UN Security Council Fails to Find Consensus on Venezuela Crisis

The U.N. Security Council failed to agree Thursday on either a U.S. or Russian proposal to find a way forward on the Venezuelan crisis.

The 15-nation council voted on two draft resolutions. The U.S. text had the support of the majority of the council members but was blocked by Russia and China, while a Russian draft garnered only four positive votes.

The U.S. text stressed the need to “prevent further deterioration” of the humanitarian situation and to allow unhindered access for the delivery of aid throughout the country.

The government of disputed President Nicolas Maduro has refused to recognize that there is a humanitarian crisis in the country and is not permitting aid from the United States to enter the country, saying it is a pretext for a U.S. military invasion.

The American draft also expressed “deep concern” that the May 2018 presidential elections that gave the incumbent Maduro a second six-year term were “neither free nor fair” and called for a political process leading to new elections. It also showed support for the “peaceful” restoration of democracy and rule of law.

“Regrettably, by voting against this resolution, some members of this council continue to shield Maduro and his cronies, and prolong the suffering of the Venezuelan people,” said U.S. Special Representative for Venezuela Elliott Abrams.

“Regardless of the results of today’s vote, this resolution shows that democracies around the world, and especially in Latin America, are mobilizing behind interim President [Juan] Guaido,” he said of the National Assembly leader who declared himself interim president Jan. 23.

Russian response 

The Russian resolution called for a peaceful settlement of the conflict, but added that Maduro needed to approve aid deliveries. The Russian text also expressed “concern over the threats to use force” against Venezuela.

Moscow’s envoy said Washington’s proposal was an effort to “escalate tensions and to implement their scenario for an unconstitutional change of government.” Vassily Nebenzia warned that the focus on the humanitarian situation was merely “a smoke screen.”  

“We are seriously concerned at the fact that today’s meeting may be exploited as a step for preparations of a real — not humanitarian —intervention as a pretext for external intervention as a result of the alleged inability of the Security Council to resolve the situation in Venezuela,” Nebenzia said.

Last Saturday, troops and Maduro supporters blocked the entry of trucks carrying food and medical supplies in violent clashes at Venezuela’s borders with Colombia and Brazil. Four people were killed, and dozens were injured.

Venezuela’s U.N. envoy said that Saturday’s violence was an “international incident,” not a domestic one, and he asserted that all was well in his country.

“Venezuela today is completely at peace, a peace preserved by the constitutional government of President Nicolas Maduro, who is in full exercise of his legal powers and who guarantees the protection of national territory, as well as the well-being of the Venezuelan people and effective control over the country,” Ambassador Samuel Moncada said. “Let me repeat: There is no type of violence in Venezuela. If there are threats against peace, those threats come from abroad.” 

your ad here

Turkey Flexes Naval Muscle Amid Regional Tensions

Turkey is carrying out its largest naval exercises in a display of its rapidly growing navy. The show of force comes amid rising regional tensions over territorial and energy exploration rights disputes.

Dubbed “The Blue Homeland,” the drills involve more than 100 ships operating across the Black Sea, the Aegean Sea and eastern Mediterranean. On display in the 10-day exercise are many of Turkey’s newest warships, along with the use of high-tech domestically produced drones.

“Turkey is a regional power, and this naval exercise is to show the world that Turkey is a player,” said international relations professor Huseyin Bagci of Ankara’s Middle East Technical University, “It is a show of strength in military terms to any country in the region.”

“They should be aware how important it is to be with Turkey or to work together with Turkey or the risk of being against Turkey,” he added. “It is showing the flag, the showing of the muscles. We are here in the Mediterranean; we have our interests in Cyprus, we have our interests in gas exploration and economic interests.”

Turkey has many outstanding disputes with Greece over territorial waters, which saw the two NATO members in the past go to the brink of war. Energy exploration in Cypriot waters is also a new point of rising tension.

The Mediterranean island is divided between Greek and Turkish-Cypriot communities since a Turkish military intervention in 1974, following a Greek-inspired coup. The international community only recognizes the Greek-Cypriot administration. However, Ankara says the Greek-Cypriots must collaborate with the Turkish-Cypriot government in energy exploration after recent massive finds of natural gas in the island’s territorial waters.

“Nothing at all can be done in the Mediterranean without Turkey,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu announced last week. “We will not allow that, [unilateral Greek Cypriot energy exploration].“

He declared that Turkey would begin drilling for oil and gas near Cypriot waters with two new exploration ships.

