, North Korea furiously reacted to the same South Korean-U.S. military drills by issuing a torrent of fiery rhetoric and threats to launch nuclear missiles against Seoul and Washington. Last year’s drills came after North Korea conducted its third nuclear test. The U.S. took the unusual step of sending nuclear-capable bombers in a show of its resolve to protect its ally.

North Korea hasn’t issued any harsh rhetoric against the current drills after their start. Seoul and Washington have said the annual drills are defensive in nature.

Pyongyang earlier threatened to scrap the arrangement for the family reunions in anger over the drills but later allowed them to proceed after high-level talks with Seoul.

The Korean Peninsula officially remains at war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty. About 28,500 American troops are stationed in South Korea to deter potential aggression from North Korea.

GEORGIA PRIME MINISTER GARIBASHVILI EYES NATO MEMBERSHIP, WHILE KEEPING RUSSIA AT BAY

February 27, 2014

The Washington Times on February 26, 2014, reported that Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili is determined to maintain his country’s embrace of the West by boosting economic ties with the European Union and eventually joining NATO, but he worries about pressure from Russia to bring the former Soviet republic into Moscow’s fold. Excerpts below:

“We have a firm position on our European choice,” Mr. Garibashvili told The Washington Times in an interview.

The prime minister is clear he wants to transform Georgia into “a real democratic, Western and modern state,” and says surveys show that 85 percent of Georgia’s population supports integration into the EU.

But Mr. Garibashvili also believes that a good relationship with the West and Russia are not mutually exclusive.

His government has sought to mend ties with Moscow — ruptured after a war in 2008 — while pursuing a muscular diplomatic campaign to join the EU and NATO.

“That is the Georgian way. … We believe it doesn’t contradict,” he said.

Washington has thrown its support behind Georgia’s Western ambitions as Russia flexes its muscles in its neighborhood.

On February 24, President Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden offered “unwavering support” for Mr. Garibashvili’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations in a meeting with the Georgian leader, the White House said.

Georgia, like Ukraine and other former Soviet republics, is caught in a tug of war between the West and Russia.

“I hope that they will return to their European choice,” Mr. Garibashvili said of Ukraine.

Ukraine’s political turmoil has injected a sense of urgency into Georgia’s campaign to join the EU.

Mr. Garibashvili told the Atlantic Council on February 25 that the dramatic events unfolding in Ukraine underscore the immediate need for the EU to give a “clear promise of membership” to countries like Georgia. Unless that happens, “this crisis similar to Ukraine will happen again and again,” he said.

“The West should realize that giving up on values in foreign policy may be very costly, not only for small countries like Georgia, but also for the entire international community,” he said.

Asked whether the ouster of a Moscow-leaning government in Ukraine may cause Russia to lash out at its neighbors, Mr. Garibashvili told The Times: “Nothing is excluded, but we will have to watch carefully.”

Mr. Garibashvili cited Russia’s activities in the breakaway Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as proof of Russian provocations as his nation looks West.

Georgia and Russia went to war in 2008, when Russian troops stepped in to support rebels in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Tbilisi and Moscow severed diplomatic ties.

Russia recognizes Abkhazia and South Ossetia as two independent countries; the U.S. and most other nations do not.

In December, weeks before the Winter Olympics in Sochi, the Russian government erected barbed wire fences in Abkhazia. Moscow explained it was a temporary measure to expand a security buffer zone around Sochi, which is near Abkhazia.

But Mr. Garibashvili said that Russia has resumed constructing 30 miles of barbed wire fence around South Ossetia even after the Games wrapped up last week.

“We are facing a number of provocations from them along the occupation line,” Mr. Garibashvili said. “Other than that, Russia does not have too many economic leverages on Georgia. We are less dependent on them, therefore I think they may increase pressure — they may use some tools — but they don’t have too many tools in our country.”

Georgia’s ties with Russia have improved gradually since the election of billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream coalition in 2012.

Mr. Ivanishvili stepped down from the post of prime minister in November and named Mr. Garibashvili as his successor.

At 31, Mr. Garibashvili is the youngest head of a democratically-elected government in the world. He was 9 when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. There was no electricity or gas in his home, and he had to study by candlelight.

Mr. Garibashvili now is working to improve ties with Russia. He has appointed a personal representative for Russia relations, and Georgian exports — wine, mineral water and agricultural products — to Russia have tripled after Moscow lifted its ban.

Georgia, meanwhile, is pinning its hopes for NATO membership on an alliance meeting in Wales in September.

