Posts Tagged ‘MH17’

Ukraine wants Russia held to account over MH17 downing — “Russia has been getting away with murder.”

July 17, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | International investigators have said the Boeing airliner flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was blown out of the sky over conflict-wracked east Ukraine on July 17, 2014 by a Buk missile system brought in from Russia

KIEV (AFP) – Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Monday insisted Russia must be held to account over the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, three years on from the tragedy that killed 298 people.

International investigators have said the Boeing airliner flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was blown out of the sky over conflict-wracked east Ukraine on July 17, 2014 by a Buk missile system brought in from Russia and fired from territory held by Moscow-backed rebels.

The probe being led by The Netherlands — which suffered the majority of losses — is focusing on some 100 people suspected of having played an “active role” in the incident, but the investigators have not publicly named any suspects.

The West and Kiev are adamant that all the evidence points to the insurgents and Moscow.

Russia and the separatist authorities it supports, however, continue to deny any involvement and have sought repeatedly to deflect the blame onto Ukraine.

“It was a barefaced crime that could have been avoided if not for the Russian aggression, Russian system and Russian missile that came from Russian territory,” Poroshenko wrote on Facebook.

“Our responsibility before the dead and before future generations is to show to the aggressor terrorists that responsibility is unavoidable for all the crimes committed.”

Officials announced this month that the trials of any suspects arrested over the shooting down of MH17 will be held in the Netherlands.

The countries leading the joint investigation — Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, The Netherlands and Ukraine — agreed that any trials will be carried out within the Dutch legal system.

Poroshenko said that he was “convinced that the objectivity and impartiality of Dutch justice will complete this path.”

“It is our shared duty in the face of the memory of those whose beating hearts were stopped exactly three years ago by a Russian missile,” he wrote.

No official events are planned in Kiev to mark the third anniversary but local residents are expected to gather for a small religious ceremony at the crash site in rebel-held territory.

Russia and Ukraine have been locked in a bitter feud since Moscow seized the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea in 2014 after the ouster of a Kremlin-backed leader by pro-Western protesters in Kiev.

Moscow was then accused of masterminding and fueling a separatist conflict in two other eastern regions that has cost the lives of some 10,000 people in over three years.

Russia insists it has not sent troops and weapons to fight in Ukraine despite overwhelming evidence that Moscow has essentially been involved in an undeclared war.

Airlines Call United Nations System “Useless” For Detecting Dangers to Aircraft Near War Zones

December 8, 2016

 A piece of the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 near the village of Grabove, in the region of Donetsk, on July 20, 2014. AFP photo

Reuters

Airlines said on Thursday a U.N. warning mechanism designed to avoid a repeat of the 2014 downing of a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine is “useless” and called for urgent new ways of detecting dangers to aircraft posed by war zones.

A new system should also contain information on other security threats and not just conflict zones, according to officials of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), representing some 265 airlines.

A conflict zones repository launched in April last year by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) was meant for states to provide information on potential risks around the world so that airlines could avoid those regions.

However, it does not contain enough information and even that is not provided fast enough for airlines to use in real time, a security expert with IATA said on Thursday.

“The repository is inadequate, woefully inadequate,” Nick Careen, IATA’s senior vice president for airport, passenger cargo and security, told journalists at a briefing in Geneva. “If it’s not timely and relevant, it’s useless.”

A spokesman for Montreal-based ICAO said it had nothing to add to changes announced in July, when it restricted the data to information provided by states where a conflict is occurring.

One of the problems regulators have faced is sensitivities of nations about including warnings given by their neighbors.

IATA’s Careen said airlines do have access to a lot of the security information they need for their daily operations but it is stored in various locations and complicated to access.

He said ICAO had heard IATA’s concerns and the two were now launching a survey to see where airlines were getting their information from. The aim is to present new recommendations by the middle of 2017 and enact them by the end of the year.

“It was implemented too quickly without giving it appropriate level of thought as to what was required by the industry,” Careen said of the database.

International investigators reported in September that a missile launcher used to shoot down Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 over rebel-held eastern Ukraine in 2014 came from Russia and was returned there afterwards.

Russia maintained that the airliner, which was en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, was brought down by Ukraine’s military rather than the pro-Russian rebels. All 298 people on board, most of them Dutch, were killed.

