Russia’s Putin Wants Traditional Marriage And God In Constitution | News | Peacefmonline.com

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Russian President Vladimir Putin wants marriage to be defined as the union of a man and woman in a revised constitution, ruling out gay marriage.

It is among several constitutional amendments proposed by Mr Putin, which are set to be put to a public vote.

Critics see the proposals as a move by Mr Putin to keep a hold on power after his presidential term ends in 2024.

The package includes a proclamation of Russians’ faith in God and a ban on giving away any Russian territory.

The territorial amendment would strengthen Russia’s hold on Crimea – a Ukrainian region it annexed in 2014 – and the Kuril Islands, disputed with Japan since World War Two, according to Vladimir Mashkov, a renowned actor-director involved in drafting the new constitution.

Mr Putin also proposed an amendment on “historical truth”, to protect “the great achievement of the people in their defence of the Fatherland”.

He has railed against what he sees as foreign attempts to diminish the enormous sacrifice made by the USSR in World War Two. The defeat of Nazi Germany cost an estimated 27 million Soviet lives.

Mr Putin is in his fourth presidential term; he has been the dominant figure in Russian politics for 20 years. His presidency has been marked by a revival of Soviet-era symbols, conservative values and the influence of the Russian Orthodox Church.

He surprised the nation in January with plans for constitutional changes that include transferring some powers from the presidency to parliament.

While most Russians identify as Orthodox Christians, the state is officially secular. The current constitution dates from 1993, when then President Boris Yeltsin was embracing Western democracy and capitalism.

Mr Putin’s drive against Western liberalism has included a controversial ban on disseminating “gay propaganda” among young Russians. The ban – condemned by many liberals and the European Court of Human Rights – has been used to harass gay rights activists.

The constitutional reform bill was approved by the Russian parliament’s lower house – the State Duma – in January, and Mr Putin’s amendments were introduced in time for a second reading next week. The Russian legislature is dominated by Putin supporters.

A public vote on the constitutional revision is scheduled for 22 April, but before then it has to get final approval from parliament and the Constitutional Court.

A Russian political analyst, Konstantin Kalachev, told BBC Russian that the proposals were “a mixed bag”. “It turns out that our forefathers gave us faith in God and the ideas of communism,” he commented, but added: “Putin is a mirror for the majority of Russians”.

Many of the amendments were submitted to Mr Putin by prominent social and cultural figures appointed to a constitutional working group.

Political scientist Grigory Golosov criticised the changes as “political”. “The constitution we have indicates that the state should be free of ideology. So I think these changes are inappropriate.”

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The General’s Death Upsets Iran’s Plan

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Qassem Soleimani, who was Iran’s most hyped general, loved publishing “selfies” showing himself close to battlegrounds in the Middle East. He was never present anywhere near a battle but was always to come after the dust had settled, to take “selfies” and claim the credit. (Photo by Mehdi Ghasemi/ISNA/AFP via Getty Images)

While analysts and policymakers are busy speculating on ways that Tehran’s ruling mullahs might avenge the killing of their most hyped general, the real question that needs considering may be elsewhere.

The question is: what effect Soleimani’s death might have on the power struggle that, though currently put on hold, is certain to resume with greater vigor in Tehran.

Tehran’s propaganda tries to sell Soleimani as a kind of superman who, almost single-handedly, brought Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and parts of Afghanistan and Yemen under Iranian control while driving Americans out of the Middle East and crushing ISIS’s so-called Caliphate which tried to rival the Islamic Republic in Tehran. Soleimani himself did a lot to promote that image and, doing that, received much help from Western, especially American, and Israeli media that bought the bundle of goods from Tehran.

Facts, however, offer a different portrait of the late general. Soleimani joined the Islamic revolution in 1980, aged 27, at a time that the mullahs were busy putting together a praetorian guard to protect their new regime. A few months later, the ragtag army that Soleimani had joined was sent to help the remnants of a heavily purged national army fight an invading Iraqi force. With over 8,000 officers and NCOs of the national army purged by Khomeini, the new regime offered a fast track to people like Soleimani who had joined the military with no proper training and often little or no formal education. Thus, just three years after he had joined the military, young Soleimani found himself in command of a division of raw recruits. Under his command, Iranian forces suffered three of their biggest defeats in operations Al-Fajr 8, and Karbala I and Karbala II. Mohsen Reza’i, then chief of the Revolutionary Guard, describes the three battles as “a string of catastrophes” for Iranian forces.

However, Soleimani, who was to demonstrate his genius for networking and self-promotion, scored one lasting victory when he attached himself to Ali Khamenei, the mullah who was to become the Islamic Republic’s “Supreme Guide”.

Khamenei started as Deputy Defense Minister and rose to become President of the Islamic Republic. Soleimani, mocked as “the mullah’s bag-carrier”, was always at his side. In the 1990s, as Khamenei slowly built himself as the sole arbiter of Iran’s fate, Soleimani seized the opportunity to secure a fiefdom for himself.

