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#Russian businessman gave #USCongress a message that proved difficult to swallow

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The Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, also known as "Putin's Chef", for having catering contracts with the Kremlin, has written an open letter to the US congressmen and senators who are to consider two resolutions personally against him. This is an unusual step, on the part of a figure who does not normally participate in public policy. What message is the Kremlin trying to convey and why it is important – asks Louis Auge?

The accusations against Prigozhin

On June 11, a resolution (H.Res.996) was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives calling for new sanctions against Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian businessman with connections to the Kremlin. On June, 16th Senator Republican Marco Rubio together with his fellow democrat Chris Coons introduced to the Senate a similar resolution (S.Res.624). The document says that "Yevgeniy Prigozhin is a Russian national who has maintained close personal ties with President Vladimir Putin since the early 2000s" and he "is the patron and funder of the Wagner Group, also known as the Private Military Company (PMC) Wagner, a Russian mercenary organization staffed by current and former military and intelligence officers, and the Internet Research Agency (IRA), an organization engaged in online influence operations.

Prigozhina has been accused of participating in operations in Ukraine, Africa and the Middle East, and of interfering in the American elections”.

The document sent to the Senate, in addition to calling for tougher sanctions and listing the regions where Prigozhin is acting against the interests of the United States, calls for a special strategy to counter his activity:

"The President, in addition to maintaining sanctions on Yevgeniy Prigozhin, his affiliated entities, and the Wagner Group, should work with Congress to develop and execute a strategy drawing on the multiple instruments of United States national power... ...to counter the malignant influence and activities of Prigozhin, the entities affiliated to him, and the Wagner Group, should work with Congress to develop and execute a strategy drawing on the multiple instruments of United States national power...”

The Wagner Group and other alleged entities with ties to the Russian businessman are frequent subjects of world news. Yevgeny Prigozhin is suspected of helping the Libyan rebel general Khalifa Haftar. On 16 June, the head of the public relations department of the AFRICOM Nicole Kirschmann stated that 2,000 Wagner Group mercenaries were operating in Libya. (https://www.libyaobserver.ly/news/us-africa-command-2000-russian-wagner-mercenaries-fighting-haftar-libya).

At the same time, Mr. Prigozhin according to the Times newspaper, is trying to bring to power in Libya Haftar's rival Saif Gaddafi, son of the deposed Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.  (https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/russia-grooms-gaddafis-son-to-rule-in-libya-fbq27krsx ). However, in the US, Prigozhin and his trolls from IRA are subjected in the election meddling in 2016 and even in fomenting racial tensions in American society.

Message from the Russians

On 22 June, an "Open Letter to the US Congress", signed by Prigozhin himself, was published on the Internet. The Russian is trying to rhetorically refute the charges against him. What targets did a person close to Vladimir Putin choose to criticize the United States?

First, he is criticizing the very foundations of American statehood. "The basis of the American nation is that in the 17th century the first settlers came to North America, destroyed the native inhabitants and created their own state," notes Prigozhin.

Secondly, he emphasizes that the U.S. itself in its foreign policy does not pay attention to the interests of other countries: "Presently the national interests of the United States are based on destroying all dissent and spreading its influence around the world. America annihilates everything that does not meet the national interests of the United States. In total, the United States launched 41 wars in which millions of people were killed. It includes the unceremonious and unjustifiable use of nuclear weapons in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The key national interest of the United States is the destruction of foreign cultures and the enslavement of other peoples".

Third, he notes that the U.S. itself interferes in the affairs of other countries and has the largest army in the world, much of which is located outside the U.S.: "In order to destroy the national values of other countries, including their customs and culture, the United States regularly interferes in political processes and elections around the world, shamelessly opening the doors of embassies and presidential offices, creating lawlessness and rewriting laws for themselves to push their interests," - Prigozhin writes.

"U.S. military presence overseas is many times larger than foreign military missions from any other country in the world and numbers about 300,000 people", the Russian businessman claims.

Finally, according to him, there is no need to divide the U.S. population at all. It is already fragmented.

"Despite the fact that the United States is the richest country in the world, the colored population or the majority of Americans live no better than the common residents of the Russian hinterland," says Putin's Chief.

Weak spots

Yevgeniy Prigozhin points to the weaknesses of modern American society and American statehood. Indeed, the difference in income between black and white Americans is shocking. Other countries are increasingly dissatisfied with unilateral U.S. actions. In Iraq, the U.S. military has already been asked to leave. The U.S. under the Trump administration in the White House has quarreled with its allies in Europe and Asia, refusing to pursue a multilateralism in politics.