(Additional reporting by Allison Lampert in Montreal; Writing by Victoria Bryan; editing by Mark Heinrich)

Related:

Debris from Russian plane in Sinai, 1 Nov 15

Egyptian and Russian crash experts examined debris in the Sinai

Russian Emergencies Minister Vladimir Puchkov looks at debris from a Russian airliner at its crash site in the Hassana area in el-Arish, Egypt, Nov. 1, 2015. REUTERS

 

Russian President Vladimir Putin (3rd L) with armed forces Chief of Staff Valery Gerasimov (L), Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu (2nd L), Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Alexander Bortnikov (3rd R), Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (2nd R) and Director of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) Mikhail Fradkov (R) stand in a moment of silence before a meeting on Russian plane crash in Egypt at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia November 17, 2015. REUTERS/Alexei Nikolskyi/SPUTNIK/Kremlin

 

Moscow dismisses ‘biased and politically motivated’ MH17 inquiry — Russia refuses to accept multi-national airline crash investigation findings

September 28, 2016

Reuters and AFP

© Bulent Kilic, AFP | A piece of the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 near the village of Grabove, in the region of Donetsk, on July 20, 2014

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2016-09-28

Russia on Wednesday flatly dismissed a report from international prosecutors which concluded that Malaysian airliner MH17 had been downed by a Russian-made missile launched from a Ukrainian village held by pro-Russian rebels in 2014.

Russia on Wednesday flatly dismissed a report from international prosecutors which concluded that Malaysian airliner MH17 had been downed by a Russian-made missile launched from a Ukrainian village held by pro-Russian rebels in 2014.

In a strongly-worded statement, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the Dutch-led investigation’s findings were biased and politically-motivated.

“To arbitrarily designate a guilty party and dream up the desired results has become the norm for our Western colleagues,” said Zakharova.

“The investigation to this day continues to ignore incontestable evidence from the Russian side despite the fact that Russia is practically the only one sending reliable information to them.”

‘FLIGHT MH17 WAS SHOT DOWN BY A [MISSILE] FIRED FROM A BUK TRAILER’ FROM RUSSIA

Russia has long denied any involvement in the episode.

Zakharova complained that the Russian government had been prevented from playing a full role in investigators’ work and alleged that the Ukrainian government had been able to influence the inquiry using fabricated evidence.

Zakharova said she hoped new radar data presented by the Russian military would prompt the prosecutors to revise their findings.

(REUTERS)

Includes video:

http://www.france24.com/en/20160928-russia-dismisses-mh17-investigation-biased-politically-motivated

Related:

Did Russian Military Equipment Bring Down The Russian Metrojet Aircraft in Egypt?

November 1, 2015

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The tail of the plane that crashed near Housna, Egypt

By Sydney Morning Herald
November 1, 2015

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in a bind, having fostered an impression Russia has been decisive in Syria while the West has dithered. Photo: Alexander Zemlianichenko

The question is obvious: has Islamic State truly managed to bring down a Russian commercial flight, killing 224, in a stunning act of revenge against Moscow’s military campaign in Syria?

How will Vladimir Putin, the man forced to defend Russia’s military meddling abroad only last year after a passenger jet was shot from the skies over Ukraine, choose to respond to this latest loss of civilian life?

The personal tragedy for the families and loved ones of this doomed flight has been very quickly subsumed into the wider regional and global tensions transfixing​ much of the world.

The Islamists’ bold – and as yet completely unproven – claim of responsibility for downing the Russian Metrojet​ in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula deserves to be treated sceptically.

Sophisticated weapons are required to shoot down a fast flying jet, or a lot of good fortune to evade modern security measures and plant a bomb.

But the gloating by Islamic State, no matter how empty, leaves Putin in a difficult bind.

Does he insist the crash be subjected to a full and transparent investigation, of the kind he obstructed in the case of  destroyed over Ukraine?

Or does he allow the sort of cockeyed conspiracy that plane crashes often attract to build around the claims by Islamic State, only to see his macho boasts to be leading a Russian resurgence suffer a blow?

The answer will be revealing. Russia’s​ transport minister Maksim​ Sokolov was very quick to dismiss the Islamic State claim and open a criminal investigation into the conduct of the airline – a standard practice in Russia given the country’s lousy recent history of air safety.

But the basic elements of a story that could very quickly turn on Putin are in place unless compelling evidence of technical fault in the Metrojet​ plane is found.