That came in the shape of the project to “export” the Iranian Revolution to other Muslim countries. Initially, exporting the revolution, mentioned in the regime’s constitution as a sacred duty, had been regarded as a matter of propaganda and organizing sympathizers in Arab countries through outfits named Hezbollah. The task was handled by a special office in the Foreign Ministry headed by Ayatollah Hadi Khosroshahian. Partly thanks to lobbying by Soleimani, the task was taken away from the Foreign Ministry and handed over to the Revolutionary Guard. But even then Soleimani didn’t get the top job, which went to then Col. Ismail Qaani, the man who has now succeeded Soleimani as Commander of the Quds Force. Soleimani’s next move was to dislodge Qaani and get the top job himself. (Qaani was named as deputy). Even that configuration would not satisfy Soleimani, who had bigger ambitions. As long as he was part of the IRGC’s chain of command, he had to obey rules set by superiors whom he despised.

Thanks to Khamenei’s support, he succeeded in securing his independent fiefdom in the shape of the Quds Force which, though formally part of the IRGC, has its own separate budget and chain of command and is answerable to no one but Khamenei.

Next, Soleimani seized control of Tehran’s foreign policy in Arab countries, Afghanistan, North Korea, and South America and, in some sensitive areas, even Russia. The Islamic Republic’s presidents and foreign ministers have never had tête-à-tête talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, as Soleimani had.

It became a matter of routine for Soleimani to appoint Iran’s ambassadors to Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut, Doha and several other Arab capitals.

A dramatic illustration of Soleimani’s “independence” came when he shipped Syrian despot Bashar al-Assad to Tehran in a special airplane without even telling the Iranian president, let alone the foreign minister, who were also excluded from the Syrian’s audience with Khamenei.

A control freak, Soleimani insisted on deciding even the smallest details himself. In his one, and now final, interview, last November, the general talks of how Lebanese Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah had to clear every move with him.

Inside Iran, Soleimani built a state within the state. According to the Islamic Customs Office, the Quds Force operates 25 jetties in five of Iran’s biggest ports for its “imports and exports” with no intervention by the relevant authorities. A levy on imports of foreign cars is reserved for a special fund, controlled by the Quds Force, to cover expenditures in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon and help pro-Iran Palestinian groups.

Soleimani had his own network of lobbyists in many Arab countries and some Western democracies. Hundreds of Iranian and Arab militants have enrolled in Western universities with scholarships from the Quds Force.

The Quds Force has registered vast tracts of public land in its name, claiming the need for future housing for its personnel. It also runs two dozen companies and banks, several shipping lines and an airline.

Soleimani, who loved making and publishing “selfies” showing himself close to battlegrounds in the Middle East, was never present anywhere near a battle but was always to come after the dust had settled, to take “selfies” and claim the credit.

A master of self-promotion, Soleimani received the rank of major-general without having risen through the hierarchy of the top brass like the other 12 men on the list. (After death, he has been promoted to Lt. General).

Some analysts in Tehran believe that Khamenei was planning to promote Soleimani further by making him President of the Islamic Republic in 2021. An image-building campaign started last year, as Soleimani was marketed as “the Sufi commander”, a label given to Safavid kings in the 16th century.

A committee of exiled Iranians in Florida also started campaigning to draft Soleimani as president.

If that was Khamenei’s game plan, there is no doubt that Soleimani’s demise will lead to more uncertainty regarding the future course of Iranian politics.

Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987. He is the Chairman of Gatestone Europe.

This article was originally published by Asharq al-Awsat and is reprinted by kind permission of the author.

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Trump leaving NATO: dangerous for U.S., nightmare for Israel – Haaretz.com

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This article was first published on January 17, 2019

When Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, the new Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces, settled into his office at the Kirya after being sworn in Tuesday, he had a long list of military challenges to plan for: Rockets and tunnels by Hamas and Hezbollah, Iran’s persistent threatening stance against Israel in Syria, Iran’s ballistic missile and nuclear programs.

One thing he probably never thought he would have to add to that list was planning for the possibility of a U.S. withdrawal from NATO. 

The day is almost over, and no one from the Administration has denied the NYT story about Trump wanting to pull out of NATO. Worse, no one from the Administration would dare say he would never do it. Because they know he might.

— Dan Shapiro (@DanielBShapiro)

But as he learned from the New York Times, the possibility is very much on President Donald Trump’s mind.

It is no small matter for Israel.

In the first instance, Israel benefits from NATO because of the way it broadens U.S. influence. NATO is an alliance, but it also entails its European members willingly accepting the United States’ leadership position on the continent.

U.S. allies outside the alliance benefit from the association. It has helped earn Israel a seat at the table as a NATO partner, has opened doors to cooperation with non-U.S. militaries, and helps prevent escalatory scenarios in moments of tension between Israel and NATO members, notably Turkey. In a post-NATO world, Israel’s alignment would be with an isolated United States that lacks the multiplying effect of broader Western support.

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But the operational effects could be far more challenging. Israel maintains impressive self-defense capabilities, which will be sustained in any scenario, but its security partnership with the United States, another critical pillar of its defense policy, will be forced to adapt in complicated ways.

