China, Vietnam Say They’ll Negotiate Sea Disputes

August 27, 2014
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BEIJING — Aug 27, 2014, 9:08 AM ET
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China and Vietnam said Wednesday they’re committed to negotiating maritime disputes to avoid a recurrence of tensions that spiked when China deployed an oil rig in waters claimed by Hanoi.

The statement followed talks between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Vietnamese special envoy Le Hong Anh to resolve a crisis in relations dating from the rig’s deployment in May.

China’s move triggered fury in Hanoi, but Beijing rejected Vietnamese complaints and pulled the rig out on its own terms in July.

The friendship between China and Vietnam was created and nourished by older generations of leaders, state broadcaster CCTV quoted Xi as saying. “While clashes are inevitable between neighbors, what’s crucial is how they are handled and what kind of attitude is taken,” he said.

China’s official Xinhua News Agency said the sides would work toward a mutually acceptable and durable solution.

They also agreed to research joint development in the disputed area of the South China Sea, not take actions to complicate or broaden the dispute, and to “maintain the stability of the overall China-Vietnam relationship and of the South China Sea,” Xinhua said.

China attacked Vietnam in 1979 to punish it for invading Cambodia and the two have since fought over island groups in the South China Sea. They settled their land border more than a decade ago, but remain at odds over their maritime claims.

This summer’s feuding was the worst in years, leading vessels from both nations to spar close to the rig and setting off deadly anti-Chinese riots across Vietnam.

Anti-Chinese sentiment is widespread in Vietnam, and is often tapped into by the country’s dissident movement, which criticizes the government for its allegedly subservient relationship to its Communist brethren next door.

The tensions led to speculation that Hanoi might swing relations in favor of its old adversary the United States, as have other Southeast Asian nations locked in territorial disputes with China.

However, the government was seen as split between those favoring a strategic shift to Washington and a faction believing that China, its ideological ally, giant neighbor and vital economic partner, can be accommodated.

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The Diplomat

As The Diplomat reported earlier, Vietnam sent a special envoy to China for bilateral talks this week. Politburo member Le Hong Anh, acting as a special envoy from Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) General-Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, met with high-ranking Chinese leaders. Anh’s visit was embraced by both sides as a chance to mend bilateral ties that soured earlier this summer during a standoff over the placement of a Chinese oil rig in disputed waters.

Anh met with Chinese President (and CCP General-Secretary) Xi Jinping on Wednesday afternoon. During their meeting, Xi emphasized the common bond between the two countries, as neighbors and communist regimes. As Xi put it, “A neighbor cannot be moved away and it is in the common interests of both sides to be friendly to each other.” This, in essence, is the root of China’s “neighborhood diplomacy” policy — acknowledging that friendly ties with the countries in China’s immediate area will be the most important factor in providing a peaceful environment for China’s continued rise.

In terms of concrete solutions, Anh’s meeting with Liu Yunshan, a member of the Politburo Standing Committee, had more to offer. Liu said that both Hanoi and Beijing were “unwilling to see” the relationship continue to be “tense and difficult.” To move forward, Chinese and Vietnamese officials agreed to avoid actions that might exacerbate maritime disputes.

Le Hong Anh, (left) Politburo member and permanent member of the Communist Party of Vietnam Central Committee (CPVCC) Secretariat — was sent to Beijing by Vietnam to seek stability in the future relationship between China and Vietnam. On the right, China’s Wang Jiarui, Vice Chairperson of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference

Specifically, the agreement calls for both sides to return to the guidelines for handling their disputes that were laid out in an October 2011 agreement between China’s then-President Hu Jintao and Vietnam’s party chief, Nguyen Phu Trong. On Wednesday, China and Vietnam agreed to make use of the border negotiation mechanism established in 2011, and to study the possibility of joint exploration of the South China Sea. Most importantly, both sides agreed to “avoid actions that might complicate and expand the disputes.”

While the progress made is promising, it’s also telling that China and Vietnam are pledging to return to a previous agreement — one that clearly was not enough to keep current tensions from arising in the first place. The October 2011 agreement, which established biannual border negotiations as well as setting up a hotline between the two governments, was of little use when tensions actually ramped up. It neither prevented China from putting its oil rig near the Paracels nor allowed for quick and decisive resolution of the stand-off. Instead, tensions dragged out for months with no resolution.

The October 2011 agreement is a feel-good arrangement in times of peace, but when push comes to shove it’s already been proven ineffective. It’s unlikely that the current agreement (which largely relies on a renewed commitment to the 2011 version) will be a game changer. Both China and Vietnam have repeatedly indicated they have no intention of changing their fundamental positions on sovereignty issues, meaning the best case scenario in the short-term is a simply shelving of the disputes. On paper, that’s what the two sides have agreed to do — but different interpretations of what constitutes a “dispute” and a “complication” could render the agreement effectively meaningless.

For example, many analysts (including The Diplomat’s Dingding Chen) fully expect China’s oil rig to return to disputed waters as part of Beijing’s strategy to assert sovereignty over the region. Beijing could easily do so while still claiming to be upholding its agreement with Vietnam. How? China does not recognize the Paracel Islands as under dispute — and thus can choose not to see its placement of an oil rig in their vicinity as “complicating” any dispute.

For now, however, China and Vietnam are moving forward with their relationship. During Anh’s visit, the two sides announced that they would resume cooperation on defense and trade, but the relationship remains fragile as long as it is subject to major disruptions every few years.