It has held free and fair parliamentary and presidential elections in 2012 and 2013, respectively, and is the largest non-NATO contributor of troops in Afghanistan.

Georgia has done all that is expected of it, said Mr. Garibashvili.

“I think we have already passed these tests. Now it’s their call,” he said. “Now it’s up to NATO to assess how they evaluate the progress that we have achieved, and the progress is obvious.”

US SENATOR MARCO RUBIO CALLS FOR SANCTIONS AGAINST VENEZUELA

February 26, 2014

FoxNews on February 25, 2014, reported that Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said in the Senate he plans to propose sanctions the United States should impose against Venezuela in response to the attacks against anti-government protestors there.

Protests against the government and policies of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro have resulted in at least 12 fatalities and hundreds injured. The fatalities have been blamed on police forces acting on the orders of Maduro’s administration.

Rubio’s push for sanctions came during a nearly 15-minute speech on the Senate floor on February 24.

Rubio, whose family left Cuba and has been highly critical of the Castro regime…

Rubio said that the Castro regime has not only oppressed its people but also was behind other oppressive governments in Latin America, including Venezuela.

Rubio then turned to the violent protests in Venezuela and emphasized that the political unrest was happening in this hemisphere, but that it was being treated in the United States with a lack of urgency.

As Rubio went over his points, an aide showed large photos of Venezuelan protestors who have been jailed or killed in the last two weeks.

“This in and of itself deserves attention, what’s happening in Venezuela, in our own hemisphere,” Rubio said. “It is shameful that only three heads of state in this hemisphere have spoken out forcefully against what’s happening. It is shameful that many members of Congress who traveled to Venezuela and were friendly with [late President Hugo] Chávez, some even went to his funeral, sit by saying nothing while this is happening in our own hemisphere.”

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: PUTIN OUGHT TO BE ‘NERVOUS’ ABOUT UKRAINE

February 25, 2014

Washington Times on February 24, 2014, reported that Senator John McCain said on Politico that the uprising in Ukraine ought to make Russian President Vladmir Putin a little bit “nervous” about his future as a leader of divided interests. Excerpts below:

A Ukraine partition would be “totally unacceptable,” Mr. McCain said, Politico reported. “They want to be western. They don’t want to be eastern.”

Mr. McCain said he’d been in contact with numerous opposition leaders in the Ukraine — including the former prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko — and said they shared a common denominator: They’re all “overjoyed” at the uprising.

Viktor Yanykovych, meanwhile — a friend of Mr. Putin who was voted out of his presidency role — has gone into hiding.

“If I were Valdimir Putin, I would be a little bit nervous,” Mr. McCain said, in Politico.

GOP SENATORS TELL OBAMA TO BE ‘CLEAR’ AND ‘UNEQUIVOCAL’ WITH PUTIN ABOUT UKRAINE

February 24, 2014

Fox News on February 23, 2014, reported that top Senate Republicans told President Obama to send a “clear” message to Russia President Vladimir Putin to stay out of Ukraine’s political crisis, renewing criticism about the president’s foreign policy and his negotiations with the powerful Russian leader. Excerpts below:

“I believe the president needs to up his game and send a clear unequivocal public message to Putin not to interfere in what is happening in Ukraine,” Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told “Fox News Sunday.” “This is an opportunity for the president to really be unequivocal with Putin right now.”

The months of political upheaval in Ukraine have divided some residents between aligning with Russia or Western nations, a situation now being portrayed as a de facto power struggle between Obama and Putin, who appear on opposite sides of several world issues, including the Syria crisis.

Critics of the Obama administration’s foreign policy say Putin has had the upper hand in efforts to end Syria’s 3-year-long civil war because Russia is a major ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, which has allowed him to remain in power and keep a large part of his chemical weapons cache.

Such critics are also bristling over Putin allowing former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who leaked U.S. government secrets, to live in Russia.

Still, Obama said the situation in Ukraine is about residents being able to make decisions for themselves and not about “some Cold War chessboard.”

This weekend, the Ukraine parliament declared President Yanukovych unable to carry out constitutional duties.

The country’s western regions, angered by corruption in Yanukovych’s government, want to be closer to the European Union and have rejected Yanukovych’s authority in many cities. Eastern Ukraine, which accounts for the bulk of the nation’s economic output, favors closer ties with Russia and has largely supported Yanukovych.

Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, a frequent critic of Obama’s foreign policy, said the United States needs to be clear with Putin that Ukrainians must be allowed to determine their own future and that partitioning the nation would be unacceptable.

