Russia to Study Israeli Data Related to Downed Plane

Russian President Vladimir Putin has accepted Israel’s offer to share detailed information on the Israeli airstrike in Syria that triggered fire by Syrian forces which downed a Russian reconnaissance plane, the Kremlin said Wednesday.

Syrian forces mistook the Russian Il-20 for Israeli aircraft, killing all 15 people aboard Monday night. Russia’s Defense Ministry blamed the plane’s loss on Israel, but Putin sought to defuse tensions, pointing at “a chain of tragic accidental circumstances.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Putin on Tuesday to express sorrow over the death of the plane’s crew and blamed Syria. Syrian President Bashar Assad sent Putin a telegram Wednesday offering his condolences and putting the blame on Israeli “aggression,” the official SANA news agency said.

Israel’s air force chief is scheduled to arrive in Moscow on Thursday to provide details. Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Wednesday that Russian experts will carefully study the data that the air force chief will deliver.

The Israeli military said its fighter jets were targeting a Syrian military facility involved in providing weapons for Iran’s proxy Hezbollah militia and insisted it warned Russia of the coming raid in accordance with de-confliction agreements. It said the Syrian army fired the missiles that hit the Russian plane when the Israeli jets had already returned to Israeli airspace.

The Russian Defense Ministry said the Israeli warning came less than a minute before the strike, leaving the Russian aircraft in the line of fire. It accused the Israeli military of deliberately using the Russian plane as a cover to dodge Syrian defenses and threatened to retaliate.

While Putin took a cautious stance on the incident, he warned that Russia will respond by “taking additional steps to protect our servicemen and assets in Syria.”

Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov said Wednesday that those will include deploying automated protection systems at Russia’s air and naval bases in Syria.

Business daily Kommersant reported that Russia also may respond to the downing of its plane by becoming more reluctant to engage Iran and its proxy Hezbollah militia, to help assuage Israeli worries.

Moscow has played a delicate diplomatic game of maintaining friendly ties with both Israel and Iran. In July, Moscow struck a deal with Tehran to keep its fighters 85 kilometers (53 miles) from the Golan Heights to accommodate Israeli security concerns.

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Pussy Riot Links Member’s ‘Poisoning’ to African Murder Probe

Russian punk group Pussy Riot on Wednesday linked the suspected poisoning of member Pyotr Verzilov with his attempt to investigate the deaths of three Russian journalists in Africa.

The journalists were shot dead on July 30 in the Central African Republic (CAR) while probing a shadowy Russian mercenary group for a project founded by Kremlin foe Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Verzilov’s estranged wife, told the independent channel TV Dozhd that he received a report on the killings a day before falling ill last week.

“We think that (Verzilov’s involvement in the inquiry) is one of the possible scenarios because Petya could be of interest to Russian secret services or state structures including in the Central African Republic,” she said, using a shorter version of his name.

Verzilov, who has both Canadian and Russian citizenship, was admitted to a Moscow clinic on Sept. 11 following a court hearing, with symptoms including vison loss and disorientation.

He was flown to Germany on Saturday by the Cinema for Peace Foundation NGO. Doctors say he is now out of danger.

Tolokonnikova has already commented that Verzilov’s illness was probably the result of an “assassination attempt.”

Verzilov, who works for the Mediazona news site that focuses on courts and prisons, was making a film with one of those killed in Africa, acclaimed documentary director Alexander Rastorguyev.

Tolokonnikova told Dozhd that Verzilov’s cell phone showed he had received a report on Sept. 10 from a CAR contact who was investigating the journalists’ deaths.

Tolokonnikova said Verzilov had told her he expected “sensational information.”

Only Verzilov knew the password to access the report, and he was still “in a quite unstable condition,” she said.

A doctor treating Verzilov at Berlin’s Charite hospital said Tuesday it was “highly plausible that it was a case of poisoning.”

Tolokonnikova told Dozhd that she and other people close to Verzilov thought he might also have been poisoned for taking part in a pitch invasion at the World Cup final in Moscow to protest against police abuses.

That action “possibly upset many” people, she said.