South China Sea: China, Vietnam Agree To A Truce

August 27, 2014

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K J M Varma | Beijing | Aug 27, 2014

After nearly three months of confrontation over oil exploration in the disputed South China Sea, Communist neighbours, China and Vietnam today warmed up to each other with a three-point agreement to avoid any actions that might worsen their maritime disputes.

Vietnamese special envoy Le Hong Anh, who arrived in Beijing yesterday for a two-day visit, held talks with top Chinese leaders, including President Xi Jinping, to discuss common ground to normalise the ties.

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Le, special envoy of the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV), visited Beijing after Hanoi expressed regret for the recent anti-China riots and offered to pay compensation to hundreds of Chinese firms which suffered losses.

Under the three-point agreement reached today, the two countries agreed to earnestly implement a basic guideline for the resolution of China-Vietnam maritime issues signed in October 2011, make best use of the bilateral governmental border negotiation mechanism and seek basic and lasting solutions acceptable to both sides.

They also agreed to study and discuss how to seek joint exploration of the South China Sea, avoid actions that might complicate and expand the disputes and safeguard the overall stability of bilateral relations and peace in the sea.

The Communist Party of China (CPC) and the CPV will deepen their exchanges, restore collaboration in defence, trade and the economy, law enforcement and people-to-people exchanges, according to the agreement.

“China-Vietnam relations for a while have been tense and difficult, which we are unwilling to see,” senior CPC official Liu Yunshan said during his meeting with Le, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

Le Hong Anh, (left) Politburo member and permanent member of the Communist Party of Vietnam Central Committee (CPVCC) Secretariat — was sent to Beijing by Vietnam to seek stability in the future relationship between China and Vietnam. On the right, China’s Wang Jiarui, Vice Chairperson of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference

The special envoy’s visit to China reflects the CPV’s and the Vietnamese government’s “political will to mend and develop bilateral relations,” Liu said.

“We expect Vietnam to continue to work with us to bring bilateral relations back to the track of healthy and stable development,” he said.

Liu said the two countries should properly address maritime issues through cooperation, calling on them to stick to negotiation, control the maritime situation, seek common development and break new ground in overall China-Vietnam strategic cooperation.

Le said it is the long-term strategy of the CPV and the Vietnamese government to cooperate strategically with China.

In light of the current complicated international situation, seeking cooperation and resolving differences are important for both countries, the envoy said, expressing his belief in the resumption of Vietnam-China cooperation.

Anti-China riots broke out in Vietnam after China deployed oil rig in the disputed South China Sea.

A series of riots hit foreign companies in southern and central Vietnam, in which five Chinese workers were killed and over 100 injured.

Over 1,100 companies mostly belonging to Chinese and Taiwanese investors were damaged in the riots.

The violence came amid tension between China and Vietnam over the territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

Emerging story. Watch this space for updates as more details come in
 

Ukraine Says Putin’s Word is Worthless: Says Russia Launched New Attacks After Cease-Fire Agreement Tuesday

August 27, 2014

KIEV/DONETSK Ukraine Wed Aug 27, 2014 1:04pm EDT

(Reuters) – Ukraine accused Russia of launching a new military incursion across its eastern border on Wednesday, as hopes quickly faded that Tuesday’s talks between their two presidents might mark a turning point in a five-month-old crisis.

Accusations of direct Russian support for pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine have prompted Western governments to impose sanctions on Moscow, despite its vehement denials, and fanned tensions with NATO to levels not seen since the Cold War.

Ukrainian military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said a group of Russian soldiers had crossed the border in armoured infantry carriers and a truck and entered the town of Amvrosiyivka, not far from where Ukraine detained 10 Russian soldiers on Monday.

He said fighting in two other towns, Horlivka and Ilovaysk, had killed about 200 pro-Russian rebels and destroyed tanks and missile systems. Thirteen Ukrainian service personnel had been killed in the past 24 hours and 36 had been wounded.

No comment was immediately available from the Russian defence ministry on the alleged incursion. Russia denies sending weapons and soldiers to help the rebels, and says the men captured on Monday had crossed an unmarked section of the border by mistake.

Late-night talks in the Belarussian capital Minsk had appeared to yield some progress towards ending a war in which more than 2,200 people have been killed, according to the U.N. — a toll that excludes the 298 who died when a Malaysian airliner was shot down over rebel-held territory in July.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said he would work on an urgent ‘road map’ towards a ceasefire with the rebels. Russia’s Vladimir Putin said it would be for Ukrainians to work out ceasefire terms, but Moscow would “contribute to create a situation of trust”.

But Wednesday’s new accusations from Ukraine made clear that the poisonous dispute over Russia’s role remained unresolved.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said it was hard to tell whether the talks in Minsk marked a breakthrough.

“Perhaps not, but let’s hope that this meeting was not an end of some development, but another beginning,” he said.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman said the flow of Russian forces and weapons into Ukraine was a major problem and Moscow must ensure that it stops.

“It’s long overdue that this border is properly secured and that all forms of military support for the separatists over this border end. Russia has a big responsibility for that,” spokesman Steffen Seibert said.

TRADE WARS

Fighting in the east erupted in April, a month after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in response to the toppling of a pro-Moscow president in Kiev.