Despite Ankara’s rhetoric, Greek Defense Minister Evangelos Apostolakis sought to play down the naval exercises, calling them “regular Turkish military training activities.”

Unnerving Cyprus, Greece

Analysts say Turkey’s powerful display of modern naval prowess will likely unnerve both Nicosia and Athens, which is the Greek-Cypriots’ main ally.

“Turkey has resumed expanding its naval power after a decade, so we are talking about important material capabilities and the expansion of the Turkish navy should threaten the Greeks,” said international relations professor Serhat Guvenc of Istanbul’s Kadir Has University.

“But Greece has been struggling to come out of this deep recession,” he added, “Therefore they don’t have money to respond to this Turkish naval expansion.”

Turkey’s growing military capabilities are forcing new regional alignments, say analysts such as Guvenc.

“Athens is trying to remedy the lack of financial resources with the involvement of third parties, namely Russia and the United States,” he said.

Greece traditionally has good relations with Russia, which has been building up its naval presence in the eastern Mediterranean as part of its backing of the Damascus government in Syria’s civil war. Until recently, however, the Greek government has had a frosty relationship with Washington.

“[Greek Prime Minister Alexis] Tsipras was elected on a relatively anti-Western, anti-American platform,” he added, “But Greek-American relations have been improving, and the Greek government has been the most cooperative in decades in terms of promoting military cooperation with the United States.”

In December, Greece and the United States launched a strategic dialogue to increase cooperation.

“We recognize Greece as a key player in the east Mediterranean. Greece emerges as a leader of regional stability. Our strategic dialogue will lead to a stronger future,” said U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Pompeo also added that Washington was working to strengthen relations with “democratic allies there, like Greece and Cyprus and Israel.”

The three countries are already cooperating in the development of significant gas fields in the eastern Mediterranean. They also have had strained ties with Turkey.

“Turkey’s policy toward its neighbors is threatening and aggressive, and this is and will have repercussions,” said political scientist Cengiz Aktar of Athens University.

“We should not forget that Greece is expected to sign in the [coming] months, a mini security arrangement with the United States, to which Egypt, Israel and Cyprus could potentially join as non-NATO countries, and this is clearly aimed at Turkey,” he added.

Turkey maintains that it poses no threat to any of its neighbors and that it is only committed to defending its rights and those of its allies. But analysts warn such words will likely do little to allay neighbors’ concerns, with Turkey committed to expanding its armed forces, in particular, its navy.

your ad here

Trump: Kim Felt ‘Very Badly About’ US College Student’s Fatal Treatment

U.S. President Donald Trump says he does not believe North Korean leader Kim Jong Un knew about the brutal mistreatment suffered by the late American Otto Warmbier during his imprisonment in the isolated regime.

The 22-year-old University of Virginia student was visiting North Korea with a tour group when he was arrested and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in March 2016 on suspicion of stealing a propaganda poster. He died the next June after he was returned to the United States in a coma.

During a question and answer session with reporters in Hanoi Thursday, President Trump was asked if he had confronted Kim about Warmbier’s death in 2017. Trump said he really “believed something bad happened to” Warmbier, but said he doesn’t think “the top leadership knew about it.”

“I don’t believe that he would have allowed that to happen,” the U.S. president said, referring to Kim Jong Un. “Just wasn’t to his advantage to have allowed that to happen. Those prisons are rough — they’re rough places, and bad things happen.”

Trump said Kim told him he felt “very badly about it.”

A U.S. federal court judge last November ordered Pyongyang to pay more than $500 million to Otto Warmbier’s family. His parents filed a lawsuit against the reclusive regime, claiming their son had been intentionally beaten. It is unlikely North Korea will pay the judgment since there is no mechanism to force it to do so.

your ad here

Trump: Kim Felt ‘Very Badly About’ US College Student’s Fatal Treatment

U.S. President Donald Trump says he does not believe North Korean leader Kim Jong Un knew about the brutal mistreatment suffered by the late American Otto Warmbier during his imprisonment in the isolated regime.

The 22-year-old University of Virginia student was visiting North Korea with a tour group when he was arrested and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in March 2016 on suspicion of stealing a propaganda poster. He died the next June after he was returned to the United States in a coma.