Putin has staked Russian prestige on muscling up to Islamic State in Syria, happy to foster an impression Russia has been decisive while the West has dithered.

The​ images of sleek Russian jet fighters bombing targets in Syria or Russian navy corvettes blasting off cruise missiles from the Caspian Sea have been a domestic propaganda triumph.

Yet Islamic State has proved immensely cunning at propaganda too, and expanding its tentacles into regions of sympathy.

The Sinai has long been troubled by extremism, with more than 100 people killed in bombings a decade ago.

Should enough Russians doubt the official explanations about what happened to the Metrojet​ flight, and question their leader’s judgment in his foreign forays, Putin might might be desperate for the kind of truth and resolution denied the victims – among them 38 Australian citizens and residents – in Ukraine.

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MH17 denial will hurt Russia sooner or later

October 15, 2015

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Moscow claims Dutch report authors biased from start, despite accumulation of evidence

Russia has rejected demands from Western governments to set up an international tribunal to prosecute those responsible for the destruction of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 in July last year.

But the release of an exhaustive report into the crash, which killed 298 people, has proven beyond reasonable doubt that the airliner was brought down in the airspace over neighbouring Ukraine by a Russian-made surface-to-air missile. And, although that did not prevent Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov from dismissing the authors of the report as “biased from the start”, the accumulation of evidence about the destruction of MH17 is beginning to severely restrict Russia’s ability to shake off any legal responsibility for the disaster.

In the weeks immediately following the downing of the MH17 aircraft last year, sources within Russia have circulated a multitude of theories about who the culprits may be. Some of these were zany conspiracy plots, such as the allegation that the MH17 flight was, in fact, unmanned – that it took off from the Dutch airport of Amsterdam at midday on July 17, 2014, stuffed with dead bodies and that it was pre-programmed to destruct over the skies of Ukraine in order to discredit Russia.

However, other theories were designed to sound more plausible, and were initially promoted by Russian officials, as well as by Russia’s state-controlled media. These included allegations that MH17 was brought down by the Ukrainians themselves because the colours of its fuselage supposedly resembled those of the private jet of Russian President Vladimir Putin; that MH17 was shot down by Western military aircraft; or that the plane was torn apart by an onboard explosive device placed by a “terrorist network”.

Each one of these allegations was supposedly accompanied by documentary evidence which mysteriously never materialised.

The 300-page report compiled by the Dutch Safety Board and released on Tuesday has now comprehensively eliminated all such conspiracy theories.

Based on structural damage to the fuselage of the plane, the shape of the fragments of the projectile embedded in the wreckage as well as remains of a missile nozzle and cables belonging to the stabilising mechanism of the explosive which hit the plane, investigators established beyond any reasonable doubt that MH17 was destroyed by a BUK surface-to-air missile produced by Russia.

“The impact pattern could not have been caused by a meteor, an air-to-air missile or an internal explosion,” Dr Djibbe Joustra, who heads the Dutch Safety Board, said.

Anticipating such an outcome, Russian officials who deal with the case have tacitly discarded alternative explanations and have recently accepted that one of their BUK missiles was responsible for MH17’s destruction. But they have alleged that the version of the missile which hit the plane was from an older batch of missiles no longer used by the Russian armed forces, although it continues to be in the inventories of the Ukraine military.

Moscow also complained this week that Dutch investigators had failed to take into account evidence provided by the BUK missile manufacturers, which supposedly proves this point.

In theory, this technical dispute works in Moscow’s favour: The argument now is about the shape of the shrapnel fragments, with Dutch investigators claiming that these are of a “bow tie” variety produced by newer versions of the BUK missile, and Russians claiming that they resemble the shape of the pear, usually produced by older missile versions. That is the sort of technical detail the broader international public is unlikely to remember, and one which gives Russia at least plausible deniability.

Russia can also successfully continue to deny any legal liability. It recently vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution, sought by Malaysia, Ukraine, the Netherlands, Australia, and Belgium, to establish a criminal tribunal to prosecute those responsible for downing the Malaysian airliner.

Yet, matters are unlikely to rest here, for a separate Dutch-led investigation into the criminal responsibility for the destruction of the Malaysian aircraft is scheduled to report early next year.

Dutch officials have not denied rumours that Western intelligence agencies, and particularly those of the United States, may declassify some of their satellite imagery of the tragedy. Either way, demands for the establishment of a tribunal will intensify.