The crisis has prompted the United States and EU to impose sanctions on Russia’s finance, oil and defence sectors, and Moscow has hit back by banning most western food imports. The trade wars threaten to tip Russia into recession and strangle economic recovery in Europe.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow was not looking for a further escalation of trade tensions. “We have no interest in a confrontation or in whipping up a spiral of sanctions,” he told an audience of students.

The next step would be for a ‘Contact Group’, comprising representatives of Russia, Ukraine, the rebels and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, to meet in Minsk, he said without giving a time frame.

But Ukrainian foreign policy adviser Valery Chaly told reporters in Kiev that Poroshenko’s declaration on a ceasefire road map did not mean an immediate end to the government’s military offensive against the rebels.

“If there are attacks from the terrorists and mercenaries, then our army has the duty to defend the people,” he said.

A rebel leader, Oleg Tsaryov, wrote on Facebook that he welcomed the outcome of the Minsk talks, but the separatists would not stop short of full independence for the regions of eastern Ukraine they call Novorossiya (New Russia).

He said he saw “a real breakthrough” in Putin’s offer to contribute to the peace process.

But he added: “It must be understood that a genuine settlement of the situation is only possible with the participation of representatives of Novorossiya. We will not allow our fate to be decided behind our back…

“Now we are demanding independence. We don’t trust the Ukrainian leadership and don’t consider ourselves part of Ukraine. The guarantee of our security is our own armed forces. We will decide our own fate.”

Further underlining Kiev’s distrust of Moscow, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk said his country needed “practical help” and “momentous decisions” from NATO at an alliance summit next month.

He said he knew of Russian plans to halt gas flows this winter to Europe, up to half of which are shipped via Ukraine. Russia’s energy minister called the assertion groundless.

Russia cut off gas supplies to Ukraine in June in a dispute over pricing and debt, but Putin said after Tuesday’s talks that he and Poroshenko had agreed to resume discussions.

European Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger said gas consultations would take place in Moscow on Friday between Russia, Ukraine and the European Union.

(Additional reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin Katya Golubkova and Gabriela Baczynska in Moscow, Andrei Makhovsky and Andrei Anishchuk in Minsk, and Natalia Zinets in Kiev; writing by Mark Trevelyan; editing by Giles Elgood)

Ukraine Says Russian Forces Lead Major New Offensive in East; Accuses Russia of stepping up military activity in Crimea

August 27, 2014

Residents of the town of Novoazovsk, Ukraine, watched shelling by separatist rebels on Wednesday. Credit Sergei Grits/Associated Press


The Washington Post

August 27 at 11:50 AM  

Ukraine accused Russia on Wednesday of stepping up military activity in the annexed territory of Crimea and sending in troops to help separatists near a key seaport in southeastern Ukraine.In a briefing Wednesday,AndriyLysenko, a spokesman for the Ukrainian military, said that Russian troops are increasing their activity in Crimea, the autonomous Ukrainian peninsula that was taken over by pro-Russian separatists and annexed by Moscow in March. According to NATO, Russia has already massed about 20,000 combat-ready troops along Ukraine’s border.Lysenko cited Ukrainian military intelligence reports as showing that Russian units are conducting surveillance with drones from Crimea. He said three Russian military helicopters have violated Ukrainian airspace from the territory.

Heavy shelling and fighting continued, meanwhile, near the southern city of Novoazovsk, a port on the Sea of Azov, near where the Ukrainian military said Russian tanks and armored personnel carriers entered the country on Monday. Ukraine says that Russia in recent days has attempted to create a “second front” there, adding to rebel strongholds in the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk.

Lysenko said Russian troops working alongside separatists have taken over villages north of Novoazovsk, as well as the city of Starobeshevo, where the local hospital was destroyed.

Compounding the Russian threat to the country, according to Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatensyuk, is a purported Russian plan to cut off gas supplies to Europe that go through Ukraine this winter.

“We know about the plans to completely block the transit [of gas] to E.U. member states,” Yatensyuk told government ministers in Kiev, the Ukrainian news agency UNIAN reported. “We know about the plans to disable all energy resources going to Ukraine.” He called the energy situation in Ukraine very difficult, the agency said.

The developments came a day after Russian President Vladi­mir Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko held bilateral talks after a regional summit in Minsk, the capital of Belarus.

Hopes for a breakthrough had already dimmed, but a Ukrainian announcement earlier in the day that its forces had captured 10 Russian paratroopers in the Donetsk region — combined with the release of video evidence — made the two-hour, one-on-one discussion even more difficult.

Following the meeting, Poroshenko said a “road map” would be prepared to end the fighting between troops and pro-Russian separatists in the east of the country, the British Broadcasting Corp. reported.

Afterward, Putin said he had told Poroshenko that Kiev must take the initiative in working out a peace agreement with the separatists in eastern Ukraine. “We talked about the need to end bloodshed as soon as possible, about the need to shift toward political resolution of all issues,” Putin told journalists in Minsk, according to the Reuters news agency. “Russia, for its part, will do everything to support this peace process if it starts.”

But the capture of the Russian paratroopers left Moscow more exposed as a participant in the fighting in Ukraine than it has sought to portray itself. Having previously derided Kiev’s claims of Russian intervention in the separatist war in eastern Ukraine, Moscow this time simply claimed that the paratroopers had entered Ukraine by mistake. Putin noted that Ukrainian soldiers had wandered into Russia earlier this month.