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Fort Trump? Poland Invites Permanent US Base

President Donald Trump said the United States is considering establishing a permanent military base in Poland. At a joint news conference with President Andrzej Duda at the White House Tuesday, the Polish leader said his country would not only help pay for the military facility, it would also name it “Fort Trump.” White House correspondent Patsy Widakuswara has more.

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Putin: Syrian Downing of Russian Jet Was ‘Tragic, Accidental’

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday called the downing of a Russian military plane by Syria “a chain of tragic, accidental circumstances,” tamping down what could have turned into a tense situation with Israel.

Fifteen people aboard the Russian reconnaissance jet died when the Syrians shot it down, responding to an Israeli missile strike.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told his Israeli counterpart, Avigdor Lieberman, that Israel “bears full responsibility” and that Russia had the right to retaliate.

But Putin stepped in, calling it “a chain of tragic, accidental circumstances.” He said Russia would respond by “taking additional steps to protect our servicemen and assets in Syria.” He said “everyone will notice” those steps.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed his sorrow at the loss of Russian lives and blamed Syria for the incident.

The Israeli military said its jets were targeting a Syrian military facility supplying arms to the Iranian-backed terror group Hezbollah.

Israeli warning

Israel said it had warned Russia of the airstrike in advance, and its jets were already back in Israeli airspace when Syria fired its missile.

The Russian defense ministry said Israel’s warning came less than a minute before the airstrike. It accused the Israelis of using the Russian plane as a cover to avoid Syrian air defense systems.

While Putin did not appear to blame Israel outright for causing the Russian plane to be shot down, the Kremlin said it told Netanyahu that Israel had violated Syrian sovereignty and urged it “not to let such situations happen again.”

President Donald Trump told reporters at the White House that, based on what he had been told, Syria shot down the Russian plane. He called the deaths of those aboard “a very sad thing.”

Trump took a moment to say the United States has done a “tremendous job” in helping eradicate Islamic State from Syria and said “we are very close to finishing that job.”

Putin is striving to maintain his good relationship with Israel, while continuing to back the Syrian government in its fight against the rebels.

Russia also has healthy relations with Iran, Israel’s archenemy.

Israel has said it will not allow any permanent Iranian military presence inside Syria and has looked to the Russians to help keep Iranian-backed forces away from the Israeli-Syrian frontier.

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European Nations Plan to Use More Hydrogen for Energy Needs

Dozens of European countries are backing a plan to increase the use of hydrogen as an alternative to fossil fuels to cut the continent’s carbon emissions.

 

Energy officials from 25 countries pledged Tuesday to increase research into hydrogen technology and accelerate its everyday use to power factories, drive cars and heat homes.

 

The proposal, which was included in a non-binding agreement signed in Linz, Austria, includes the idea of using existing gas grids to distribute hydrogen produced with renewable energy.

 

The idea of a “hydrogen economy,” where fuels that release greenhouse gases are replaced with hydrogen, has been around for decades. Yet uptake on the concept has been slow so far, compared with some other technologies.

 

Advocates of hydrogen say it can solve the problem caused by fluctuating supplies of wind, solar, hydro and other renewable energies. By converting electricity generated from those sources into hydrogen, the energy can be stored in large tanks and released again when needed.

 

Electric vehicles can also use hydrogen to generate power on board, allowing manufacturers to overcome the range restrictions of existing batteries. Hydrogen vehicles can be refueled in a fraction of the time it takes to recharge a battery-powered vehicle.

 

On Monday the world’s first commuter train service using a prototype hydrogen-powered train began in northern Germany.

 

The European Union’s top climate and energy official said hydrogen could help the bloc meet its obligations to cut carbon emissions under the 2015 Paris accord. Miguel Arias Canete told reporters it could also contribute to the continent’s energy security by reducing imports of natural gas, much of which currently comes from Russia and countries outside of Europe.

 

Kirsten Westphal, an energy expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, said encouraging the use of hydrogen as a means of storing and transporting energy makes sense, but added the overall goal for should be reducing fossil fuels rather than pushing a particular energy alternative.