And then, there are other pending legal cases against the Russian state and its officials.

Britain has launched a new inquest into the November 2006 murder of Mr Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian state security officer who had become a British citizen.

The European Parliament is calling for an independent international investigation of the murder of the Russian opposition political leader Boris Nemtsov. And Russia faces an international legal refusal to recognise its annexation of Crimea.

For the moment, Mr Putin seems content to ignore all these challenges. But, sooner or later, Russia’s diminished international reputation will end up inflicting real damage on the country and its government.

http://www.straitstimes.com/world/europe/mh17-denial-will-hurt-russia-sooner-or-later

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 15, 2015, with the headline ‘MH17 denial will hurt Russia sooner or later’.

MH17: ‘Russian missile parts’ at Ukraine crash site

August 11, 2015

BBC News

Pro-Russian rebel stands with debris from MH17 - July 2014 picture

Pro-Russian rebels control the area where the MH17 crashed

Fragments of a suspected Russian missile system have been found at the Flight MH17 crash site in Ukraine, investigators in the Netherlands say.

They say the parts, possibly from a Buk surface-to-air system, are “of particular interest” and could help show who was behind the crash.

But they say they have not proved their “causal connection” with the crash.

MH17 crashed on land held by Russian-backed rebels in July 2014, killing all 298 on board.

There were 283 passengers, including 80 children, and 15 crew members on the Malaysian Airlines airliner.

About two-thirds of those who died were Dutch nationals, with dozens of Malaysians and Australians among the rest.

Ukraine and many Western countries have accused pro-Russian rebels of shooting down the plane, saying they could have used a Buk missile system supplied by Russia.

Russia and the rebels deny any responsibility and say the Ukrainian military was to blame.

line

How a missile could have brought down MH17

Missile infographic

MH17: What we know

A tale of two sisters and flight MH17

Air disaster that touched a nation

line

The Joint Investigation Team (JIT) said in a joint statement with the Dutch Safety Board that the parts had been “secured during a previous recovery mission in eastern Ukraine”.

“The parts are of particular interest to the criminal investigation as they can possibly provide more information about who was involved in the crash of MH17. For that reason the JIT further investigates the origin of these parts,” the statement said.

Fred Westerbeke, a spokesman for the Dutch Prosecutor’s Office, said that seven fragments had been found which were definitely not part of the aircraft, and further investigations had shown that they were probably from a missile system.

“We are going to need more investigation to really find out what exactly this is and if it is part of a possible system that took down MH17,” he added.

“If we can establish that, then we can say that it is a breakthrough.”

line
Analysis: By Jonathan Marcus, BBC defence and diplomatic correspondent

The Dutch safety board is characteristically cautious. For now it is insisting that no causal connection can be established between the discovered parts and the crash.

The aircraft is widely believed to have been downed by a surface-to-air missile. Indeed the investigators’ preliminary report – released last September – noted that the damage to the aircraft’s fuselage and cockpit indicated impacts from a large number of high-energy objects from outside the aircraft; consistent with an engagement by a Buk-type missile.

The crucial question remains who fired the weapon – Russian-backed separatists or even the Russian military itself? The Ukrainians also operate a variant of the Buk system.

The missile parts could be a help here but satellite intelligence may provide more of the picture. Independent investigators have already established a video trail which appears to place a Buk launcher in the crash area on the day in question.

line

The investigators would now enlist the help of weapons experts and forensic specialists to examine the parts, the statement added.

The JIT comprises representatives of the Netherlands, Ukraine, Belgium, Malaysia and Australia.

They are meeting in The Hague to discuss a draft report on the causes of the crash, the final version of which is expected to be published by the Dutch Safety Board in October.

The statement comes two weeks after Russia vetoed a draft resolution to set up an international tribunal into the disaster, triggering widespread outrage.

Moscow described the Malaysian initiative as “premature” and “counterproductive”.

The Boeing 777 was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it was brought down on 17 July last year in Donetsk region.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-33865420

Putin: Russia Will Oppose International Tribunal for MH17

July 29, 2015

The Associated Press

MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin has indicated that Moscow will veto a U.N. Security Council resolution to set up an international criminal court to prosecute those responsible for shooting down a Malaysia Airlines plane over Ukraine a year ago.

Putin said Wednesday in a phone chat with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte that Russia still opposes the idea that the Netherlands and Ukraine advocate.