At his news briefing Wednesday, Lysenko showed a new video of the Russian paratroopers. In it, nine of the 10, wearing camouflage sweatshirts, stepped forward and gave their names and division number. The deputy commander of the men said they had “illegally come into the territory of Ukraine” for what they thought was a military exercise and were captured. Afterward, their documents and telephones were seized and they were detained. The commander, Sgt. Vladimir Sevasteev, said they wanted to be sent home to Russia.

“Please help us,” the deputy commander said. “We don’t want to shoot at Ukrainian people. We are here illegally.”

A soldier who did not appear in the video was a driver who was injured in the fighting and is being treated at a military hospital, Lysenko said.

The incursion — or act of unintentional trespassing — followed Russian moves that have provoked a strong reaction among American officials.

“The new columns of Russian tanks and armor crossing into Ukraine indicates a Russian-directed counteroffensive may be underway,” tweeted the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey R. Pyatt.

“What we have seen are repeated provocations by the Russian regime to further escalate tensions in the region,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters. He called Russian intervention in Ukraine, including the sending of a humanitarian convoy without Kiev’s permission, “a pretty flagrant escalation of this situation.”

Putin and Poroshenko did reach an agreement on how to distribute aid to civilians in the separatist Luhansk region, the Interfax news agency reported. But Putin said that Russia could not discuss the terms of a cease-fire with Ukraine.

Russia may not want to talk cease-fire terms, but it also isn’t interested in breaking up Ukraine, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Wednesday.

“We are not interested in breaking up the state,” Lavrov said, when asked at a youth forum why Russia has not yet recognized the rebels’ self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics as a state.

But Russia’s permanent mission to NATO did say Wednesday that it would take steps to prevent NATO’s encroachment eastward.

Finland’s president said Tuesday that he would consider seeking NATO membership for his country in light of Russia’s recent apparent incursions into Ukraine.

Ukrainian representatives are expected to attend a series of meetings with European Union members in the upcoming days, including on Aug. 30, when Poroshenko will attend a meeting of the European Commission in Brussels.

Poroshenko has previously expressed interest in joining the E.U. sometime after 2020.

They agreed to resume talks on sending gas through Ukraine to Europe, Putin said afterward — a conversation that ran off the rails at various stages after Russia jacked up gas prices for Kiev by more than 40 percent this spring and Ukraine threatened to block all Russian gas exports through Ukrainian territory.

At the public session of the Minsk meeting, which included representatives from the Eurasian Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, as well as the European Union, Putin virtually ignored the conflict in Ukraine, except to say that he is against military escalation, and focused on economic concerns.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko shake hands during a summit in Belarus’ capital of Minsk on Aug. 26.(Photo: Sergei Bondarenko, AFP/Getty Images)

He warned of the potential harm to Russia and its customs union partners if Ukraine proceeds with a trade agreement with the European Union. Moscow fears that European manufacturers would ship goods through Ukraine, relabel them and avoid customs duties. Putin threatened Ukraine with unspecified consequences if it moves ahead on the trade pact. Poroshenko has said he wants the Ukrainian parliament to ratify the agreement in September.

Ukraine’s foreign minister, Pavlo Klimkin, said Wednesday that Ukraine had absolutely no intention of renegotiating the agreement to allay Russia’s concerns.

“Our Russian colleagues should not engage in wishful thinking,” Klimkin tweeted. “We will not change the text of the agreement. We will ratify and implement it.”

That trade agreement has been at the center of the Ukrainian crisis. When, under Russian pressure, then-President Viktor Yanukovych backed away last fall from signing it, the protests that led to his ouster broke out. After he fled to Russia in February, Moscow’s forces seized Crimea, and the separatist movement in the east sprang into action.

Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s top security and foreign affairs official, told reporters that the participants in the first, broader meeting had not “directly discussed” the Ukrainian videos depicting the apprehended soldiers.

But the recordings were revealing.

One paratrooper named Sergei Smirnov said in an interrogation video that he was a “contractor” in the Russian army who had come to Ukraine “for training.” He added that he did not know he was in Ukraine until “we went through a village and saw a Ukrainian tank.”

Lysenko, the Ukrainian military spokesman, told a briefing in Kiev on Tuesday that the detained Russian soldiers said they took a train to the Rostov region in Russia on Aug. 23 and joined “a march” around 3 a.m. the following day in a column of dozens of armored personnel carriers. The soldiers said that only the commanders knew they were going into Ukraine; the soldiers thought they were going for training.

Asked about the assertion by Russian officials that the troops had accidentally crossed the border, Lysenko said: “If elite troops do not know topography and do not know their locality, I can say nothing about that. . . . We believe that was not a mistake.” Rather, he said, it was “a special task executed.”

The soldiers have been “detained” but are not prisoners, Lysenko said. Ukraine has launched a criminal investigation into their activities.

Lysenko also said that for the first time since the conflict began, Ukrainian border guards were fired at on Monday in the Luhansk region by two Russian military helicopters. Four border guards died and three were injured, he said.

The incident came just days after Russia sent a convoy of humanitarian aid trucks — whose purpose, even now, is murky — into Ukrainian territory, provoking international condemnation. The Russian government said Monday that it would send a second convoy, and its path may be smoother if the agreement between Putin and Poroshenko sticks.

William Branigin in Washington contributed to this report.