The day-to-day relationships between the IDF and the U.S. military are conducted via U.S. European Command. U.S. forces based in Germany are the ones who travel to Israel by the thousands to conduct joint exercises, including those that drill bringing Patriot missile batteries to augment Israel’s domestic capabilities and help defend Israel in the case of a major conflict.  

U.S. Navy destroyers, home-ported in Spain and equipped with Aegis missile defense capabilities, are among the Sixth Fleet’s ships that sail regularly in the Eastern Mediterranean (and make port calls in Haifa) to ensure adequate support for Israel’s defense. U.S. Air Force squadrons based in Italy come to Israel to conduct joint air exercises with the Israeli Air Force. Other U.S. troops sit even closer, at Incirlik Air Force Base in Eastern Turkey.

Remove the United States from NATO – and forward-deployed U.S. forces from Europe, which would certainly follow – and the United States’ ability to respond to a Middle East crisis would be diminished.

Could U.S. support for Israel be shifted and coordinated instead through U.S. Central Command, based in the Persian Gulf? It has been proposed before as an efficiency measure. But Israeli generals have always resisted the proposal. Their worry is that they would find it challenging to enjoy the same level of intimacy they currently have with Europe-based U.S. commanders, with commanders who maintain a similar closeness with Arab militaries. 

True, Israel is closer strategically today with the Arab Gulf states than at any time in its history, because of a focus on the common threat of Iran and the lower priority of the Palestinian issue. But those relationships are a long way from being normalized – and could still backslide.

Israeli security planners are, therefore, still most likely to want to maintain separation between their relationships with the U.S. military and with their Arab neighbors. Having observed the intense friendships formed between Israeli military commanders and their U.S. counterparts based in Europe, I can say that these ties will not be easily replaced.

The broader Middle East would also experience the effects of NATO’s demise in the form of further empowerment of Russia. That is happening already, but losing NATO would turbocharge those trends.

Already, Russia’s brutally decisive intervention in Syria, combined with successive U.S. administrations’ preference to reduce active U.S. military engagements in the region, have led many regional states to explore expanded security ties with Russia.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets more frequently with Putin than he does with Trump, and the IDF and Russian Air Force deconflict their operations in Syria. The leaders of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, all close partners of the United States, have visited Moscow and explored acquiring advanced Russian weapons systems in addition to their American-supplied arsenals.

Should Russia decide to exert leverage, such as by constraining Israeli freedom of action against Iranian military targets in Syria, the United States would be ill-equipped to push back.

A U.S. withdrawal from NATO would unmistakably be understood as a major pullback from the United States’s leadership in global affairs. The effect of expanding Russian influence would be felt far beyond Europe and the Middle East.

Military planners are renowned for imagining, and developing options for, every possible scenario. So General Kochavi and his colleagues will find a way to prepare, and put themselves in a position to adapt. But there are certain anchors that any country hopes to maintain, particularly one facing as many threats, and so tied to its American ally, as Israel.

To avoid having to grapple with the nightmarish set of problems that would result from the U.S. leaving NATO, General Kochavi might consider recommending to his Prime Minister and Defense Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, that he use his influence with President Trump to dissuade him from such a dangerous course.

Daniel B. Shapiro is Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. He served as U.S. Ambassador to Israel, and Senior Director for the Middle East and North Africa in the Obama Administration. Twitter: @DanielBShapiro

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Russians Praise Trump, Taunt Zelensky, as Ukraine Signs On to Peace-Plan Proposal

Existential dread washed over the face of the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, as he sat next to the American president during their joint press conference on the sidelines of the UN. Donald Trump, as the face of Ukraines most powerful ally in its struggle against Russian aggression, was telling him: I really hope you and President Putin get together and can solve your problem.

Having lost more than 13,000 people in an ongoing conflict with its belligerent neighbor, Ukraine was now being told to make a deal with the aggressor, becauseaccording to President TrumpPresident Putin would like to do something.

During the same conference, Zelensky pleaded with Trump for help with returning the territories occupied and annexed by Russia, and, egged on by Trumpand contrary to the factscomplained that Europe wasnt doing as much as the United States to help Ukraine. In reality, European institutions spent nearly double the amount supplied by the United States: $425.2 million in 2016-2017, as compared to $204.4 million spent by the U.S.

While that disclosure infuriated Ukraines European allies, Trump in the now infamous July 25 phone call with Zelensky blamed Ukraines troubles on the Obama administration, dismissively concluding its just one of those things and directing Zelensky to ask for more help from Europe. Since the calls release, Ukrainians have nicknamed their president Monica Zelensky, as a jab referring to his part in the ongoing impeachment proceedings against Trump.

Backed into the corner and seeming to stand alone there, Zelensky made a step toward a deal with Putin by officially signing up Ukraine to the Steinmeier Formula. The agreement provides the pathway to a summit that would bring Zelensky face-to-face with Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Emmanuel Macron, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Russia demanded written codification of the Steinmeier Formula by Ukraine as a key precondition to the next Normandy summit. It interprets the clauses of the Minsk accords (agreements between the Ukrainian authorities and Russia-backed separatists) in line with Russias preferences andtherefore enjoys the Kremlins seal of approval.