Ukraine and the West suspect that the plane was hit by a surface-to-air missile fired by Russia-backed separatist rebels or Russian soldiers. Russia denies that. Nearly 200 of the 298 killed were Dutch.

The Kremlin quoted Putin as saying a tribunal would be “inexpedient” because Russia still has “a lot of questions” about the investigation to which it had little access.

Related:

View image on Twitter

Bodies of the dead collected just after the disaster

Flowers and mementos lie on the wreckage at the crash site of the Malaysia Airlines jet. Credit Maxim Zmeyev/Reuters

Russian officer pushed the launch button: Ukraine

Experts believe a Russian built anti-air missile system downed the air liner

News For Sunday, July 12, 2015: Southeast Asia Roundup

July 12, 2015
Today Around Southeast Asia

PHUKETWAN recognises the importance of Asean with the Economic Community approaching and marks what’s happening around the region with a new column, Asean Today.

Thailand

voanews.com The European Union has joined the United States in condemning Thailand’s forced deportation of more than 100 ethnic Uighurs to China, where they could face harsh treatment and a lack of due process. An EU statement called the deportation a violation of core principles of international humanitarian law.

reuters Uighurs from China’s Xinjiang are being given Turkish identity papers in Southeast Asia by Turkish diplomats and then taken to Turkey where some are sold to fight for groups like Islamic State as ”cannon fodder,” a senior Chinese official said.

Malaysia

AP Malaysian authorities are investigating allegations that 2 million ringgit ($529,000) were deposited into the accounts of the wife of embattled Prime Minister Najib Razak earlier this year. Rosmah Mansor’s lawyers say the news report is ”menacing and false” and denied she took money from 1MDB.

straitstimes.com A memorial service was held at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Saturday to mark the first year anniversary of the Malaysia Airlines tragedy. Flight MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot down over Ukraine on July 17 last year, killing all 298 passengers and crew – mostly Dutch, Malaysians and Australians.

Burma

malaysiakini.com Burma, in particular, should be considered for downgrade to Tier 3, as its persecution of Rohingya is at the root of the recent boat crisis. It has not only failed to meet minimal standards, but has also actively exacerbated the problem of human trafficking and human rights abuses toward victims in the region through its policies toward Rohingya.
https://www.malaysiakini.com/letters/304838

karennews.org Dengue fever outbreaks on the Thai Burma border have affected hundreds of students, with many having to be hospitalised. Heavy wet season rains that drench communities on both sides of the Thai Burma border, are an early warning sign that it is the time of year that dengue fever strikes.

Philippines

cnn.com Hundreds of people in at least six towns and a city in Surigao del Sur were hospitalised after being allegedly poisoned by durian candy.

Indonesia

rt.com Two former pilots for Indonesian airlines were found to have been radicalised by Islamic State after they expressed sympathy for the jihadist group online, while still performing passenger flights, a leaked Australian police report said.

AP Ash spewing from a volcano on Indonesia’s main island of Java sparked chaos for holidaymakers as airports closed and international airlines cancelled flights to tourist hotspot Bali, stranding thousands. Bali’s Ngurah Rai airport reopened Saturday morning.

Cambodia

xinhua Cambodia has seen 57 landmine casualties in the first five months of 2015, down 36 percent compared with 89 casualties over the same period of last year, the latest report said.

Singapore

todayonline.com The Singapore Government has contributed to Taiwan three pallets of medical supplies, which include artificial skin and other materials required for the treatment of the burn victims of a water park blast, said the Singapore Trade Office in Taipei.

Vietnam

VNS The top prosecution agencies of Viet Nam and Mongolia signed a two-year (2016-2017) co-operation agreement. The agreement was signed following talks between Procurator General Nguyen Hoa Binh and Mongolian General Prosecutor M. Enkh-Amgalan.

Laos

ozy.com It took a bit of time for Mark, a 65-year-old retiree from London, to understand why so many middle-aged white men were hanging out alone in the sad-looking bar of his hotel in Vientiane, Laos, when he visited in 2013. Then he saw all the local young women loitering nearby. And that’s when Mark realized that, unlike him, those dudes hadn’t come to Laos for its stunning 16th-century temples or spectacular waterfalls.