During a question and answer session with reporters in Hanoi Thursday, President Trump was asked if he had confronted Kim about Warmbier’s death in 2017. Trump said he really “believed something bad happened to” Warmbier, but said he doesn’t think “the top leadership knew about it.”

“I don’t believe that he would have allowed that to happen,” the U.S. president said, referring to Kim Jong Un. “Just wasn’t to his advantage to have allowed that to happen. Those prisons are rough — they’re rough places, and bad things happen.”

Trump said Kim told him he felt “very badly about it.”

A U.S. federal court judge last November ordered Pyongyang to pay more than $500 million to Otto Warmbier’s family. His parents filed a lawsuit against the reclusive regime, claiming their son had been intentionally beaten. It is unlikely North Korea will pay the judgment since there is no mechanism to force it to do so.

your ad here

Russia Charges Owners of ‘Whale Prison’

Russian officials have brought charges against four companies in the Far East that have been keeping about 100 whales in small, crowded pools that environmentalists have dubbed a “whale prison.”

The companies, which appear to be affiliated, have previously been fined for illegal capture and have a history of selling the animals to amusement parks abroad. 

Putin ordered investigation

The Border Guards Department said Thursday that it suspects that the four companies captured the whales illegally. It also confirmed the environmentalists’ claims that the belugas and orcas are kept in cramped conditions in a marine containment facility near Vladivostok and that they need to be released. The border guards did not specify, however, when it will happen. 

The border guards appear to be taking a cue from President Vladimir Putin who last week ordered authorities to investigate the case and release the animals.

Whales are worth a fortune on the black market, and the activists believe that they were captured for sale to amusements parks in China. Russian law only allows for the capture of whales for scientific purposes.

Activists raised the alarm late last year when the whales were captured off the Pacific Coast. 

About 100 whales

Ninety belugas and 12 orcas were originally reported to have been kept in a marine containment facility in Srednyaya Bay, near Vladivostok, but local prosecutors said Thursday that three belugas appear to have escaped. Environmentalists also reported the disappearance of one orca earlier in February.

The whales are kept at one location off the Pacific Coast but are owned by four separate companies. Company records and court filings, however, indicate that they are connected. In an interview with Russian state TV last year, a representative for the facility rejected reports of poor treatment of the animals.

One of the companies unsuccessfully sued the Federal Fishery Agency in 2017 over its refusal to issue it a quota for capturing unidentified marine mammals. The 2017 ruling shows that the company had a standing contract with a company in China’s northeast and that the company was unable to prove that the whales would be kept in good conditions and used for educational purposes. The city of Weihai in the Shandong province hosts an ocean amusement park.

your ad here

Russia Charges Owners of ‘Whale Prison’

Russian officials have brought charges against four companies in the Far East that have been keeping about 100 whales in small, crowded pools that environmentalists have dubbed a “whale prison.”

The companies, which appear to be affiliated, have previously been fined for illegal capture and have a history of selling the animals to amusement parks abroad. 

Putin ordered investigation

The Border Guards Department said Thursday that it suspects that the four companies captured the whales illegally. It also confirmed the environmentalists’ claims that the belugas and orcas are kept in cramped conditions in a marine containment facility near Vladivostok and that they need to be released. The border guards did not specify, however, when it will happen. 

The border guards appear to be taking a cue from President Vladimir Putin who last week ordered authorities to investigate the case and release the animals.

Whales are worth a fortune on the black market, and the activists believe that they were captured for sale to amusements parks in China. Russian law only allows for the capture of whales for scientific purposes.

Activists raised the alarm late last year when the whales were captured off the Pacific Coast. 

About 100 whales

Ninety belugas and 12 orcas were originally reported to have been kept in a marine containment facility in Srednyaya Bay, near Vladivostok, but local prosecutors said Thursday that three belugas appear to have escaped. Environmentalists also reported the disappearance of one orca earlier in February.

The whales are kept at one location off the Pacific Coast but are owned by four separate companies. Company records and court filings, however, indicate that they are connected. In an interview with Russian state TV last year, a representative for the facility rejected reports of poor treatment of the animals.

One of the companies unsuccessfully sued the Federal Fishery Agency in 2017 over its refusal to issue it a quota for capturing unidentified marine mammals. The 2017 ruling shows that the company had a standing contract with a company in China’s northeast and that the company was unable to prove that the whales would be kept in good conditions and used for educational purposes. The city of Weihai in the Shandong province hosts an ocean amusement park.

your ad here