We know what happened in the United States. You have nowhere left to go.
Russian TV Host Olga Skabeeva addressing Ukraine

The formula further calls for elections to be conducted under the supervision of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in the territories held by Russian-backed separatists in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. It was signed on Oct. 1 by representatives of Ukraine, Russia, the separatist pseudo-republics of Luhansk and Donetsk (LPR and DPR), and the OSCE in Minsk.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov described the signing of the Steinmeier Formula agreement as a positive development. Senator Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the Federation Councils foreign affairs committee, who is under U.S. sanctions for worldwide malign activity, said the signing represents without a doubt, a victory for common sense and an overall success. In stark contrast to Russias jubilation, hundreds of Ukrainians in Kyiv have protested, demanding no capitulation to the Kremlin and its proxies.

The most controversial aspect of the Steinmeier Formula is that it provides for local elections to take place in the occupied parts of Ukraine before Kyiv has control of the border and prior to the withdrawal of the Russian-backed forces.

This condition doesnt seem to match up with Zelenskys understanding of the agreement. After signing on to the Steinmeier Formula, the Ukrainian president declared during a news conference that the elections would not be held under the barrel of a gun and would take place only when no troops remain in the separatist-held areas.

What Ukraine was so afraid of has happened Zelensky doesnt understand what he signed, concluded Vladimir Soloviev, the host of the nightly The Evening With Vladimir Soloviev on Russian state television.

The heads of Russia-backed separatist pseudo-republics in eastern Ukraine openly proclaimed in a public statement that the Kyiv authorities wont get any control over the border and vowed that LPR and DPR will make decisions about integration with Russia of their own accord. Forget about controlling the border, once and for all, exclaimed political scientist Sergey Kurginyan, appearing on The Evening.

During a panel discussion at the Russian Energy Week forum, Putin said that Zelensky will have to decide how the relations between Ukraine and Donbas will develop, pointedly referring to Ukraines own region as a separate geopolitical entity. Putin opined that Ukraine did much better when it was a part of the Soviet Union, along with Russia.

Appearing on Russias state television program 60 Minutes, Oleg Nilov, member of the State Duma of the Russian Federation, asserted that Ukraine was forced to sign the Steinmeier Formulaand proceeded to threaten the country with the Israeli formula of taking all the land Russia wants, if Kyiv reneges on the deal.

Come back to the Soviet Union, urged Karen Shakhnazarov, CEO of Mosfilm Studio, appearing on The Evening. The talk-show host Soloviev concurred and reminded the guests that the USSR was originally formed by a treaty that united the Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian and Transcaucasian republics.

Trump let Zelensky down. Three times he told him: Go meet with Putin, said Olga Skabeeva, the host of 60 Minutes. During the same program, Nikolai Platoshkin, head of the International Relations Department at Moscow University for the Humanities, predicted that once all the formulas have been exhausted, LPR and DPR will ultimately become a part of the Russian Federation. Skabeeva concurred: The sooner the better.

She surmised: After his triumphant meeting with the American president, Zelensky had no choice but to lie back and enjoy it We know what happened in the United States. You have nowhere left to go.

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Ukraines Top Independent Corruption Fighters Shocked by Trumps Phone Calland His Ignorance

KYIV, UkraineOne of this countrys leading independent anti-corruption fighters says she was shocked at the partial transcript of Donald Trumps July 25 phone call to the newly elected president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky.

It was mind-blowing to read Trumps requests to do him a favor and say hed have the U.S. attorney general call Zelensky to push the investigation that Trump would benefit from politically, said Daria Kaleniuk, executive director of Ukraines Anti-Corruption Action Center, the major watchdog monitoring officials who abuse their authority and steal from the state.

Trump spoke like a mafia don, and Zelenskly probably knew what was coming. Trumps lawyer Rudolph Giuliani already had been in touch with Zelenkys people.

The memo of the conversation released Wednesday by the White House, makes it apparent Zelensky was doing all he could to humor the president of the United States. The former star of a TV comedy show in which he played a common man who became an uncommon president, which he then proceeded to become in real life, Zelensky said hed learned a lot from Trumps political techniques. He tried out a couple of ironic jokes. And paraphrasing Trumps campaign pledge he volunteered, We wanted to drain the swamp here in our country.

That wasnt enough to get a clear commitment from Trump to supply the kinds of arms Ukraine needs to fight Russian backed insurgents and covert Russian military units. Trumps idea of the swamp in Ukraine was very different from the way Zelensky sees it. Indeed, Trumps only interest was in digging dirt he believed might be found about his future opponent Joe Biden and Bidens son, Hunter, or even about his past opponent Hillary Clintons emails.

Zelensky said he was ready to buy more Javelin anti-tank missiles for Ukraines defense. Trump immediately pivoted: I would like you to do us a favor. Speaking distractedly, as if someone was pushing notes under his nose, Trump said, I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike… I guess you have one of your wealthy people… The server, they say Ukraine has it. There are a lot of things that went on, the whole situation.