Brunei

insidethegames.biz The Philippines has agreed to host the 2019 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games instead of Brunei, who pulled out last month because they claimed they would not be ready in time. The event is expected to feature nearly 4500 athletes from 11 countries competing in 36 sports.

http://phuketwan.com/tourism/asean-today-uighur-return-condemned-burma-rohingya-crisis-durian-candy-blamed-mass-illness-22813/

Hungary’s $10.8 billion nuclear deal with Russia

March 30, 2015

BUDAPEST |
Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) speaks with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban before a joint news conference in Budapest in this February 17, 2015 file photo. REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh/Files

(Reuters) – Its currency is wounded and its economy besieged by sanctions, yet Russia still has money to spare for potential allies overseas. Even as it scrabbles for foreign funds, Moscow is poised to make a 10 billion euro ($10.8 billion) loan to Hungary, one of the European Union members most sympathetic to it.

Budapest plans to draw on the first tranche of the loan this year, a Hungarian government commissioner told Reuters.

Officially the loan is to finance the expansion of the Paks nuclear power plant, Hungary’s only atomic power station, which supplies about 40 percent of the country’s electricity. But critics say there is another motive as well: Russia buying favor with a European Union (EU) government.

“This Paks deal is camouflage,” said Zoltan Illes, a former lawmaker in the ruling Fidesz party who was a state secretary for the environment until 2014. “This is a financial transaction, and for the Russians this is buying influence.”

Illes, who opposes the use of nuclear energy, believes the deal is more about pumping money into the economy of Hungary, where Prime Minister Viktor Orban faces re-election in 2018, than providing electricity.

For years, Moscow has used commercial relationships – in particular gas sales – to exert influence across Europe. Now those methods are coming under closer scrutiny after the United States and EU imposed tough economic sanctions on Russia for annexing Crimea and supporting separatist fighters in the east of Ukraine.

In return, Russia is striving to retain ties, commercially and diplomatically, from the Baltic states to Europe’s southern rim. The loan to Hungary, agreed last year, is seen by some as part of that undeclared struggle for influence.

Government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs rejected such claims. “The rationale of the Paks investment is not about election campaigns and chances. It serves the country’s long-term energy security,” he said. He added that Russia was helping to build reactors in other countries and that Russia had less economic influence in Hungary than in other Western European states.

Officials in Moscow and Budapest say the nuclear deal was concluded purely on commercial and energy grounds and was good for both countries.

Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto told Reuters the deal was “the business (transaction) of the century.” Rosatom, the Russian state nuclear firm, and the Russian finance ministry responsible for the loan to Hungary did not respond to requests for comment.

Hungary had initially planned to put the contract to expand Paks out to tender, and some Western firms showed interest, along with Rosatom. But Reuters found that Hungary abruptly dropped the idea of a tender. Specialists in the Development Ministry who had worked on plans to expand the Paks plant were sidelined, said two people familiar with Hungary’s energy sector. Instead, a small group close to Prime Minister Orban chose to award the contract to Rosatom. Russia offered a loan as part of the deal.

Kovacs, the government spokesman, said: “The whole project is being carried out with very serious professional preparations. Decisions of a political nature are naturally made by politicians.”

Since the agreement was struck, Orban has appeared much more friendly towards the Kremlin than his EU peers have done. He has said Europe was shooting itself in the foot by imposing sanctions on Russia, though he did not go so far as blocking sanctions. Orban is also leading a push for a new pipeline to take Russian gas to southeast Europe, bypassing Ukraine.

Last month, Orban hosted Putin in Budapest. He is the only EU leader to invite the Russian president on an official bilateral visit since Malaysian airliner MH17 was shot down over Ukraine in July 2014. Western officials say the plane was most likely brought down by a Russian missile; Russia denies any responsibility.

Standing alongside Putin in the Hungarian parliament, Orban adopted a conciliatory approach to Moscow. He said EU governments were “chasing ghosts” if they believed they could get by without cooperating with Russia.

Asked whether Hungary was being more friendly towards Russia because of the Paks loan, Kovacs said: “Russia is important from an energy aspect, what’s more, it is a strategic partner … But this is not a question of ‘friendship.'”

PRAGMATIC PARTNER

Orban regularly flouts EU rules with policies that critics label populist. Since he was elected with a two-thirds parliamentary majority in 2010, Orban has imposed windfall taxes on banks, telecoms companies and retail firms to keep the budget deficit in check. He’s clashed with Brussels over curbs on the media. And he has consolidated his power with measures that critics say weakened democratic checks and balances – an allegation the government denies.

