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EU hopes for breakthrough on trade at next week’s EU/US summit

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Ahead of the G7 and EU-US summit, Economy Executive Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis briefed MEPs on the forthcoming EU/US summit. The summit will address global trade issues, but as part of a trust and confidence-building measure, the EU hopes to resolve at least some of the current EU/US trade disputes. 

Commission and Council Presidents Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel will meet the US president on 15 June in Brussels. The EU expects its relations with the US to be reinvigorated and aims to build a common agenda covering trade, the economy, climate change, as well as other mutual foreign policy concerns based on shared interests and values.

The EU hopes that the summit can deliver a more positive trade agenda and a renewed commitment to collectively addressing the challenges stemming from non-market economies. 

Dombrovskis said: “We want to make a decisive progress to resolve our bilateral debt disputes on aircraft and the US tariffs on steel and aluminum. On the latter, we sent a clear signal to the US on our willingness to solve this issue in a fair and balanced way, by suspending the automatic doubling of our legitimate countermeasures.  It is now for the US to walk the talk.”

On the more global outlook, Dombrovskis said: “We also hope to forge an alliance with the EU to cooperate on the World Trade Organization reform. We need to bring that global trade rulebook to the date, helping us to address many challenges we face.”

The EU and US will also discuss closer co-operation on green and digital technologies. To that end, the EU has proposed to establish a Trade and Technology Council to deliver transatlantic leadership in this area of trade. 

As part of his first visit to Europe, Joe Biden will arrive in Brussels ahead of the summit to meet with the NATO heads of state or government the day before.

Russia

Court outlaws Kremlin critic Navalny’s network in pre-election knockout

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A Russian court on Wednesday (9 June) outlawed groups linked to jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny after declaring them “extremist”, a move that bans his allies from elections and will further strain US-Russia ties before a closely watched summit, write Vladimir Soldatkin and Andrew Osborn.

President Vladimir Putin and US President Joe Biden are due to hold talks in Geneva next week with the fate of Navalny and the crackdown on his movement certain to be on the agenda.

Washington, which has asked Moscow to free Navalny, condemned the court decision, with the State Department calling it "particularly disturbing". The Kremlin says the matter is a purely domestic one and not Biden's business. It has portrayed Navalny as a US-backed trouble maker, something Navalny has denied.

Wednesday's ruling, the latest chapter in a long-running crackdown on Putin's fiercest domestic opponent, delivers a final hammer blow to a vast political network that Navalny built up over many years to try to challenge the veteran Russian leader's grip on power.

Putin, 68, has been in power as either president or prime minister since 1999. Navalny, in jail for parole violations related to an embezzlement case he says was trumped up, had mounted a bold challenge to Putin via street protests and graft investigations which he had hoped would bring about a change of leadership.

The legal case against Navalny's network was brought by the office of Moscow's top prosecutor who had accused Navalny and his allies of trying to foment a revolution by seeking to destabilise the socio-political situation inside Russia with their activity.

A spokesperson for the Moscow prosecutor's office told reporters on Wednesday that he was pleased with the ruling which had recognised that Navalny's allies had organised illegal street rallies that had ended in mass unrest.

After a 12.5 hour legal hearing behind closed doors, Navalny's lawyers said in a statement they would appeal and that the evidence presented by prosecutors had not been satisfactory.

The legal offensive mirrors ones waged in the past against far-right groups, Islamist organisations and the Jehovah's Witnesses which were also declared "extremist" by courts and banned.

Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny takes part in a rally to mark the 5th anniversary of opposition politician Boris Nemtsov's murder and to protest against proposed amendments to the country's constitution, in Moscow, Russia February 29, 2020. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov/File Photo
Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny takes part in a rally to mark the 5th anniversary of opposition politician Boris Nemtsov's murder and to protest against proposed amendments to the country's constitution, in Moscow, Russia February 29, 2020. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov/File Photo

Navalny and his allies denied the prosecutor's allegations, casting them as an attempt to try to crush their political opposition to the ruling United Russia party ahead of parliamentary elections in September.