As The Daily Beast reported, Trump is referencing a conspiracy theory pushed by Russian trolls and far-right pundits that imagines the Democratic National Committee fabricating all the evidence in Russias 2016 breach of the DNC network. No doubt Zelensky was confused.

Daria Kaleniuk, one of Ukraines most respected independent corruption fighters, says she was deeply upset when she saw the partial transcript. She studied financial law in the United States and has looked up to the country as a paradigm of democratic rule. She said she had not thought the situation there was so degraded.

A spokesperson for Attorney General William Barrs Department of Justice said Wednesday that in fact Barr never followed up. But Trump also plugged for his personal lawyer, former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who appears to be acting as a consigliere at the center of the effort to shift attention to Ukraine and the Democrats, and away from Russias well-established efforts to help Trump get elected in 2016. Zelensky said hed welcome Giuliani in Ukraine, and Giuliani has said publicly many times in recent days that his aim was to uncover incriminating information about the Bidens.

This scandal is harmful for Ukraine, said Kaleniuk. Dont forget, we are at war with Russia, she said, suggesting that Russian President Vladimir Putin must be enjoying the current storm of news over Ukraine.

Among the many cases Kaleniuk has watched over the last five years is that of Burisma, a natural gas company that named then-Vice President Joe Bidens son Hunter Biden, well known as something of a black sheep, to its board in 2014.

But the transcript made it clear to Kyivs anti-corruption experts that Trump really had very little idea what he was talking about.

Zelensky tried in general terms to assure Trump the new administration in Kyiv would be serious about fighting corruption. Good, said Trump, because I heard you had a prosecutor who was very good and he was shut down and that's really unfair. A lot of people are talking about that, the way they shut your very good prosecutor down and you had some very bad people involved. There's a lot of talk about Biden's son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that

Prosecutors in Ukraine have been infamous for using the states power to investigate crimes, then demanding a payoff from the target, and closing the case.

Kaleniuk notes that three Ukraine prosecutor generalsVitaly Yerema, Viktor Shokin and Yuriy Lutsenkohave dumped the Burisma case, each in his turn, one after another. I dont think Mr. Trump knows the name of the very good prosecutor he was talking about.

When Kyivs corruption fighters see that the Burisma case and what Trump called Ukraines horrible law enforcement system have become an obsession of the president of the United States, they feel lost, said Kaleniuk: This is like a movie, I would never predict anything like it!

One of Ukraines recent prosecutor generals, Yuriy Lutsenko, closed the Burisma investigation himself when there was still a chance to define the truth and then gave an interview to the Washington website The Hill complaining it was the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, who gave him a do not prosecute list.

That is the exact opposite of what happened in the case, which Kaleniuk has followed closely.

She is convinced that Trump and his helpers had been preparing the Biden scandal for a long time. They started plotting it in October last year, possibly even earlier, she said. One of the messages Lutsenko conveyed, Kaleniuk told The Daily Beast, was that President Trumps lawyer Rudolph Giuliani had consulted with Yuriy Lutsenko, Ukraines then-Prosecutor General, for months.

Trump and Giuliani needed him to convey a message that Ukraine had intervened in American elections, she said. Lutsenko and prosecutor Konstantin Kulik have been giving Giuliani information on this case purely with an agenda to save their careers, inventing the story about the Biden investigation.

In 2016 Vice President Joe Biden demanded that Ukraine fire Prosecutor General Victor Shokin, who Trump might have meant as very good prosecutor, but he was seen by reformers in Kiev as a disaster. A year earlier Kalemniuks watchdog organization had pushed to dismiss Shokin for neglecting multiple corruption cases.

Here is why I do not say anything about Hunter Biden, Kaleniuk explained. Vice President Biden called for Ukraine to fire Shokin not because of the Burisma investigation, absolutely not, but because Ukraines prosecutor general did not investigate Burisma. U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt insisted [in early 2016] that Shokin should be investigating Burisma. The U.S. government had a clear position: the Burisma probe was killed by Shokin. And the U.S. thought it and other cases should not have been closed.

Under the circumstances, and hopeful that Zelensky is as serious about reforms as he has said, Kaleniuk said she understood his reaction to Trump: The leader of the most powerful state, our biggest partner, called with a request, so Zelensky tried not to contradict any of Trumps words, agreed with everything.

Many in Ukraine were upset by revelations of Zelenskys painful answers to Trump, especially when Zelensky said: The next prosecutor will be 100 percent my person, my candidate, who will be approved by parliament and will start as a new prosecutor in September. Prosecutors are supposed to be independent.

Journalists at the Hramadske television network were arguing emotionally in the newsroom Wednesday night.

Andrey Saychuk, one Hramadske correspondent, told The Daily Beast he wondered how the newly appointed prosecutor, Ruslan Ryaboshapka must feel about the way Zelensky talked about the question of his independence.