Annie Gowen is The Post’s India bureau chief and has reported for the Post throughout South Asia and the Middle East.
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A villager opened a box of rockets left by the Ukrainian army after their withdrawal from Starobeshovo, southeast of Donetsk. Credit Francisco Leong/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

From The New York Times

NOVOAZOVSK, Ukraine — Tanks, artillery and infantry have crossed from Russia into an unbreached part of eastern Ukraine in recent days, attacking Ukrainian forces and causing panic and wholesale retreat not only in this small border town but a wide swath of territory, in what Ukrainian and Western military officials described on Wednesday as a stealth invasion.

The attacks outside this city and in an area to the north essentially have opened a new, third front in the war in eastern Ukraine between government forces and pro-Russian separatists, along with the fighting outside the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk.

Exhausted, filthy and dismayed, Ukrainian soldiers staggering out of Novoazovsk for safer territory said Tuesday they were cannon fodder for the forces coming from Russia. As they spoke, tank shells whistled in from the east and exploded nearby.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/28/world/europe/ukraine-russia-novoazovsk-crimea.html?_r=0

Despite Tuesday’s Putin-Poroshenko Meeting, Fierce Fighting Continues in Ukraine

August 27, 2014

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Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko shake hands during a summit in Belarus’ capital of Minsk on Tuesday, August 26, 2014.(Photo: Sergei Bondarenko, AFP/Getty Images)

Polish Prime Minister Says Evidence That Russian Army Units Fighting in Ukraine

By James Marson in Mariupol, Ukraine and Alan Cullison in Moscow
The Wall Street Journal

Heavy fighting flared between pro-Russia rebels and government forces in eastern Ukraine on Wednesday, a day after a face-to-face meeting between the Russian and Ukrainian presidents yielded scant signs of progress toward a cease-fire.

Western diplomats say that despite Russian President Vladimir Putin‘s conciliatory remarks in the Belarusian capital of Minsk, events on the ground signal that the Kremlin is far from ready to abandon its efforts to coerce Ukraine to turn away from Europe.

More

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk told the parliament in Warsaw on Wednesday that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has evidence that Russian army units are operating directly in eastern Ukraine.

“Nobody can seriously accept talk of ‘separatists’ in Ukraine anymore,” Mr. Tusk said. “The information is from NATO and confirmed by our intelligence, and is basically unambiguous.”

He didn’t elaborate on what the evidence was and took no questions.

The government in Kiev accused Russia of sending a column of 100 vehicles into Ukraine earlier this week to aid rebels.

On Wednesday, Kiev said the rebels were advancing from the Russian border towards the southern port city of Mariupol, in an offensive that began before the talks in Minsk. The push was halted, officials said, near the town of Novoazovsk, but seven nearby villages were captured.

A Ukrainian military spokesman said that Russian artillery and rocket launchers continued to pound the town from Russian territory. While it remains under Ukrainian control, he said Wednesday that 13 Ukrainian soldiers had been killed in the past day, and 36 were wounded.

While leaders attending the talks in Minsk spoke of the need for a cease-fire, Mr. Putin kept his public remarks focused on trade and the damage that would be done to Russia’s economy if Ukraine followed through with an association agreement with the European Union.

Mr. Putin has called for changes to the agreement. But Wednesday, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said via Twitter that it would be submitted for parliamentary approval in September. His foreign minister tweeted that Ukraine wouldn’t alter anything.

Mr. Putin arrived late for the talks on Tuesday. After several multilateral meetings with dignitaries from Europe and former Soviet republics, he met for two hours directly with Mr. Poroshenko, who described the session as “very tough and complex.”

A group of Russian soldiers, shown in Kiev on Wednesday. Ukrainian authorities said they were captured in Ukrainian territory. Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters

Mr. Poroshenko told reporters afterward that he would devise a cease-fire plan, although it is unclear how he could implement one.

Public opinion in most of Ukraine strongly supports a continued offensive to regain regions on the country’s eastern border with Russia controlled by separatists.

Vasyl Filipchuk, a former Ukrainian foreign ministry official, said that taking part in talks on the EU association agreement was a risky move for Mr. Poroshenko.

Mr. Putin’s attempt to insert Russia into those discussions looked like a way to interfere with Ukraine’s foreign policy, Mr. Filipchuk said.

“It is about (Ukraine being) an independent state with its own foreign policy,” he said.

He said Mr. Poroshenko was in a tough position. “At the same time as negotiations, you have the Russian army and tanks entering the country,” he said.

Mr. Poroshenko is also under pressure from European leaders to continue negotiations.

A group of Russian soldiers, shown in Kiev on Wednesday. Ukrainian authorities said they were captured in Ukrainian territory. Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters

Shortly before talks began in Minsk, Kiev released videotapes of Russian soldiers it said were captured inside its territory—soldiers that Moscow confirmed were part of a military unit that it said got lost while on patrol near the border.

Write to James Marson at james.marson@wsj.com and Alan Cullison at alan.cullison@wsj.com

Israel-Hamas Cease-Fire Holding But Netanyahu Widely Criticized in Israel

August 27, 2014

By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Jeffrey Heller

GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – An open-ended ceasefire in the Gaza war held on Wednesday as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced strong criticism in Israel over a costly conflict with Palestinian militants in which no clear victor emerged.

On the streets of the battered, Hamas-run Palestinian enclave, people headed to shops and banks, trying to resume the normal pace of life after seven weeks of fighting. Thousands of others, who had fled the battles and sheltered with relatives or in schools, returned home, where some found only rubble.

In Israel, sirens warning of incoming rocket fire from the Gaza Strip fell silent, but media commentators, echoing attacks by members of Netanyahu’s governing coalition, voiced deep disappointment over his leadership during the most prolonged bout of Israeli-Palestinian violence in a decade.

