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#Russia: Oleg Deripaska hits back at AP over Paul Manafort connections

James Drew



The most recent installment in the Russiagate controversy engulfing the United States revolves around a recent story published by the AP earlier in March. The report claimed to prove that Paul Manafort, a long-time lobbyist and short-lived chairman of Donald Trump’s presidential run, had sought in 2005 to sign a PR contract with Oleg Deripaska, one of Russia’s richest men and owner of aluminium company UC Rusal. Quoting a string of unverified reports and confidential sources, the AP alleged that Manafort had offered to promote and “re-focus” the policies of “the Putin Government” in several Western countries as part of a communications campaign approved by Deripaska, writes James Drew.

The incendiary allegations led to a virulent response from Deripaska, who hit back at the AP by taking out ad space in the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post. Calling the report “character assassination”, the aluminium tycoon has offered to testify before Congress to refute the claims made by the news organization. Deripaska denied signing the contract and called on the news organization to produce evidence of the work Manafort allegedly did on his behalf.

“I have never made any commitments or contracts with the obligation or purpose to covertly promote or advance 'Putin's government' interests anywhere in the world,” Deripaska wrote. What’s more, “an actual $10 million plus campaign to lobby Russian interests worldwide would leave some trace, a slew of at least unnamed sources, subcontractors and work output”. Otherwise, “ a supposed blue sky proposal (if it even exists) from a consultant is not the factual basis for anything”. All the AP could produce was to say that “the work actually performed is unclear”.

While Manafort and Deripaska have both confirmed working together, they insisted that their business relationship was focused only on providing investment consulting services. Instead, Deripaska argues he got swept up as “collateral damage” in the “increasingly shrill and controversial theatre of US-Russia relations” and that the claim the Russian government turned to him to run a media campaign is scurrilous. Interestingly, Anders Aslund, a well respected resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, has sided with Deripaska in the controversy, stating “there is a number of people suspected of being middle men for Putin, of holding assets for Putin but nobody thinks Deripaska is among them.”

The crux of the letter signed by Deripaska tells the story of how Rusal was founded, in response to the AP’s claims that he is “a Russian billionaire close to President Vladimir Putin” who made his fortune thanks to the Kremlin. The tycoon points out that he participated in the wave of privatizations that occurred in the early 1990s by buying shares in an aluminium smelter in Eastern Siberia – back when the future president was still working in the office of the mayor of Saint Petersburg. The head of Rusal also disagreed with the AP’s claim that he “bought assets abroad in ways perceived to benefit the Kremlin interests”, pointing to the fact that smelting aluminium requires bauxite, of which Russia has few reserves. Solving the issue, Deripaska wrote, meant investing in Guinea, an African nation that boasts a third of the world’s bauxite reserves.

It remains to be seen how the story will unfold, but as this latest episode in the Russiagate controversy proves, events should be taken with a grain of salt.


Belgian artist's 'portable oasis' creates COVID-free bubble for one





When governments around Europe told people to create a "bubble" to limit their social contacts during the COVID-19 pandemic, this was probably not what they had in mind, write Bart Biesemans and Clement Rossignol.

Alain Verschueren, a Belgian artist and social worker, has been strolling through the capital Brussels wearing a "portable oasis" - a plexiglass mini-greenhouse which rests on his shoulders, cocooning him in a bubble of air purified by the aromatic plants inside.

Verschueren, 61, developed the idea 15 years ago, inspired by the lush oases in Tunisia where he had previously worked. In a city where face coverings are mandatory to curb the spread of COVID-19, his invention has gained a new lease of life.

"It was about creating a bubble in which I could lock myself in, to cut myself off a world that I found too dull, too noisy or smelly," Verschueren said, adding that he has asthma and finds breathing within his contraption more comfortable than wearing a facemask.

Belgian artist Alain Verschueren wears his "Portable Oasis" while performing in a street, saying he wanted to be in his bubble in the middle of the city, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Brussels, Belgium April 16, 2021. Picture taken April 16, 2021. REUTERS/Yves Herman
Belgian artist Alain Verschueren wears his "Portable Oasis" while performing in a street, saying he wanted to be in his bubble in the middle of the city, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Brussels, Belgium April 16, 2021. Picture taken April 16, 2021. REUTERS/Yves Herman

Belgian artist Alain Verschueren wears his "Portable Oasis" while performing in a street, saying he wanted to be in his bubble in the middle of the city, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Brussels, Belgium 16 April. REUTERS/Yves Herman

"As time went by, I noticed that people were coming up to me and talking to me. This isolation became much more a way of connecting," he said.