At the same time, he is not a natural Kremlin ally. As a young student in 1989, he burst onto the political scene with an impassioned speech demanding the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Hungary. He and Putin appear to have little personal affinity; at their Feb. 17 meeting in Budapest, their body language was stiff.

However, people who know Orban say he is a pragmatist. “I think power is incredibly important to him per se,” said John Alderdice, who was a leading member along with Orban of an organization called Liberal International, a global network promoting liberalism. “The issue (for him) is: ‘How can I get into power, and hold onto power.'”

In November 2010, soon after he was elected, Orban met Putin in Moscow for talks on economic issues, including further cooperation at the Paks plant. The plant is a huge concrete structure built in the 1970s by Soviet technicians on a floodplain next to the Danube River. Orban was looking to spur growth in Hungary’s economy, and Russia could help him achieve that.

The two men talked for hours, including over lunch, said a source familiar with the discussions. But no decision was taken on the Paks project.

Instead, a team of energy specialists at the Development Ministry in Budapest prepared for an open tender for a contract to expand the plant, according to a former energy official. In addition to Rosatom, French company Areva expressed interest in bidding, as did U.S. firm Westinghouse, according to three people with knowledge of the preparations.

In early 2013, the plans for a tender were still on track, according to comments by the chief executive of MVM, a Hungarian state-owned energy group, published in the journal of the Paks power station. Bidders were told then that a tender would go ahead, according to a diplomatic source in Hungary.

SUDDEN CHANGE

Late that year the international context changed. In November 2013, then Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich rejected an association agreement with the EU and instead signed an aid deal with Moscow. Thousands of pro-Western protesters camped out in Kiev’s central square, determined to make Yanukovich stick with the EU agreement or give up power. The stage was set for the biggest standoff between Russia and the West since the Cold War.

In Budapest, too, there was a change of tack. On Dec. 17, the parliament’s economy committee was convened at one day’s notice. Antal Rogan, a lawmaker with the ruling Fidesz party and head of the committee, called the meeting.

Orban’s chief of staff, Janos Lazar, told the committee that the government was in advanced talks with Russia on extending the life of the Paks plant. “It was sudden,” said Bernadett Szel, an opposition lawmaker.

Pal Kovacs, who at the time was state secretary for energy and had a leading role in preparations for the Paks tender, had not been told the tender was being scrapped, according to a person with links to Hungary’s state energy sector. The source said the deal with Russia was concluded by members of the prime minister’s inner circle.

Government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs said parliament’s approval of the deal showed it had broad political support.

Asked about the decision to scrap the tender and award the contract to Rosatom, Westinghouse said the decision was “abrupt.” Areva declined to comment. Government spokesman Kovacs said: “Of course, the agreement on concrete conditions was made at a given point of time, but it would be a mistake to say it was ‘abrupt.'”

Attila Aszodi, the state commissioner in charge of the Paks expansion, said the Rosatom deal stood out because the Russians had offered long-term financing for the entire construction project, something he said the other prospective bidders would not provide. He told Reuters in a December interview that a tender is “a good tool; however, it is not the silver bullet.”

The Hungarian government has also pointed out that the existing reactors at Paks were built with Soviet nuclear expertise.

Critics say the deal’s terms are generous. Hungary will begin repayments on the loan only once the new reactors are up and running in 2026 and will repay the loan over 21 years. Until 2026 the interest rate will be just under 4 percent, rising to 4.5 percent afterwards and 4.8 to 4.95 percent in the final 14 years.

The terms compare well to market rates for financing, although conditions in every debt deal are different. The Russian loan finally agreed will cover 80 percent of the construction costs, and Hungary will put up the rest. Hungary plans to start drawing on the loan this year to finance planning work for the new reactors, Aszodi told Reuters.

HUNGARIAN RHAPSODY

Moscow has voiced its happiness with Hungary’s recent support for Russia. In November last year, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Hungary – unlike other ex-Communist states in the EU – conducts itself “responsibly” and does not succumb to “Russophobic approaches.” At a Kremlin ceremony, Putin called Hungary one of Russia’s most important partners.

Orban’s invitation last month added to the mutual appreciation. During the visit, Putin and Orban agreed that Russia would give Hungary several years’ grace to pay for gas that Budapest had committed to buy but never used.

