UK’s Johnson Says All Conservative Candidates Vowed to Back His Brexit Deal

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says all Conservative Party candidates in the upcoming election have pledged to back his Brexit deal. “All 635 Conservative candidates standing at this election — every single one of them — has pledged to me that if elected they will vote in Parliament to pass my Brexit deal so we can end the uncertainty and finally leave the EU,” Johnson told London’s Telegraph newspaper in an interview published late on Saturday. “I am offering a pact with the people: If you vote Conservative you can be 100% sure a majority Conservative government will unblock Parliament and get Brexit done,” he said. The December 12 election was called to end three years of disagreement over Brexit that has sapped investors’ faith in the stability of the world’s fifth-largest economy and damaged Britain’s standing since it voted in a 2016 referendum to leave the European Union. Johnson, 55, hopes to win a majority to push through the last-minute Brexit deal he struck with the EU last month after the bloc granted a third delay to the divorce that was originally supposed to take place March 29. Voters in a 2016 referendum narrowly voted in favor of leaving the EU. Johnson’s Conservatives lead Labour by sizable margins, four polls published Saturday show. A YouGov poll showed support for the Conservatives at 45%, the highest level since 2017, compared with Labour at 28%, unchanged. The pro-European Union Liberal Democrats were at 15%, and the Brexit Party was at 4%, unchanged. A separate poll for SavantaComRes also said support for the Conservatives was the highest since 2017, at 41%. Labour’s support was at 33%. The Conservatives have a 16-point lead over Labour, according to an opinion poll published by Opinium Research, and a poll by the Mail on Sunday said Johnson’s party had a 15-point lead over Labour. 

Germany Arrests Citizen Accused of IS Membership Upon Return Home

A federal judge on Saturday ordered that a German citizen arrested on her return to the country on suspicion of being a member of Islamic State should remain in custody, prosecutors said. 
Authorities said the suspect, identified only as Nasim A., left Germany for Syria in 2014, married a fighter and moved with him to Iraq. There she was paid to maintain an IS-controlled house and carried a weapon. 
She and her husband later moved to Syria, where she also maintained a house, prosecutors said. Kurdish security forces arrested her in early 2019. 
The woman was arrested Friday evening in Frankfurt upon her return to Germany. 
The judge determined Saturday that she remain in detention because of “suspicion of being a member of a terrorist organization in a foreign country,” prosecutors said. 

Top Diplomats, Experts: US Support Essential to Ukraine’s Fight Against Russia

The impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump centers on the question of whether he suspended close to 400 million dollars in U.S. military aid to Ukraine to pressure President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate one of his own political opponents. Top U.S. diplomats and other foreign policy experts said any threat to that U.S. security assistance sends the wrong signal, both to Ukraine, and to the stronger power it is fighting on its own soil, Russia. VOA’s Diplomatic Correspondent Cindy Saine reports from Washington.

Yellow Vest Protesters Mark Anniversary With Rallies, Violence 

France’s yellow vests staged demonstrations Saturday to mark the one-year anniversary of a protest movement for greater economic justice that once captured international headlines.  
Demonstrators smashed store windows and bus stops in Paris and set bonfires in some streets. Police and firemen responded with tear gas and water hoses. At least one of the demonstrations was canceled because of the violence. 
Demonstrations elsewhere in France were more peaceful. 
Protests first exploded over a hike in fuel prices. Roughly a quarter-million people — a diverse slice of French society, including teachers, farmers, retirees and students — took to the streets a year ago. Later, their demands expanded to a range of issues, from action on climate change to support for working-class families.  Protesters attend a demonstration to mark the first anniversary of the “yellow vest” movement in Nantes, France, Nov. 16, 2019.French President Emmanuel Macron responded by launching a national citizens debate earlier this year, and he offered concessions like tax cuts and a minimum wage hike.  The demonstrations have cost French businesses and the government hundreds of millions of dollars, but today, ome yellow vests say they’ve gained nothing from protesting. Farid, a government worker, says people are still struggling to make ends meet. Others say they’ve built bonds with fellow protesters. 
Recent efforts to revive the movement haven’t gained traction. French protests have certainly not ended — they’ve just gone back to more traditional forms. This week, for example, thousands of hospital workers marched over lack of funds and manpower. But yellow vests may join a broader labor strike next month, which some hope — or fear — may help relaunch the movement. 