“They want to be Western,” he said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “That’s what this whole hundreds of thousands in the square was all about. They don’t want to be Eastern.”

McCain also said an array of Ukrainians in the opposition movement are overjoyed but worried about the economy. And he suggested Putin should be “a little nervous” now that the Olympics are over and his residents — “tired of crony capitalism” — might follow neighboring Ukrainians.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

SOCIALIST VENEZUELA RUNS OUT OF MONEY

February 23, 2014

Washington Times in a leading article on February 21, 2014, reported that Venezuela once exported more oil than almost any other country. Now it can’t even keep the lights on. A nation rich in natural resources scrambles to find enough toilet paper. Excerpts below:

This is intolerable even in a nation where socialism teaches the people not to expect much. President Nicolas Maduro dispatched his security cops to crack down hard on students protesting the miserable life.

Demands for an end to shortages of goods, freedom of speech and increased safety were answered at the price of six lives.

Turmoil in the Bolivarian Republic is a reminder of Margaret Thatcher’s axiom that socialist governments “eventually run out of other people’s money.”

It’s not yet clear whether the protests will succeed, but it is increasingly apparent that Venezuela is reaping the consequences of Chavismo, the disastrous economic policies put into place by Mr. Maduro’s predecessor and mentor, Hugo Chavez.

Mr. Chavez skillfully exploited deep-seated class resentment, tapping the proceeds of Venezuela’s vast oil wealth to buy the support of the poor who had been ignored and exploited by earlier regimes. The subsidies kept the price of gasoline absurdly low, and kept cheap staples such as rice and beans.

The scheme couldn’t last forever, and now the Venezuelan piggy bank is empty.

The foreign exchange rate is a way to judge just how much trouble the regime is in: Going to the bank would get you only 6.3 nearly worthless bolivars for a U.S. dollar. In the dark alleys where the black market flourishes, a dollar can get 87 bolivars.

The bureaucrat’s first instinct to generate revenue is to squeeze the business sector, but long-suffering Venezuelan enterprises have run dry. They’re saddled with price controls and acute shortages of spare parts, with nothing left to give.

The economy, which grew at 1 percent last year, will contract in the months ahead. The official inflation rate is 56 percent, but the Cato Institute’s Troubled Currencies Project estimates that the unofficial inflation rate is nearer to 330 percent.

The strength and scope of the protest in the streets is no surprise. The fact that protests are peaceful, but for the police violence, is a surprise.
Mr. Maduro’s response is erratic. In a recent speech stretching over several hours, he accused the opposition, led by Chacao Mayor Leopoldo Lopez of the Voluntad Popular party, of “breastfeeding crows that will now peck out your eyes for your cowardice.”

He blames the Americans, as so many despots do, for his insoluble troubles.

The situation in Venezuela grows more volatile as Mr. Maduro himself spirals out of control. He heads a nation that Chavez plundered to enrich his cronies and pay off selected constituencies.

The road to socialism reaches the inevitable dead end. Only when Mr. Maduro recognizes this will crippled Venezuela start to recover the prosperity it once had.

US PRAISES UKRAINE DEAL, CALLS FOR CONCRETE ACTION

February 22, 2014

The Washington Times on February 21, 2014, published an AP report on the Obama administration calling for quick implementation of an agreement between Ukraine’s president and the opposition to end violence… Excerpts below:

White House press secretary Jay Carney said the deal, which restores a previous constitution that limits presidential powers, was consistent with what Washington was advocating, but he added that the U.S. will closely monitor whether there is concrete action to put it in motion.

The White House has been considering levying sanctions on officials in Ukraine who were responsible for stoking the violence, but Carney indicated that the U.S. would hold off while monitoring the implementation of the accord.

“Our focus today is on working with our European partners as well as the government and the opposition in Ukraine to ensure the agreement’s implementation,” Carney said. “We are not ruling out sanctions to hold those responsible for the violence accountable, especially should there be further violence or violation of the agreement.”

According to [an American] official,a conversation between Obama and Putin was about the opportunity that the agreement has provided to stabilize Ukraine, end violence and provide a peaceful outcome and that Russia wants to be part of implementing the agreement. It was a commitment that Ukraine has been pulled back from the brink and that all parties need to be supportive of reaching political unity and getting the economy of the nation back on track, the official said.

(Comment: America should be careful when it comes to Putin. He my well turn to try to sabotage the deal before new Ukrainian elections in late 2014).