During the Trump-Zelensky press opportunity at the United Nations in New York on Wednesday, Zelensky said he was not pushed by Trump in the July phone call, but the pressure on him was obvious. I am sorry, but I dont want to be involved in the elections in USA, he said.

We should keep our distance from this highly political Burisma case used in the political massacre in United States, any move on it can be used for political purposes, Kaleniuk said. Let American citizens and institutions judge whether their president was pushing Zelensky or not.

As for Hunter Biden, his affiliation with Burisma seems at a minimum to have been ill considered. The oligarch behind the company, Mykola Zlochevsky, was the minister of ecology and natural resources from July 2010 until April 2012 under the hugely corrupt pro-Putin President Viktor Yanukovych, overthrown by the Maidan revolution in 2014. (One of his close advisors was Trump campaign chairman and international political operative Paul Manafort, now serving a seven and a half year prison term in the United States.)

Zlochevsky used his authority to give his own company licenses basically the minister gave himself a permit for producing natural resources, and the licenses are at Burisma Holding, said Kaleniuk.

When Hunter Biden started working with the company in May of 2014, it had just had its assets frozen in the United Kingdom, where it was investigated for money laundering.

I realize that it is very strange that Hunter Biden was working for Burisma, says Kaleniuk. I might be the first one to say bad things about Joe Bidens movements in regard to this case, but I dont.

Why? Because far from trying to protect his son from the broader investigation that might establish Hunter received money gained illegally by Burismas founder, Joe Biden wanted to prove it, that Burisma was crooked. He tried to make Shokin investigate that, Kaleniuk said.

One thing should be clear for everybody today: Joe Biden wanted to fire the prosecutor who did not want to investigate Burisma, where his son was working. That is very important. Kaleniuk added that everybody wanted Shokin fired.

In May 2014, when Kaleniuks watchdog group of progressive lawyers discovered Hunter Biden on the board of Burisma Holding, they also found he was in interesting company. Polands former President Aleksander Kwasniewsky was on that board, along with a few retired CIA agents, Kaleniuk said. So many names. But, still, It was strange for us to discover that Bidens son appeared to be working at Burisma, most probably as a faade to defend Zlochevskys reputation.

At a meeting with then-Vice President Joe Biden in the spring of 2014, Ukrainian corruption fighters told him about their many issues. We did not talk about Zlochevskys corruption specifically, he was just one of the bastards who had robbed our country, said Kaleniuk. It is unclear if the father Biden knew about [the investigation of] Burisma, she said.

At that time all foreign partners who tried to help Ukraine investigate corruption knew that both Shokin and his predecessor Vitaly Yarema had dumped the Burisma case. The British embassy, the American embassy knew exactly what was going on. I think that Zlochevsky had to pay a lot for closing the case against him, Kaleniuk said.

But, heres the thing about the vast breadth and depth of corruption in UkrainePresident Zelensky himself is hardly immune. His great patron has been the oligarch who owned the television station where he became a star.

If somebody asked us about the priority for the investigation today, I would say billionaire Ihor Kolomoisky, and not Biden, should be the priority, said Kilaniuk. The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations has looked into Kolomoiskys investments in the United States. Formerly exiled in Israel, Kolomoisky now feels perfectly comfortable in Zelenskys Ukraine.

Kilaniuk insisted that none of Trumps agents, including Rudolph Giuliani really understood how Ukraine functions. I dont think that Giuliani was the one who plotted the scandal, I think he just was just promoting this story; obviously, Donald Trump has no idea how things really work in Ukraine. I believe that Zelensky understands what has happened, I hope the President can distance himself from billionaire Ihor Kolomoisky.

The risk is always that before the swamp can be drained, Zelensky will drown in it.

Christopher Dickey also contributed to this story.

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The Trump-Ukraine scandal is a taste of how dirty the US elections will get | Richard Wolffe

If youre wondering what the next 14 months of the presidential election looks like, you are already looking at it

donald trump

America has a grand tradition of the brazenly dumb criminal: the kind who is so desperately needy that he brags about his guilt.

Back in the earliest days of the new media known as newspapers, a certain Chicago mob boss rose to fame by calling a press conference to proclaim everyone elses guilt, if not exactly his innocence.

Al Capone claimed he played no role in the gunning down of a young states attorney called Bill McSwiggin. In fact he said he could have killed him any time but preferred to keep him alive. I paid McSwiggin, Capone said. I paid him plenty and I got what I was paying for.

Sure enough, Capone was cleared of the murder and became the darling of an insatiable press pack. If you dont act guilty, will anyone really think youre guilty? Especially if everyone else is guilty too.

Almost a century later, Donald Trump has cornered the Scarface strategy. If he didnt think neo-Nazis were very fine people, Trump could win a Maccabiah medal for chutzpah.

In some corner of his orange-tipped cranium there are surely a handful of brain cells that are fully aware that his entire family has engaged with foreign dictators and their oligarchs for personal profit.

But the rest of Trumps brain is an irony-free zone entirely empty of self-awareness. So he and much of his Cabinet fanned out across the gullible media to proclaim everyone elses guilt in a Ukraine scandal that would normally lead to certain impeachment.