However, this is only the tip of the iceberg. The U.S. foreign policy is based on the principle of American exclusivity, where the U.S. can do anything, conduct operations anywhere in the world, without the permission of the UN, based only on domestic counter-terrorism legislation. Drone strikes in the Middle East and Africa have become the Americans' favorite weapon since the time of Barack Obama.

Structural Racism remains an integral feature of American society, whether Democrats or Republicans in power. The Black Lives Matter movement emerged after Ferguson in 2014, when the US was governed by a black president, but there is no sign that the lives of black people really have become more important to the police.

Commenting on Prigozhin's statements, it is easy to move aside, and that is what American politicians mostly do. Hence the statements that the Russians were “fomented racial tensions” (https://bylinetimes.com/2020/06/11/how-the-kremlin-tries-to-play-us-protests/) or that the Russians somehow helped to elect Trump.

In fact, if they are trying to do that, they are using the already existing problems in the United States. It is not the Russians' fault that now even in wealthy Minneapolis the median black family income was $36,000 – only just more than half the $83,000 a typical white family in the city.

It's the same in foreign policy. Russians, Chinese, Iranians and others benefit from the failures of the United States. If the U.S. and European NATO countries had not overthrown Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, opening up the prospect of a civil war, Libya would not have had any Wagner mercenaries - there would simply be no job for them.

It is hardly possible to call Yevgeniy Prigozhin a friend of the US. He and others like him are happy to use criticism of the United States to undermine the position of Americans in the competition of great powers. However, such people do an invaluable service to the Americans themselves. Like opposition parties in democratic societies in their criticism of the ruling parties, opponents of the United States in their criticism of the American positions inside the country and on the world stage help to discover the vulnerable points of the American state system.

The United States will either draw conclusions from this criticism and begin to change, or demonstrate rigidity, linking internal and external misunderstandings with the intrigue of its enemies in the best traditions of totalitarian powers. The latter strategy still prevails in the U.S., where Trump supporters attribute racial protests exclusively to the plans of George Soros, and Democrats are described as China's puppets. Democrats respond to them by constantly linking Trump to Russia. However, all this only adds points to the US critics such as Prigozhin.

EU

Commission president announces contract 160 million doses of Moderna vaccine

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President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen announced today (24 November) that the Commission will approve its 6th contract for a COVID-19 vaccine with an order for up to 160 million doses of the Moderna vaccine, recently found to have 95% effective in recent trials. 

The Commission has also made orders with CureVacc, Pfizer/BioNTech, AstraZeneca, Sanofi-GSK, Janssen Pharmaceutica. Once the vaccine is indeed proven as safe and effective, every member state will receive it at the same time on a pro-rata basis on the same conditions.

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Kazakhstan to ensure that more women are elected

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MEPs have welcomed attempts by Kazakhstan to ensure that more women are elected in its upcoming parliament elections. This comes  just ahead of the next elections, which have been set for January 10, 2021. This will elect members to the lower house of the country’s parliament, known as the Majlis. It will be the energy-rich Central Asian country’s first parliamentary elections since Kassym-Jomart Toqaev in 2019 succeeded Nursultan Nazarbaev, who resigned that year after nearly three decades in power, writes Colin Stevens.

In a departure from custom, the date falls at the end of the legislature’s five-year term,

President Tokayev says the electoral and political process has been liberalized to allow for more involvement from civil society.He refers specifically to what was dubbed the parliamentary opposition bill – a piece of legislation that he approved in June. Under this change to the law, non-ruling parties are supposed to acquire a greater say in setting the legislative agenda.

This is important in the context of the Mazhilis, the lower house of parliament, where the governing Nur Otan party won 84 out of the 107 seats up for grabs in the 2016 election.

Tokayev said another positive change was the mandatory 30 percent quota on party lists for women and youths. For the purposes of this requirement, a youth means anybody under 29-years-old.

Elections for local government bodies, the Maslikhats, are taking place on the same date.

There are currently six registered political parties in Kazakhstan. Nur Otan, which has as its figurehead the former president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, The other two forces in parliament are the pro-business Ak-Zhol, which bills itself as the “constructive opposition,” and the Communist People's Party of Kazakhstan, or KNPK.

A recent poll (in which 7,000 people were questioned) showed 77 percent of respondents plan to cast their ballot.

The last parliamentary elections were held in March 2016.

Ahead of the elections, this website canvassed the opinions of MEPs and others.

Andris Ameriks, vice chairman of the Central Asian delegation in the European Parliament, told EU Reporter: “During these elections, people of Kazakhstan will make their choice in electing deputies for the following 5 years. I believe that the nation of Kazakhstan will make the right choice, while Kazakh leadership will follow the democratic processes in the name of prosperity and wellbeing of the country and its people.”