The official said Putin did not complain during the call that the U.S. was meddling in the Ukraine, once a satellite of the former Soviet Union.

The State Department official described the agreement as “very, very fragile” and said that the opposition had a “hard sell” in persuading protesters to disarm and end their standoff with the government.

In recent days, there has been a flurry of telephone diplomacy between U.S. officials and leaders in Ukraine.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel spoke to his Ukrainian counterpart, Defense Minister Pavlo Lebedev, by phone on Friday. Lebedev told Hagel that Ukraine’s military won’t use weapons against its people and that their deployment focused on protecting military facilities, the Pentagon said in a statement.

Hagel commended Ukraine’s move to keep the military on the sidelines of the crisis, the Pentagon said. The U.S. defense chief had tried several times to reach Lebedev earlier in the week but, according to the Pentagon, those calls were not accepted.

Deputy Secretary of State William Burns is expected to travel to Kiev early next week and Victoria Nuland is slated to be in the Ukraine in early March, the official said.

Associated Press writers Josh Lederman and Nedra Pickler in Washington contributed to this report.

UKRAINE CRISIS: GOVERNMENT SNIPERS KILL PROTESTERS

February 21, 2014

BBC News on February 21, 2014, reported that protesters and police are still locked in a stand-off in Kiev, a day after dozens were killed in violent clashes.

On February 20, EU foreign ministers said in a statement sanctions would be put on some officials over the violence.

The US has warned Kiev that it would follow suit.

February 20 was the bloodiest day since the unrest began in November, with many of the anti-government protesters reportedly killed by police snipers.

In all, 77 people – including policemen – have been killed since the violence first flared up on Tuesday, Ukraine’s health ministry said.

Another 577 were injured.

Protesters had captured 67 police, the interior ministry said. A number of them were later released.

On February 20, the foreign ministers of France, Poland and Germany conducted several hours of discussions with Mr Yanukovych on a “roadmap towards a political solution” before going on to talks with opposition leaders.

They returned for another meeting with Mr Yanukovych in the evening and the talks continued late into the night.

Dozens of activists were injured, some seriously

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said Mr Yanukovych had expressed willingness to hold early elections this year.

The snap presidential and parliamentary elections are one of the key demands by Maidan activists and opposition leaders.

Currently, the presidential poll is scheduled for next year.

Also on February 20, the statement from an emergency EU foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels said “no circumstances can justify the repression we are currently witnessing”.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the “prime responsibility” to get talks between the two sides under way lay with President Yanukovych.

She said ministers had expressed their “dismay” at the latest violence and had agreed to “suspend export licences for equipment for internal repression”.

Implementation of the measures “will be taken forward in light of developments in Ukraine”, she added.

The EU had until now refrained from imposing sanctions, preferring to emphasise dialogue and compromise.

The US state department had already announced visa bans on 20 members of the Ukrainian government but has not provided any names.

Dozens of protesters were killed by security forces in Kiev following the breakdown of a truce the previous day.

Activists and doctors working in protester camps suggested the death toll could be as high as 100 and would rise further.

Assembled crowds shouted “Martyrs!” and “Heroes!”, with some protesters in tears, our correspondent adds.

Witnesses have told the BBC that some of those killed died as a result of single gunshot wounds, typical of sniper fire.

Video footage has emerged apparently showing snipers firing on demonstrators who had been trying to retake their protest camp in Independence Square.

The authorities said one policeman had died, however an activist reported that as many 10 police officers had been killed.

Gunshots pierced the windows of rooms at the Ukraina Hotel, which is serving as the base for all foreign media in Kiev, including the BBC.

MPs assembled for a session of parliament on the afternoon of February 20 voted to condemn the recent violence.

They also called for the use of weapons against protesters to be banned, and for troops and police deployed against them to be withdrawn.

The session was attended by 239 out of 450 MPs, most of them from opposition parties. But there were also dozens from the pro-Presidential Party of Regions.

CHINA PREPARES MILITARY FOR ‘SHORT, SHARP WAR’ WITH JAPAN, US NAVY SPECIALIST SAYS

February 20, 2014

FoxNews on February 19, 2014, reported that China is practicing for a “short, sharp war” with Japan. Excerpts below:

That is the assessment of a top U.S. Navy intelligence analyst, who told colleagues that China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is currently conducting training exercises in a practice scenario in which the military takes the Senkaku Islands, near Taiwan.

“We witnessed the massive amphibious and cross-military region enterprise,” Capt. James Fannell, deputy chief of staff intelligence and information operations for the U.S. Pacific Fleet (PACFLEET) said at the West 2014 conference on Feb. 13 in San Diego.