For Orban, though, the cost of staying close to Russia has gone up as the Ukraine crisis has deepened. Some EU governments are uncomfortable with what they see as a drift by Hungary into the Kremlin’s orbit. The United States has also criticized some of Orban’s policies towards Russia, and one U.S. diplomat said there had been a lack of transparency in granting the Paks contract.

Illes, the former environment secretary, said the Paks deal was typical of Orban’s pragmatic style of governing. In the short term he reaped domestic political benefits against opponents, and in the medium term the project will generate jobs.

But for Orban, he said, “long-term considerations, they don’t exist.”

(Additional reporting by Christian Lowe in Warsaw, Karolin Schaps and Nina Chestney in London, Barbara Lewis in Brussels, Geert de Clercq in Paris, and Vladimir Soldatkin and Maria Tsvetkova in Moscow. Editing by Richard Woods and Philippa Fletcher)

Vladimir Putin to leave G20 early after ‘tense’ meeting with David Cameron

November 15, 2014

Brisbane, Australia: Russian president prepares to leave Brisbane summit after “robust” discussions over Ukraine

David Cameron shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit in Brisbane, Australia

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David Cameron looks down upon and shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit in Brisbane, Australia Photo: ALEXEI DRUZHININ/RIA NOVOSTI/EPA

Vladimir Putin is set to leave the G20 summit early after a tense meeting with David Cameron over Moscow’s actions in Ukraine.

The Russian president is reportedly planning to leave the summit early on Sunday and miss its official lunch in response to repeated criticism from western leaders.

The move comes after Tony Abbott, the Australian Prime Minister, threatened to “shirt front” Mr Putin – a form of physical confrontation. Stephen Harper, the Canadian Prime Minister, told Mr Putin: “I guess I’ll shake your hand, but I’ll only have one thing to say to you – get out of the Ukraine.”

Mr Cameron told Mr Putin that he is at a “crossroads” and could face further sanctions after the pair held “robust” discussions on Ukraine.

During a tense 50 minute meeting Mr Cameron warned that Russia is risking its relations with the West and must end its support for Russian separatists.

Mr Putin denied that Russian troops have entered Ukraine and claimed that he is prepared to accept a ceasefire and stop the flow of Russian weapons across the border. He also said that he is prepared to recognise Ukraine as a “single political space”.

Mr Cameron is said to be “realistic” about Mr Putin’s comments after he previously broke pledges to end Russian action in Ukraine.

The meeting at the G20 summit in Brisbane, Australia, follows a tense build up in which Mr Cameron compared Russia to Nazi Germany.

Tensions escalated further when Russia stationed a fleet of warships off the coast of Australia in an apparent show of strength ahead of the summit.

In interviews hours before the meeting, Mr Cameron suggested that he cannot trust Mr Putin and described Russia’s decision to send a fleet of warships to Australia as “international machismo”.

Asked if he trusts Mr Putin, the Prime Minister told ITV News: “I take people as I find them. The sad thing is that to date undertakings given in the Minsk agreement have not been followed but the right thing to do is to continue to engage.

“So far we haven’t seen his actions follow up the statements that he’s given on previous occasions.

“The point is and the reason for meeting is that this issue matters and it’s very important Russia understands what’s at stake and gets a very clear message.

“There’s a real choice here, there’s a different and better way for Russia to behave that could lead to an easing of relations, but at the moment he’s not taking that path.”

During the meeting Mr Cameron said that he and Mr Putin have to “agree to disagree” on several areas, including Mr Putin’s continued claims that the uprising against the former Ukrainian president was illegitimate.

Mr Putin still insists that Russian troops have not crossed the border into Ukraine, despite evidence to the contrary. The Prime Minister said that drones should be deployed to monitor the situation on the ground, a move which Mr Putin claimed he supported.

The West is now considering further sanctions, although further “sectoral” sanctions against other parts of Russia’s economy are unlikely next week. At present the West has imposed sanctions on the energy, defence and banking sectors.

Instead it is more likely that the West will increase the number of individuals who are subject to the sanctions in coming weeks.

Mr Cameron also raised the prospect of a “national unity government” in Syria to replace Bashar al-Assad’s dictatorship. He highlighted how the conflict is threatening both Britain and Russia.

A Kremlin spokesman said that Mr Putin and Mr Cameron addressed the “fundamental causes of the current breakdown of relations” between Russia and the West.