He added: “I greatly welcome continuation of ex-President Nazarbayev’s established direction in the legal reforms and actions taken by the current Kazakh leadership in developing the country’s democracy, transparency and good governance.

“Introduction of a mandatory quota of 30% of women and young people on the party lists, signed by President Tokayev, is of  great importance for the further development of balanced political life in  Kazakhstan and for keeping the politics in line with the world’s practice.

“The results of the elections are highly important for Kazakhstan, Central Asian region and for the EU as for a close partner of Kazakhstan, therefore I hope that people of Kazakhstan will be active and responsible in deciding who will represent them in the Majilis during the next five years.

“At a time when the whole world is struggling with a pandemic that has caused great social turmoil and provoked national governments, it is vital that these elections provide a real example of mutual trust between the people and the authorities.”

Slovenian RE member Klemen Groselj, who is parliament’s standing rapporteur on Kazakhstan, said: “Kazakhstan is already an important partner of the EU in Central Asia, especially in the energy field, but there are also other possibilities of cooperation that have not been fully exploited yet.

“Looking at recent events in the South Caucasus, I believe there is now more than ever a mutual interest in a further development and strengthening of existing relations. I see a wide range of concrete opportunities for cooperation in the near future, for instance in the framework of the Green Deal and Digitalization.”

On the election, he added: “I expect the Kazakh authorities to guarantee the necessary conditions for a free and fair election process while providing adequate precautionary measures in light of the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic. Open, safe, transparent and fair elections can be a solid foundation for the future growth of our economic and political cooperation with Kazakhstan.”

Greens MEP Viola von Cramon noted: “With decreasing Russian influence and progressively aggressive China, central Asian republics, including Kazakhstan are signalling some openness to the EU. It is a positive sign.

"There had been positive steps were made in guaranteeing the basic right of assembly and investigating tortures by law enforcement officials. The question is now how far will the controlled democratization will go.

“In regard to the upcoming elections, having a mandatory 30% quota for women and young people as well as an increased role of opposition in the legislative process is a welcome change. How will the rankings in the list be distributed and whether we will see truly critical opposition gaining ground in the lower house of the Parliament? We will be very closely following these changes.”

Peter Stano, EU spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. told this website: "The EU welcomes the invitation extended to OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and members of the European Parliament to observe the 10 January 2021 Kazakhstan parliamentary elections. In light of the ongoing  reform and modernization processes in Kazakhstan, in particular the  adoption of laws on elections and  political parties (May 2019), the EU expects the elections to be conducted in a free, open and transparent manner, fully respecting the freedoms of expression and assembly."

He said: "The EU welcomes that for  the  first  time  a  30  percent  quota  will  be  introduced  in  party  lists  for  women  and youth jointly. The EU encourages Kazakhstan to avail of the advice and expertise of the OSCE Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission) and to fully implement the recommendations made previously and any that may be forthcoming."

Fraser Cameron, director of the Brussels-based EU/Asia Centre, said that the elections “should mark another step forward in Kazakhstan’s  steady progress towards a more open and democratic society”.

The former European commission official added: “It would be important to allow more parties to compete than was the case during the last parliamentary elections.”

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Proposed France security bill leads to protests over press freedom

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Thousands of French people took to the streets on Saturday (21 November) to protest pending legislation that aims at protecting police officers and increasing public surveillance, writes .

The legislation, dubbed the 'Global Security Act', is a comprehensive security law that is supported by MPs from the governing party. The draft contains numerous stringent provisions, amongst which Article 24 has become the chief cause of protests. It would apply to civilians and journalists alike and would make it a crime to show images of an officer’s face unless it has been blurred. Publication on social media or elsewhere with the intent of undermining an officer’s “physical or psychological integrity” could be punished by a year in prison or fines of up to €45,000 (USD $53,000). Other concerning provisions of the draft bill include Article 21 and Article 22, which aim to increase surveillance by utilizing drones and pedestrian cameras.

According to the government, the law is intended to protect police officers from online calls for violence. However, the critics of the law fear that it would lead to endangering journalists and other observers who record police at their work. This becomes critically important during violent protests. It also remains to be seen how courts would determine whether images or videos were actually posted with intent to harm the police. The protest was encouraged by organizations like Reporters without Borders, Amnesty International France, the Human Rights League, journalists’ unions and other civil society groups.

Amnesty International France has said: "We believe that this proposed law would lead France to be out of line with its international human rights commitments. We alert parliamentarians to the serious risks of such a proposal for the right to freedom of expression and call on them to mobilise in the context of the parliamentary review to delete Article 24 of the proposal."

Lawmakers in the National Assembly are scheduled to vote on the bill Tuesday, after which it will go to the Senate.

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