To be clear, the only scandal involving Ukraine is that Trump openly admits that he repeatedly pressed a foreign leader for dirt on his political opponents ahead of a presidential election. For the second election in a row. Only this time, he could use the promise of military and foreign aid to grease his request.

Its worth quoting Trumps bizarre explanation of this gambit in full, describing his call to the newly-elected president of Ukraine as follows: The conversation I had was largely congratulatory, he told reporters on Sunday. It was largely corruption. All of the corruption taking place. It was largely the fact that we dont want our people, like Vice President Biden and his son, creating to the corruption already in the Ukraine.

Now Donald Trump is something of an expert in corruption, if not creating to the corruption. It takes a great deal of creativity to get your own vice-president to stay at your Irish hotel when its 180 miles away from his meetings in Dublin. You cant even conceive of the creativity needed to explain away the US Air Force staying at a luxury golf resort in Scotland that just happens to be another Trump property.

Trumps excuse was that he knew nothing about the military staying at his hotel, and had nothing to do with Mike Pences long commute from Doonbeg to Dublin. So what if Pences chief of staff said Trump had made a suggestion about the stay? He just had great taste like the military that loves Turnberry so much.

Trump apparently knows nothing about his own officials lining his own pockets. But he does know a thing or two about Ukraine.

It was at his own convention in 2016 when his own campaign chairman changed his own party platform to weaken US support for Ukraine against Russias annexation of Crimea and its interference in Ukraines politics.

Ukraine has got a lot of problems, Trump explained to reporters. The new president is saying that hes going to be able to rid the country of corruption. And I said that would be a great thing. We had a great conversation. We backed I backed Ukraine from the beginning.

Amnesia is a terrible problem for todays world leaders. Especially the morally dubious ones who are either too brazen or too lazy to think of a decent excuse.

Somehow Trump has forgotten about how bad a liar his lawyer is, or why Ukraine is even enmeshed in the multiple scandals that would lead to the impeachment of any other president.

Would Trump let Rudy Giuliani testify to Congress about his own efforts?

Oh I would have no problem with it, he told reporters on Sunday. Rudy is a very straight shooter. And Rudy wants to see the same thing as a lot of other people with respect to your Ukraine. Ukraine has had a tremendous corruption problem. Somehow they were involved in a lot of different things that took place in our country, and hopefully it can be straightened out.

Hopefully we can straighten this out for you, Mr President. Rudy shoots so straight that he can break land speed records for lying on national television. Did he ask Ukraines government to investigate Joe Biden? No, actually I didnt, he told CNN, before admitting 30 seconds later, of course I did.

Somehow Ukraine was involved in a lot of things in American politics, Mr President. Most of them involving Paul Manafort, your old campaign chairman, now serving time in jail for tax evasion on all the cash he made from Ukraines former president. The one supported by Vladimir Putin, whom you asked for help to hack into the emails of your opponents in the last election during a press conference.

It was a perfect call. A perfect call, Trump said on Sunday. What wasnt perfect is the horrible thing that Joe Biden said. And now he made it a lie when he said he never spoke to his son. I mean, give me a break. Hes already said he spoke to his son. And now he said, yesterday, very firmly. Who wouldnt speak to your son? Of course you spoke to your son. So he made the mistake of saying he never spoke to his son. He spoke to his son.

The son thing is troubling, Mr President. Troubling because you sound unhinged.

But more importantly, Trump continued, what he said about the billions of dollars that he wouldnt give them unless they fired the prosecutor. And then he bragged about how they fired the prosecutor and they got the money.

Oh yes. The money thing. Its a beauty. Biden is smeared by the most braggadociously corrupt president for pushing Ukraine to have a prosecutor who will fight corruption.

It may be no surprise that Trump is circling the drain while clinging on to his own dizzy conspiracies. His election prospects are miserable and he desperately needs another looney-tuned cartoon like the Clinton email saga.

But its still surprising to see his secretary of state and Treasury secretary peddling the same smear as if it was just another Sunday talk show subject.

Is there anyone left with any self-respect in the Republican party? Step forward Mitt Romney, the former Republican nominee and now Utah senator. No really, step forward.

If the President asked or pressured Ukraines president to investigate his political rival, either directly or through his personal attorney, it would be troubling in the extreme. Critical for the facts to come out, Romney tweeted.

Damn the torpedoes. The senator is extremely troubled, if not rather exercised, by the possibility of something that Trump and Giuliani have already admitted on camera.

If youre wondering what the next 14 months of the presidential election looks like, you are already looking at it. The poor citizens of Ukraine have been looking at it for the last five years, ever since Russian troops marched in and unleashed their disinformation on an unsuspecting world.

Like Vladimir Putin, Al Capone knew that dont have to be smart to get away with murder. You just have to confuse everyone about what guilt looks like.

  • Richard Wolffe is a Guardian US columnist

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A Battered Professor Leads Moscows Growing Grassroots Protests Against Putin

MOSCOWYulia Galyaminas unraveling life illustrates all too well the risks of opposition politics in Russia, even on a local level.