“After 50 days of warfare in which a terror organization killed dozens of soldiers and civilians, destroyed the daily routine (and) placed the country in a state of economic distress … we could have expected much more than an announcement of a ceasefire,” analyst Shimon Shiffer wrote in Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel’s biggest-selling newspaper.

“We could have expected the prime minister to go to the President’s Residence and inform him of his decision to resign his post.”

Netanyahu, who has faced constant sniping in his cabinet from right-wing ministers demanding military action to topple Hamas, made no immediate comment on the Egyptian-mediated truce deal that took effect on Tuesday evening.

Palestinian health officials say 2,139 people, most of them civilians, including more than 490 children, have been killed in the enclave since July 8, when Israel launched an offensive with the declared aim of ending rocket salvoes.

Israel’s death toll stood at 64 soldiers and six civilians.

The ceasefire agreement called for an indefinite halt to hostilities, the immediate opening of Gaza’s blockaded crossings with Israel and Egypt, and a widening of the territory’s fishing zone in the Mediterranean.

A senior Hamas official voiced willingness for the security forces of Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the unity government he formed in June to control the passage points.

Both Israel and Egypt view Hamas as a security threat and are seeking guarantees that weapons will not enter the territory of 1.8 million people.

Under a second stage of the truce that would begin a month later, Israel and the Palestinians would discuss the construction of a Gaza sea port and Israel’s release of Hamas prisoners in the occupied West Bank, possibly in a trade for the remains of two Israeli soldiers believed held by Hamas, the officials said.

Israel has in recent weeks said it wants the full demilitarization of Gaza. The United States and European Union have supported the goal, but it remains unclear what it would mean in practice and Hamas has rejected it as unfeasible.

COMPETING VICTORY CLAIMS

“On the land of proud Gaza, the united people achieved absolute victory against the Zionist enemy,” a Hamas statement said.

Israel said it dealt a strong blow to Hamas, killing several of its military leaders and destroying the Islamist group’s cross-border infiltration tunnels.

“Hamas’s military wing was badly hit, we know this clearly through unequivocal intelligence,” Yossi Cohen, Netanyahu’s national security adviser, said on Army Radio.

But Israel also faced persistent rocket fire for nearly two months that caused an exodus from a number of border communities and became part of daily life in its commercial heartland.

“They are celebrating in Gaza,” cabinet minister Uzi Landau, of the far-right Yisrael Beitenu party in Netanyahu’s coalition, told Israel Radio. He said that for Israel, the outcome of the war was “very gloomy” because it had not created sufficient deterrence to dissuade Hamas from attacking in the future.

Nahum Barnea, one of Israel’s most popular columnists, expressed concern “that instead of paving the way to removing the threat from Gaza, we are paving the road to the next round, in Lebanon or in Gaza”.

“The Israelis expected a leader, a statesman who knows what he wants to achieve, someone who makes decisions and engages in a sincere and real dialogue with his public,” he wrote in Yedioth Ahronoth. “They received a seasoned spokesperson, and very little beyond that.”

Ben Caspit, writing in the Maariv daily, said there was no victory for Israel in a conflict that resulted in “a collapsed tourism industry (and) an economy approaching recession”.

Israel’s central bank has estimated the conflict will knock half a point off economic growth this year.

But with future diplomatic moves on Gaza’s future still pending, there was no immediate talk publicly among Netanyahu’s coalition partners of any steps to break up the alliance.

Israel said it would facilitate the flow of civilian goods and humanitarian and reconstruction aid into the impoverished territory if the truce was honored.

But, Cohen said: “(Hamas) will…not get a port unless it declares it will disarm. It will not get even one screw unless we can be sure it is not being used to strengthen Gaza’s military might.”

The Palestinian Center for Human Rights said 540,000 people had been displaced in the Gaza Strip. Israel has said Hamas bears responsibility for civilian casualties because it operates among non-combatants and uses schools and mosques to store weapons and as launch sites for rockets.

(Additional reporting by Ari Rabinovitch in Jerusalem; Writing by Jeffrey Heller, Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Civil War Hero to Receive Medal of Honor, 151 Years Later

August 27, 2014
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First Lieutenant Alonzo H. Cushing
Aug 27, 2014, 2:35 AM ET

IRS lawyer: Lois Lerner’s Blackberry deliberately destroyed after start of congressional probe

August 27, 2014

By

Published August 27, 2014

Lois Lerner’s Blackberry was intentionally destroyed after Congress had begun its probe into IRS targeting of conservative groups, a senior IRS lawyer acknowledged in a sworn declaration.

Thomas Kane, Deputy Assistant Chief Counsel for the IRS, wrote in the declaration, part of a lawsuit filed by Judicial Watch against the IRS, that the Blackberry was “removed or wiped clean of any sensitive or proprietary information and removed as scrap for disposal in June 2012.”

That date – June 2012 – is significant because by that time, ex-IRS official Lerner had already been summoned before congressional staffers who interviewed her about reports of the IRS’ targeting of conservative groups.

“We had already talked to her. Our personal staff and Oversight Committee staff had sat down with Ms. Lerner and confronted her about information we were getting from conservative groups in the state of Ohio and around the country,” Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, told Fox News.

Lois Lerner (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

“If you intentionally destroy evidence, that is a crime. If you make a statement in court saying the evidence is not available and it is, that is also a crime,” said Jay Sekulow, Chief Counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice.