In a message posted on Navalny's Instagram account apparently drafted in anticipation of what was a widely expected ruling, Navalny was cited as urging his supporters to not be disheartened.

"We're not going anywhere," the message read.

"We'll digest this, sort things out, change, and evolve. We'll adapt. We won't step back from our aims and ideas. This is our country and we do not have another one."

The prosecutor's request formally ends the activity of a network of groups set up by Navalny, 45, who is serving a 2-1/2 year jail term, something many Western countries have portrayed as politically-motivated revenge for his anti-Kremlin political activities.

Specifically, the ruling targets Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation which has produced high-profile investigations into alleged official corruption, and Navalny's regional campaign headquarters which have mobilised in the past to organise anti-Kremlin protests.

The authorities now have the formal power to jail activists and freeze their bank accounts if they continue their activities. The case had already prompted Navalny's allies to suspend the groups even before the ruling.

In the run-up to the verdict, Putin last week signed legislation that barred members of “extremist” organizations from running for office.

Combined with Wednesday's ruling, the new legislation ends hopes by some Navalny allies to run for parliament.

They say they will try to use a smart or tactical voting strategy instead to seek to undermine support for the pro-Kremlin ruling party, a strategy Kremlin sources have belittled.

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UK

Biden has a Brexit warning for Britain: Don't imperil Northern Irish peace

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U.S. President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden disembark Air Force One upon arrival at Cornwall Airport Newquay, near Newquay, Cornwall, Britain June 9, 2021. REUTERS/Phil Noble/Pool
U.S. President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden disembark from Air Force One after landing at RAF Mildenhall ahead of the G7 Summit, near Mildenhall, Britain June 9, 2021. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

US President Joe Biden will bring a grave Brexit warning to his first meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson: Prevent a row with the European Union from imperilling the delicate peace in Northern Ireland, write Steve Holland and Guy Faulconbridge.

On his first trip abroad since taking office in January, Biden met Johnson on Thursday (10 June) in the English seaside resort of Carbis Bay ahead of a Friday-Sunday (11-13 June) G7 summit, a NATO summit on Monday (14 June), a US-EU summit on Tuesday (15 June) and a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva the following day (16 June).

Biden will try to use the trip to burnish his multilateral credentials after the tumult of Donald Trump's presidency, which left many US allies in Europe and Asia bewildered and some alienated.

Biden, though, has an uncomfortable message for Johnson, one of the leaders of the 2016 Brexit campaign: Stop heated EU divorce negotiations from undermining a 1998 U.S.-brokered peace deal known as the Good Friday Agreement that ended three decades of bloodshed in Northern Ireland.

"President Biden has been crystal clear about his rock-solid belief in the Good Friday Agreement as the foundation for peaceful co-existence in Northern Ireland," White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters aboard Air Force One.

"Any steps that imperil it or undermine it would not be welcomed by the United States," said Sullivan, who declined to characterise Johnson's actions as imperilling the peace.

Britain's exit from the European Union strained the peace in Northern Ireland to breaking point because the 27-nation bloc wants to protect its markets, yet a border in the Irish Sea cuts off the British province from the rest of the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland shares a border with EU member Ireland.

Such is Biden's concern over Northern Ireland that Yael Lempert, the top U.S. diplomat in Britain, issued London with a demarche - a formal diplomatic reprimand - for "inflaming" tensions, The Times newspaper reported.

Biden will also speak on Thursday about donating more COVID-19 vaccines to poor countries. Read more

The 1998 peace deal largely brought an end to the "Troubles" - three decades of conflict between Irish Catholic nationalist militants and pro-British Protestant "loyalist" paramilitaries that killed 3,600 people.

Biden, who is proud of his Irish heritage, will make a statement of principle about the importance of that peace deal, Sullivan said.

"He’s not issuing threats or ultimatums, he’s going to simply convey his deep-seated belief that we need to stand behind and protect this protocol," Sullivan said.

Although Britain formally left the EU in 2020, the two sides are still trading threats over the Brexit deal after London unilaterally delayed the implementation of the Northern Irish clauses of the deal.

The EU and Britain tried to solve the border riddle with the Northern Ireland Protocol of the Brexit agreement, which keeps the province in both the United Kingdom's customs territory and the EU's single market.