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UN: A Child Dies Every Five Seconds, Most Are Preventable Deaths

An estimated 6.3 million children died before their 15th birthdays in 2017, or one every five seconds, mostly due to a lack of water, sanitation, nutrition and basic healthcare, according to report by United Nations agencies on Tuesday.

The vast majority of these deaths – 5.4 million – occur in the first five years of life, with newborns accounting for around half of the deaths, the report said.

“With simple solutions like medicines, clean water, electricity and vaccines” this toll could be dramatically reduced, said Laurence Chandy, an expert with the U.N. children’s fund UNICEF. But without urgent action, 56 million children under five – half of them newborns – will die between now and 2030.

Globally, in 2017, half of all deaths in children under five were in sub-Saharan Africa, where one in 13 children died before their fifth birthday. In high-income countries, that number was one in 185, according to the report co-led by UNICEF, the World Health Organization and the World Bank.

It found that most children under five die due to preventable or treatable causes such as complications during birth, pneumonia, diarrhoea, neonatal sepsis and malaria. Among older children – aged five to 14 – injuries become a more prominent cause of death, especially from drowning and road traffic.

For children everywhere, the most precarious time is the first month of life. In 2017, 2.5 million newborns died in their first month, and a baby born in sub-Saharan Africa or in Southern Asia was nine times more likely to die in the first month than one born in a high-income country.

Despite these problems, the U.N. report found that fewer children are dying each year worldwide. The number of under five deaths fell to 5.4 million in 2017 from 12.6 million in 1990, while the number of deaths in five to 14 year-olds dropped to under a million from 1.7 million in the same period.

 

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Russia Blames Israel for Syrian Missile Downing Russian Plane

Russia’s Defense Ministry says “hostile” actions by Israeli fighter jet pilots led to Syrian air defense systems shooting down a Russian military reconnaissance plane.

Russian military spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Tuesday that Israeli forces were carrying out an attack in Syria’s Latakia province when they hid behind the Russian plane, using it to shield themselves from Syrian missiles.

Konashenkov said an S-200 missile brought down the Russian plane, killing 15 people.

Israel and Russia have for several years used a special hotline to notify each other of certain military actions in the region in order to prevent clashes. But Konashenkov said Israel gave Russia only one minute of notice of its operation, leaving the Russian plane no time to get out of the area.

He called Israel’s actions “irresponsible” and said Russia would have an “appropriate response.”

Israel’s military disputed Russia’s accusation it used one of its planes as cover, saying the aircraft “was not within the area of the operation” when it was hit.  It also said “when the Syrian army launched the missiles that hit the Russian plane, [Israeli] jets were already within Israeli airspace.”

The Israeli military blamed the militant Hezbollah group and and Iran for shooting down the plane and expressed sorrow for the deaths of the Russian aircrew.

 

 

 

 

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United States Keen to Invest Strategically in Greenland

The United States wants to invest in Greenland to enhance its “military operational flexibility and situational awareness,” its Department of Defense (DoD) said on Monday.

Greenland is strategically important for the U.S. military and its ballistic missile early warning system, as the shortest route from Europe to North America goes via the Arctic island.

The U.S. intends to “pursue potential strategic investments vigorously, including investments that may serve dual military and civilian purposes,” the DoD said in a statement published by the U.S. Embassy in Copenhagen.

Greenland picked Denmark as its partner in a planned upgrade of two airports last week, seeking to defuse a diplomatic row over how the projects, of strategic interest to both Washington and Beijing, should be financed.

Greenland is a self-ruling part of the Kingdom of Denmark and while its government decides on most domestic matters, foreign and security policy is handled by Copenhagen.

Denmark has been concerned that a Chinese investment — on the agenda since Greenland’s Prime Minister Kim Kielsen visited Beijing last year — could upset its close ally the U.S. 

The DoD said in Monday’s statement that it intends to analyze and, where appropriate, strategically invest in projects related to the airport infrastructure in Greenland.

The one-page “Statement of Intent” did not go into financial details.