Onlookers in Brussels appeared amused and confused by the man wandering between the shops - mostly closed due to COVID-19 restrictions - encased in a pod of thyme, rosemary and lavender plants.

"Is it a greenhouse? Is it for the bees? Is it for the plants? We don't know, but it's a good idea," Charlie Elkiess, a retired jeweller, told Reuters.

Verschueren said he hoped to encourage people to take better care of the environment, to reduce the need to protect ourselves from air and noise pollution.

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Indo-Pacific: Council adopts conclusions on EU strategy for co-operation

EU Reporter Correspondent



The Council approved conclusions on an EU strategy for cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, setting out the EU’s intention to reinforce its strategic focus, presence and actions in this region of prime strategic importance for EU interests. The aim is to contribute to regional stability, security, prosperity and sustainable development, at a time of rising challenges and tensions in the region.

The renewed EU commitment to the Indo-Pacific, a region spanning from the east coast of Africa to the Pacific island states, will have a long-term focus and will be based on upholding democracy, human rights, the rule of law and respect for international law.

Current dynamics in the Indo-Pacific have given rise to intense geopolitical competition adding to increasing tensions on trade and supply chains as well as in technological, political and security areas. Human rights are also being challenged. These developments increasingly threaten the stability and security of the region and beyond, directly impacting on the EU’s interests.

Consequently, the EU’s approach and engagement will look to foster a rules-based international order, a level playing field, as well as an open and fair environment for trade and investment, reciprocity, the strengthening of resilience, tackling climate change and supporting connectivity with the EU. Free and open maritime supply routes in full compliance with international law remain crucial. The EU will look to work together with its partners in the Indo-Pacific on these issues of common interest.  

The EU will continue to develop partnerships in the areas of security and defence, including to address maritime security, malicious cyber activities, disinformation, emerging technologies, terrorism, and organized crime.

The EU and its regional partners will also work together in order to mitigate the economic and human effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and work towards ensuring an inclusive and sustainable socio-economic recovery.

The Council tasked the High Representative and the Commission with putting forward a Joint Communication on co-operation in the Indo-Pacific by September 2021.

The conclusions were adopted by the Council by written procedure.

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Conference on the Future of Europe: Make your voice heard

EU Reporter Correspondent



Share your views on the EU, organize events across Europe and discuss with others through the new digital platform on the Conference on the Future of Europe, EU affairs.

Launched on 19 April, the platform is the multilingual hub of the Conference on the Future of Europe that will allow people to get involved and suggest what changes need to take place in the EU. Europeans will also be able to see what others propose, comment on them and endorse ideas.

The EU institutions have committed to listening to what people say and to following up on the recommendations made. The Conference is expected to reach conclusions by the spring of 2022.

How do you take part?

Choose a topic that interests you. It could be anything from climate change to digital issues or EU democracy. If you don’t see a category with your topic, share your opinion in the Other Ideas category.

Once you are in a specific category, you can read the introduction and explore some useful links. On the Ideas tab, you can share your views and find the ideas of others. Join the discussion by leaving a comment, or vote for ideas you like so that more people can find them.

You can submit your comment in any of the EU's official 24 languages. All comments can be translated automatically in any of the other languages.

Under the Events tab, you can explore events organised online or near you, register for an event or prepare your own.

The platform fully respects users’ privacy and EU data protection rules.

What happens when you submit an opinion?

The submitted opinions and the debate they initiate will be the basis for discussions in citizens’ panels that will be organised across the EU at regional, national and European level. These panels will include people from different backgrounds so that they can be representative of the whole population of the EU.

The conclusions of the different panels will be then presented at a plenary session of the Conference, which will bring together citizens, representatives of EU institutions and national parliaments.

Join the discussion on social media about the Conference with the hashtag #TheFutureIsYours.

Conference on the Future of Europe 

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