“[We] concluded that the PLA has been given the new task to be able to conduct a short, sharp war to destroy Japanese forces in the East China Sea following with what can only be expected a seizure of the Senkakus or even a southern Ryukyu [islands] — as some of their academics say.”

It’s alleged that in the past year, China has increased its military activity, including high-profile actions in the South China Sea as well as combat drills in the south Philippine Sea.

Fannell’s comments were reported in the U.S. Naval Institute News, the navy’s official media organ.

“There is growing concern that China’s pattern of behavior in the South China Sea reflects an incremental effort by China to assert control of the area contained in the so-called 9-dash line despite the objections of its neighbors, and despite the lack of any explanation or apparent basis under international law,” Fannell also said.

Japan has in recent months accused a Chinese warship of locking its missile-targeting radar onto one of its warships, Fannell noted.

Retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Ralph Peters said China has a habit of bullying its neighbors with intimidating military drills, though exercises aimed at Japan are a new and worrisome wrinkle.

“The Chinese have conducted training exercises aimed at Taiwan for decades–but haven’t invaded,” Peters, also a Fox News military analyst, told FoxNews.com.

Peters adds that the exercises are likely China’s attempt at posturing.

“At present, China would have a great deal to lose by attacking or otherwise provoking a confrontation with Japan,” he said. “At the same time, the Chinese feel they’re the regional (and global) rising power and they rather enjoy flexing their muscles. You might say they’re proud of their physique, but don’t really want a fight. In that sense, these exercises are a strategic ‘selfie.’”

Fannell also mentioned at the West conference that the Chinese coast guard is engaged in “quasi-military actions.”

“Tensions in the South and East China Seas have deteriorated with the Chinese coast guard playing the role of antagonist, harassing China’s neighbors while PLA Navy ships, their protectors, (make) port calls throughout the region promising friendship and cooperation,” he said.

The assessments made at the conference are in stark contrasts to recent US efforts to tighten military-to military ties with China.

UKRAINE CRISIS: DEATH TOLL IS RISING

February 19, 2014

BBC News on February 19, 2014, reported that the latest upsurge of violence in Kiev has left 25 people dead. Excerpts below:

Riot police are continuing to storm the main anti-government protest camp.

Activists blamed the authorities for the worst violence in months of unrest.

In a statement, the health ministry said on Tuesday the number of dead on both sides had risen to 25. Nine of those killed were police, the interior ministry says. A journalist has also died.

Hundreds of people have been treated in hospital for injuries and there are fears the number of deaths could rise still further.

Explosions are taking place, fireworks are being thrown and large fires can been seen on Independence Square – known as the Maidan.

The latest assault began shortly after 04:00 local time, when police tried to move on the protesters’ tents. Several were set ablaze, and water cannon was later used.

But the protesters appear to have been able to hold their defence lines, burning tyres on the barricades.

In a statement on the morning of February 19, 2014, President Yanukovych said: “The opposition leaders have disregarded the principle of democracy according to which one obtains power not on the streets or maidans – but through elections.”

(Comment: This is of course incorrect as it is government forces that have attacked demonstrators).

Protesters have been defending barricades on the Maidan from repeated attacks by riot police

Hundreds of people have been injured on both sides since February 18, some of them seriously

Thousands of riot police have been deployed to fight the protesters.

Security forces had given the protesters a deadline of 18:00 on February 18 (16:00 GMT) to leave the square, the scene of a mostly peaceful protest camp since November.

When the deadline expired, riot police advanced with an armoured vehicle, dismantling barricades and firing stun grenades and water cannon.

Protesters have been resisting, throwing missiles from behind piles of burning tyres.

In speeches from the main stage through the night, protest leaders urged people already on the Maidan to stand firm, and called on Ukrainians elsewhere to come to the square.

“This is an island of freedom and we will defend it,” said Vitaly Klitschko, the leader of the Udar (Punch) party.

Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who heads the Fatherland party, appealed to President Yanukovych to “stop the bloodshed and call a truce”.

Earlier on February 18, police blocked protesters from marching on parliament, where MPs had been due to debate proposed changes to the constitution which would have reduced the powers of the president.

The debate did not take place. Mr Yatsenyuk said President Yanukovych was blocking the reforms and that his allies “show no desire whatsoever to end the political crisis”.

Some protesters outside parliament ripped up cobblestones to throw at police. Police fired stun and smoke grenades as well as rubber bullets.