“We welcome the American Statement of Intent, and look forward to discuss details of possible U.S. airport investments in Greenland,” Greenland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Vivian Motzfeldt, said in a statement.

Greenland’s government lost its parliamentary majority as a row between coalition partners escalated last week over how the planned airport projects should be financed.

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Macron Eyes Purchasing Power Boost to Ease Reform Fatigue

With his popularity ratings in freefall, French President Emmanuel Macron is counting on a rebound in family purchasing power to keep voters from turning against his reforms.

Macron’s government has lined up several tax cuts taking effect in the coming months that should boost the closely tracked measure of disposable income in France.

It could hardly come at a better time for Macron, with many voters saying the former investment banker has spent his first year in office cutting taxes for the wealthy and big companies.

More purchasing power was the single biggest priority in voters’ eyes, well ahead of cutting unemployment or the tax burden, according to a Kantar Sofres poll released on Sunday.

Squeezed by tax hikes on petrol and tobacco as well as oil price-driven inflation, household spending has floundered this year whereas it is traditionally the single biggest source of growth, accounting for 52 percent of economic output.

But next month workers will see a cut in payroll tax they pay to fund jobless insurance and the health system, followed by a cut in a city tax for all but the wealthiest in November.

“We are gradually going to improve French workers’ purchasing power,” Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told LCI television on Monday. “We are going to make work pay better. The French are going to see the fruit of these policies in the coming months.”

Consumer relief

With a solid parliamentary election behind him, Macron faced little resistance in his first year in office to a major overhaul of the labour code and the scrapping of the wealth tax.

But it earned him a reputation as a “president of the rich” that has been hard to shake off. A summer scandal over his bodyguard beating May Day protesters has further dented his image, and a popular environment minister resigned live on radio over frustration that Macron’s agenda was not green enough.

With his popularity ratings at all time lows, Macron needs to rebuild political capital before he launches what are set to be contentious reforms to unemployment insurance and the pension system next year, while also trying to cut public spending.

In addition to tax cuts this year, Macron’s government has pledged to scrap payroll tax next year on overtime work and profit participation schemes in small firms.

The central bank said in its latest economic outlook on Friday that the stars were aligned for a rebound in purchasing power starting at the end of this year and into 2019.

“We’re expecting about 200,000 [job creations] this year, that should translate into purchasing power for the French,  especially with inflation due to fall,” Bank of France governor Francois Villeroy de Galhau told Europe 1 radio.

The government is counting on the rebound to help the economy grow 1.7 percent next year. While the central bank is optimistic about the outlook for disposable income, it is only expecting GDP growth of 1.6 percent.

Meanwhile, despite the planned tax cuts, questions linger over whether households will actually feel any better off.

From January, taxes will be automatically deducted from people’s monthly pay slip, leaving those who are not already on a monthly plan – about 40 percent of taxpayers — with smaller net take-home pay.

Meanwhile, since the government’s measures to boost purchasing power mainly benefit workers, retirees are likely to be left out. Additionally, while the government has said it will raise the state pension next year it will do so by less than the rate of inflation so as to save money.

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Russia, Turkey Announce Plans for Demilitarized Zone in Syria’s Idlib Region

Russia and Turkey have agreed to create a “demilitarized zone” in Syria’s Idlib region to separate Syrian government forces from rebel fighters, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced Monday after a lengthy meeting in Sochi with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The planned zone would be 15- to 20 kilometers deep, said Putin, and patrolled by Turkish and Russian soldiers. Putin said the zone is to be established by October 15.

Idlib is one of the last remaining areas resistant to the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. About half the population of 3 million are already displaced from other areas, and international observers have voiced concerns that a government offensive could lead to further displacement and a massive loss of civilian life.

Although Russia is a close ally of Assad’s government and has expressed that his government has the right to recapture the region, Turkey has increasingly voiced concerns about a potential humanitarian disaster and sent troops to the area to ward off an assault.

Earlier this month, Erdogan met with Putin, along with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, at a trilateral summit in Tehran. The talks appeared to end in deadlock over efforts to avert conflict in Idlib. Tehran also backs Damascus in Syria’s seven-year-old civil war.

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