Pro-British unionists say the Brexit deal that Johnson signed contravenes the 1998 peace deal and London has said the protocol is unsustainable in its current form after supplies of everyday goods to Northern Ireland were disrupted.

Britain, home to a large Airbus facility, and the European Union are hoping to resolve a nearly 17-year old dispute with the United States over aircraft subsidies to Boeing (BA.N) and Airbus (AIR.PA).

US, British and EU officials have expressed optimism that a settlement can be reached before 11 July, when currently suspended tariffs will come back into force on all sides.

One source close to the negotiations said the discussions were progressing well but a deal was unlikely to be reached before the US-EU summit next week.

Johnson, who wrote a biography of British wartime leader Winston Churchill, will agree with Biden an "Atlantic Charter", modelled on the 1941 deal struck by Churchill and President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The two leaders will agree to a task force to look at resuming UK-US travel as soon as possible.

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Russia

Kremlin insider arrested in Switzerland following US request

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Russian businessman Vladislav Klyushin was arrested during a stay in Valais last March at the request of the American authorities. Klyushin is a close associate of Alexeï Gromov, a senior official in the Russian presidential administration. Gromov is widely considered to be "the person in charge of the Kremlin's control of the Russian media" and was placed under American sanctions two months ago. Klyushin is said to be the creator of a powerful media monitoring system used by Russian services. Currently detained in Sion, he opposes his extradition to the United States. The information emerges from a judgment of the Federal Tribunal (TF) made public just days before the meeting of Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin which is scheduled for 16 June in Geneva.

It only took 24 hours for the US authorities to obtain the arrest of Vladislav Klyushin on 21 March 21, while he was in Valais. This is revealed by a judgment of the Federal Supreme Court released on June 3.

The facts with which he is accused in the United States have not been disclosed. According to the Swiss TF ruling Vladislav Klyushin is the subject of an arrest warrant issued by the Massachusetts District Court on 19 March, 2021, but no indictment has yet been made public on the US side .

Vladislav Klyushin's name appeared in 2018 as part of a Proekt media investigation into how the Kremlin managed to infiltrate and then turn anonymous Telegram messaging channels into a propaganda weapon. It included Nezygar, one of the most prominent anonymous channels in the country.

According to journalists, this infiltration operation was supervised by Alexei Gromov, deputy director of the presidential administration of Vladimir Putin, with the help of Vladislav Klyushin.

The latter would have created the Katyusha media monitoring system, sold to the Russian authorities by his company OOO M13.

Also according to the Russian media, Alexeï Gromov regularly encouraged the Russian services and ministries to use the Katuysha system, whose name is inspired by the famous Soviet rocket launchers which were notorious for their powerful but imprecise shots.

Last January, the Kremlin signed a 3.6 million SF contract with M13 for the use of its surveillance software for “analysing messages on electoral processes, political parties and the non-systemic opposition” .

Former press secretary to President Vladimir Putin, Alexeï Gromov is described as “a discreet man (…) but who is nonetheless a key manager of the control exercised by the Putin government over what is said - or not - in the main Russian print and audiovisual media. ”

Already under European sanctions since 2014 in connection with the invasion of Crimea, Gromov was the first target of a new round of sanctions pronounced on 15 April by the US Department of the Treasury.

Alexei Gromov is accused of having "directed the use by the Kremlin of its media apparatus" and of having "sought to exacerbate tensions in the United States by discrediting the American electoral process in 2020".

On the day the sanctions were announced, US President Joe Biden called for a de-escalation of tensions with Russia. “The United States is not seeking to start a cycle of escalation and conflict with Russia. We want a stable and predictable relationship,” he said. Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin are scheduled to meet in Geneva on June 16.

Held in pre-trial detention since his arrest on 21 March, Vladislav Klyushin told Swiss authorities he opposed his extradition to the United States.

Represented by lawyers Oliver Ciric, Dragan Zeljic and Darya Gasskov, he filed a first appeal before the Federal Criminal Court (TPF), on 6 April, to request the lifting of his pre-trial detention.

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