The IRS did not immediately respond to Fox News’ request for comment.

News of the Blackberry’s destruction followed Monday’s statement by Judicial Watch that Justice Department attorneys said in a Friday phone call the federal government backs up all computer records to ensure continuity of government in event of a catastrophe, but retrieving the Lerner emails would simply be “too onerous.”

An administration official told Fox News Monday night that Judicial Watch misinterpreted the Friday phone call. “There was no new back-up system described last week to Judicial Watch,” he said. “Government lawyers who spoke to Judicial Watch simply referred to the same email retention policy that Commissioner (John) Koskinen had described in his Congressional testimony.”

But Cleta Mitchell, an attorney who represents other conservative groups suing the IRS, cited a whistleblower who bolsters Judicial Watch’s interpretation.

“I received information from a former Department of Homeland Security official who had security clearances. He just retired in April,” Mitchell said. “He contacted me and he contacted Judicial Watch and some members of Congress and said there is backup material.”

The dueling versions are not likely to sit well with District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan, who is presiding over Judicial Watch’s lawsuit against the IRS. “He gave the IRS not one, but two opportunities in court filings with him to tell him where they were,” said Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch. “There was no mention of this backup system to the court at that time.”

According to Sidney Powell, author of “Licensed to Lie: Exposing Corruption in the Department of Justice,” Sullivan is known to scold government lawyers who withhold evidence.

Powell said Sullivan appointed an independent counsel to investigate DOJ’s prosecution of now deceased Republican Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska.Sullivan described the Stevens prosecution as “the worst case of misconduct he’d seen in 25 years.”

Sullivan also said, “When government does not meet its obligations to turn over evidence, the system falters.”

Doug McKelway joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in November 2010 and serves as a Washington-based correspondent. Click here for more information on Doug McKelway

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China Talking Tough To U.S. on Military Encounters at Sea and In The Air

August 27, 2014

Teddy Ng in Beijing and Reuters in Washington

cn-fighter.jpg

Chinese military officers were likely to square up to the United States in talks at the Pentagon over the rules of behaviour between the two countries’ armed forces, mainland analysts said.

The talks, which began yesterday, were originally agreed as an attempt to improve military ties, but observers said they would be overshadowed by mutual suspicion reflected in the close encounter last week between a Chinese fighter jet and a US Navy surveillance plane in international airspace off Hainan.

“China will likely be hitting back at US criticism and maintain that it is legitimate for the Chinese military to take action if it believes national security is under threat,” said Yue Gang, a military commentator and retired PLA colonel.

Beijing was expected to tell Washington that foreign military planes flying within its economic zone, or within 200 nautical miles of the coast of China, would be deemed as putting national security at risk, Yue said.

The talks are the latest contact between the two militaries designed to contain the risk of confrontation as China flexes its military muscle and plays a bigger security role in the Asia-Pacific region, resulting in more encounters with US forces.

Beijing and Washington exchanged tough rhetoric but gave contrasting accounts of the encounter eight days ago between a US Navy P-8 Poseidon antisubmarine and reconnaissance plane and a Chinese J-11 jet over the South China Sea.

US State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki (left) said Washington operated “in a transparent manner”, while Ni Lexiong (right), a Shanghai-based military affairs commentator, said Chinese military officials would demand that US aircraft do not “provoke” China. Photos: AFP, Weibo

The Pentagon said the jet came within nine metres of the US aircraft and that Chinese aircraft had made three other close intercepts this year. The Defence Ministry in Beijing said the US allegations were “totally untenable”.

A US State Department spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, said Washington operated “in a transparent manner”. “We make other countries, including China, aware of our plans,” she said.

Ni Lexiong, a Shanghai-based military affairs commentator, said Chinese military officials would demand that US aircraft do not “provoke” China.

“The basic message is that China will take actions to protect its interests, even though Beijing is willing to continue dialogue with the US,” he said.

Yue said a series of incidents between the two militaries had pushed them to increase dialogue, reducing the risk of military miscalculation.

The guided-missile cruiser USS Cowpens and a PLA vessel accompanying China’s sole aircraft carrier the Liaoning nearly collided in December. “Both sides need to tell each other that they have no intention of challenging the other side,” said Yue.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as Beijing to talk tough to US on military encounters

Related:

 

A Chinese J-11 fighter jet is seen flying near a U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon about 215 km (135 miles) east of China’s Hainan Island in this U.S. Department of Defense handout photo taken August 19, 2014. Credit: Reuters/U.S. Navy/Handout

‘East and South China Sea disputes need creative diplomacy’

August 27, 2014

(The opinions expressed here are those of the author, a columnist for Reuters.)

LONDON – China and the United States appear headed for a damaging confrontation over the extent of China’s territorial claims in the South and East China Seas.

Now that China has become the world’s largest importer of oil, and energy more generally, the country’s need to develop more indigenous energy supplies has become urgent.

Expecting China to put the South and East China Seas off limits to exploration and production until disputes over sovereignty can be resolved through some undefined legal or diplomatic process is unrealistic.

Part of the problem is that western analysts and policymakers still fail to appreciate the strategic importance of these areas. It is common to hear maritime disputes between China and its neighbors characterized in terms of uninhabited islands, submerged reefs, historic fishing grounds and unfinished business from World War Two.