Police broke her teeth and jaw and gave her a serious concussion in 2017 when she was caught in a violent street protest. She has suffered from pain in her jaw ever since.

Undaunted, Galyamina struggled this summer to take part in a Moscow City Council election scheduled for September. On Tuesday she called The Daily Beast on the phone from a police van driving her away from the Russian capital to jail in the provincial town of Mozhaisk.

Galyamina is a 46-year-old linguistics professor at a prestigious university here and on the phone she sounded almost as if she were lecturing students about the dying Ketsky language. But clearly she had a message she wanted to get out.

I have a few minutes left before they take my phone away and cut me off from all communication with my supporters, she said.

Earlier in the day, a court arrested her and eight other key opposition leaders for calling on protesters to stage a rally in downtown Moscow without government authorization. To support the verdict, the judge read aloud a dozen or so of Galyaminas Facebook posts about opposition demands to allow independent candidates, including herself, to run in September.

Now from the van she told The Daily Beast, Putin and [Moscow Mayor Sergey] Sobyanin must be afraid of responsible citizens and I am not surprised to get arrestedI always knew that criminal prosecution would be the price for my opposition activity.

You are working for a fascist power, for those who rule for money, not for your sake.
Yulia Galyamina berating police last Saturday.

Putins Russia has seen many courageous women fighting against injustice. But instead of embracing their constructive criticism, the Kremlin chose to silence them with police clubs and prison bars. There have also been several brilliant women, including journalist Anna Politkovskaya and activist Natalia Estemirova, who fell victim to assassins. But more women join the demonstrations.

Last weekend, for instance, a 17-year-old protester named Olga Misik sat cross-legged in the street and read articles from the Russian Constitution to riot cops arrayed around her about the right to assemble peacefully, without weapons, hold rallies, meetings, demonstrations and marches. The image already is an icon of protest.

Two years ago I visited Galyamina at the Botkin Hospital in Moscow, where she was recovering from a concussion. She had severe headaches after a Moscow OMON (Special Police) cop smashed her face. Then, too, it was striking to see pale Galyamina on the phone from her hospital bed, calling for her supporters to come out to the next rally.

At the time, crowds of demonstrators had turned out in the center of Moscows to fight against the city halls renovation plan for the displacement of residents from hundreds of apartment blocks slated for demolition. People did not want to move from the central districts to the outskirts of the capital.

Factories closed, leaving millions without jobsbut at least people had their apartments, their property, Galyamina told me at the hospital in 2017. The new law allows the state to deprive thousands of Moscow families of their beloved apartments and move them to wherever officials want.

Last year Galyamina won a seat in the Moscow municipal elections. Residents of Temiryazevsky region, where she sat on the district council, know their candidate well. She led her electorate in battles about fundamental causes in local politics like saving Dubki Park from development and demanding garbage recycling. She was building her political platform on that public support to run for the Moscow City Duma, a regional parliament, in September this year.

The men in power grow fat, while you work for kopecks [pennies]. You beat women, you beat sick people. Do you realize what you are doing?
Yulia Galyamina berating cops last weekend, before her arrest.

We spent last month collecting almost 4,000 signatures from Yulias supporters but authorities rejected hundreds of real voters to ban her from running for the election, Nikolay Kosyan, one of Galyaminas supporters, said. Kosyan was angry, as are many young activists protesting in the streets in support of the arrested leaders. When the mayoral office realized that we had actually collected real signatures and not fake ones, they still decided to shut her up in fear of her powerful spirit.

On Saturday Galyamina became a hero for thousands of protesters. Facing rows of National Guard riot police, she said: You are working for a fascist power, for those who rule for money, not for your sake, she told men covered in body armor. The men in power grow fat, while you work for kopecks [pennies]. You beat women, you beat sick people. Do you realize what you are doing? Galyamina continued in a lecturing tone while the police looked like mischievous, slightly terrified students. (Video here in Russian.)

Galyamina was wearing her usual red dress and a white jacket and was holding a little Russian flag in her hands. I am a woman, I feel ashamed of you, strong men, who beat ordinary peoplethese people came out to the streets, because they strive to have independent institutes of power, which would not rob people like you, the deputy continued. Ten minutes later two policemen grabbed her, twisted her arms behind her back, and dragged her away from the rally.

Back in 2013, the Russian opposition leader Aleksey Navalny won 27 percent in a mayoral election in Moscow, even without access to state television channels, coming in second after the incumbent from the ruling United Russia party, Sergei Sobyanin. This time, apparently, Sobyanin wants to avoid the mistake of allowing a strong opposition showing. Nine key candidates for September election are currently behind bars. So is Navalny.

Galyamina had been playing by the rules. She collected the necessary number of signatures in her support but authorities turned her candidacy down, claiming signatures were falsified. Police detained up to 1,400 protesters on Saturday, Russian courts opened 200 legal cases against the opposition.

She is stubborn and she is good at creating responsible communities in Moscow, her friend Denis Bilunov, a political scientist, told The Daily Beast. The Kremlin is scared of Galyamina.

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