In reality, the disputes center on control over areas which are thought to contain substantial quantities of oil and gas, which could be vital to the economic development of all states in the area.

U.S. diplomats were reportedly dismayed when China started to claim the South China Sea was among the country’s “core national interests” along with Tibet and Taiwan.

But given the potential for developing substantial oil and gas fields in both the South and East China Seas it should have been obvious that they could not be treated as unimportant claims that could be deferred indefinitely.

UNFROZEN CONFLICTS

U.S. diplomats sometimes appear to want to freeze the disputes, a position which is both unhelpful and dangerous.

According to U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, the United States takes “no position on competing territorial claims” in both seas, but wants disputes peacefully resolved “in accordance with international law.”

At a regional security conference in Singapore in May 2014, Hagel singled out what he termed China’s “destabilizing, unilateral actions asserting its claims in the South China Sea,” without apportioning blame to other countries, a one-sided approach that drew a furious protest from China.

Subsequently, General Martin Dempsey, the top US military officer, has become the first chairman of the joint chiefs of staff to visit Vietnam since 1971, fueling China’s suspicions about encirclement and quiet U.S. backing for neighboring states over maritime disputes.

The United States has also refused to recognise China’s self-declared Air Defence Indentification Zone in the East China Sea and insisted the disputed Senkaku-Diaoyu islands are covered by its mutual defense pact with Japan, even while U.S. officials insist they do not take a view on the underlying issue of sovereignty.

This strategy (expressing no view on sovereignty while trying to freeze the status quo pending an unlikely diplomatic resolution of the disputes) is dangerous and threatens to worsen the standoff because the status quo is not remotely stable.

OIL AND GAS POTENTIAL

Western analysts and policymakers tend to downplay the potential oil and gas resources of the disputed areas, but this probably understates the amount of energy which could be recovered if the areas were thoroughly developed.

Both the South and East China Seas contain sedimentary basins with thick layers of mud, silt and organic material deposited on the floor of ancient seas and lakes. Both have already seen significant oil and gas discoveries.

The South China Sea is ringed with known oil and gas fields off China’s Pearl River Delta, Hainan Island and the coasts of Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and the Philippines.

In 2010, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) estimated the South China Sea contains about 11 billion barrels of oil and 145 trillion cubic feet of natural gas that have yet to be discovered (“Assessment of undiscovered oil and gas resources of Southeast Asia” March 2010).

In global terms, these are relatively modest amounts. For China, however, they are much more significant.

The assessment focused exclusively on coastal areas and did not include potential resources in the deeper waters in the center of the sea around the islands and reefs which are at the heart of the dispute.

The South China Sea remains comparatively unexplored and there is the potential for substantial additional discoveries. China’s oil companies believe the area has strong hydrocarbon potential and they have published resource estimates which are an order of magnitude higher than western analysts.

The hydrocarbon potential of the East China Sea is even less well known. But there are good reasons to believe that it could hold significant quantities of recoverable oil and gas. Several oil and gas fields have already been found in sea areas claimed by both China and Japan.

The sea borders on the Songliao and Bohaiwan basins have been in production for decades and account for most of China’s current oil and gas output. There is therefore a high probability more oil and gas could be found further offshore in the East China Sea itself.

LAW OF THE SEA

With advances in ultra-deepwater drilling the potential for far offshore exploration and production has never been greater and the dispute over sovereignty in the East and South China Seas is unlikely to remain frozen.

U.S. diplomats have suggested the disputes could be resolved through international law, norms and diplomacy, without outlining how that might actually be achieved.

In its maritime boundary dispute, the Philippines has filed a claim against China under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) with the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

UNCLOS is cited by many outside observers as a suitable legal framework for resolving disputes between China and its neighbors.

But UNCLOS is not really relevant to the dispute because the core of the disagreement concerns ownership and sovereignty over the islands and other outcrops.

Once sovereignty has been established, UNCLOS can help assign rights and responsibilities to all the parties, including control of shipping, fishing and oil and gas drilling.

But UNCLOS cannot resolve the underlying disputes about sovereignty in the first place.

China has already rejected the arbitrators’ jurisdiction, which suggests the process is headed for failure.

CREATIVE DIPLOMACY

The parties to the various disputes are all now raiding their archives for ancient books, letters and artifacts to bolster their claims to historic control over the disputed islets.

Such historical research is unlikely ever to resolve the claims persuasively (just look at Britain’s and Argentina’s unresolved dispute over the Falklands-Malvinas).

The only real solution is diplomatic. The coastal states around the South and East China Seas will have to agree to divide, share or pool their sovereignty in the interests of security and to permit the peaceful exploitation of the resources.

There are plenty of examples of such shared resource development, ranging from the Spitsbergen Archipelago in the Arctic to the Neutral Zone between Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

Before the recent flare up, China and Japan had agreed jointly to develop the Chunxiao gas field, which straddles the maritime boundary.

The challenge for diplomats, especially from the United States, is to help the parties discover creative solutions that benefit all the coastal states.

Instead, U.S. diplomats have encouraged all parties to harden their positions and suggested the entire dispute can be frozen until some ill-defined legal process runs its course.

This strategy will not work and is escalating rather than defusing tensions in the area, encouraging coastal states to pursue maximal claims rather than compromise and negotiate common solutions.

It is time that western policymakers recognized that hydrocarbon exploration is both necessary and desirable in both the South and East China Seas.

Oil and gas exploration must be a stabilizing force for cooperation, rather than a source of conflict and competition.


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