Sirens Sound Again in Deluged Venice

Venetians were woken up at dawn Friday to the wailing of flood sirens and the lapping of water as the already-deluged Italian city was struck by a new tidal surge, further damaging ancient monuments, palaces and churches and striking fear into residents.Although the new high tide, swollen by days of torrential rains, didn’t reach the height of Tuesday’s “acqua alta,” or high waters, authorities say that more than 80 percent of the stricken city, a UNESCO world heritage site, is covered in water with shops marooned, homes flooded, and street kiosks and newsstands washed away.The Italian prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, declared a state of emergency Thursday after sewage-tainted rivers coursed down Venice’s narrow streets and flooded the city’s iconic St. Mark’s Square. He called the flooding “a blow to the heart of our country” before taking a tour by powerboat to visit businesses and locals impacted by the tide.FILE – A man removes water from the flooded shop during a period of seasonal high water in Venice, Italy, Nov. 15, 2019.On Tuesday, the water level surged 1.87 meters above normal, the highest since it rose 1.94 meters during a 1966 flood that drove many Venetians to leave the city, never to return.Federal and local authorities have blamed climate change for the flooding of one of the world’s most stunning artistic landmarks. Environment Minister Sergio Costa says much of the problem lies with the “tropicalization” of weather in the Mediterranean region. The tides have been worsened by sirocco winds blowing in from Africa, forcing water up the Adriatic Sea into Venice’s lagoon.But many locals say governments have not done enough to protect the city and have abjectly managed a new planned-but-as-yet-incomplete system of sea defenses.Irreparable damageThe city, which consists of more than 100 islands inside the lagoon, suffers yearly flooding but the current deluge is extreme and will leave a permanent mark on the city, according to Venice’s mayor, Luigi Brugnaro. The crypt of the 11th century St. Mark’s Basilica was flooded for the first time since 1966.”It was as if a huge wave entered our basilica,” Carlo Alberto Tesserin, head of the board responsible for the building, said earlier in the week.A boat tries to pass under a bridge during a period of seasonal high water in Venice, Italy, Nov. 15, 2019.The Patriarch of Venice, Francesco Moraglia, said water damage to the basilica’s marble columns and gold leaf mosaics was irreparable.Many tourists this week left the city struggling to maneuver their luggage along raised trestle walkways. Others stayed, determinedly snapping selfies.Many residents said the damage would be repaired and that they would never migrate from their beloved Venice, demonstrating their defiance by stopping for morning coffee and standing in flooded bars.Government blamedBut mixed with defiance is anger at the failure of successive Italian governments to complete an innovative flood defense system called the MOSE project, an integrated system of 78 gates installed at inlets able to isolate the Venetian Lagoon from the Adriatic Sea during high tides and designed to protect the city from swells of up to 3 meters.Construction work began in 2003 but its planned opening in 2016 didn’t happen after several delays, mainly because of cost overruns and corruption scandals.The interior of the Italian Regional Council is seen flooded in Venice, Italy, Nov. 13, 2019, in this picture obtained from social media.In 2014, the project was placed under a special administration in a bid to stop the awarding of corrupt contracts. The project is meant to be completed by 2022 at an estimated cost of more $6.6 billion. During a recent test of some of the gates already installed, however, inspectors discovered serious rust.”We don’t know when we will reopen. Thank you MOSE!” read a sign tacked on the door of a small bakery in the San Polo neighborhood of the city. Shop owner Fabio Bagarotto told reporters, “All the tax money that has been spent on MOSE and it’s not even finished. Politicians don’t care about ordinary people.””They’ve done nothing, neglected it. It doesn’t work and they have stolen 6 billion euros. The politicians should all be put in jail,” 62-year-old Dino Perzolla told the French news agency.The mayor and the country’s transport minister, Paola De Micheli, have pledged the construction work will get done, but Venetians are skeptical it will be ready by the 2022 deadline.Giuseppe Conte told the Corriere della Sera newspaper Friday that he plans to summon a high-level ministerial meeting for Nov. 26 to discuss the best way to safeguard Venice and how to speed up the completion of the MOSE project. He said the committee also needs to examine claims that work done so far has exacerbated the flooding and whether the excavation of canals to accommodate huge cruise ships has compounded the problem.Official government reports have warned the city will be under water within a century if climate change isn’t slowed and a defense system put in place.

2019 May Be Deadliest Year for Migrants in Americas, UN Agency Says 

The International Organization for Migration said Friday that 2019 might be the deadliest year for migrant deaths in the Americas since it began keeping records six years ago. The U.N. agency said 695 people have died this year while making the treacherous journey across the central Mediterranean Sea, the world’s deadliest migrant corridor. It said that’s one-sixth the number of deaths recorded in 2016, when fatalities reached an all-time high of nearly 4,200 on the route. But IOM spokesman Joel Millman said the Mediterranean route figure for 2019 was barely larger than the 634 migrant deaths recorded in the Americas.   
“We have never seen anything like that before, where the principal migration routes that link Latin America to North America are now, this year, virtually as deadly as the central Mediterranean route has been for the last six years,” he said. Venezuelan exodusMillman attributed the surprising rise to the mass movement of refugees and migrants from Venezuela. He told VOA that more than 4 million Venezuelans had fled the country over the past two years. He said such a large volume of people on the move creates conditions that will result in more fatalities.   
“The place we have seen it worst of all is the Caribbean, where we know 157 deaths at sea,” he said. “Last year at this time, there were 24. So we are talking about more than six times the volume of sea deaths. And I know that the majority of deaths in the Caribbean are Venezuelan migrants and refugees trying to get to the Caribbean islands.”   
Millman said the nationalities of 227 people who died while heading toward the United States were unknown. He noted that Latin American migrants from countries such as Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Ecuador accounted for the largest number of fatalities after Venezuela. 
Included in this year’s statistics were the deaths of six migrants from Cameroon. Millman said three Cameroonians drowned off the Pacific coast of Chiapas, Mexico, in the last few weeks and one man died while in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents in California. 

‘Unpredictability’ is NATO’s Greatest Challenge Stoltenberg Says

VOA Serbian service’s Jela de Franceschi spoke with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg about the shifting global alliances in the current political environment.Q. Both sides of the Atlantic are undergoing political upheaval, unprecedented in a sense. We have impeachment proceedings in the U.S., the third time in modern American history, and we have Brexit in Europe, which has been a prolonged process. Does that affect larger security issues at all?Stoltenberg: I think what we have seen is that despite issues like these over decades on both sides of the Atlantic that NATO has proven that while we come to different opinions about Brexit and different opinions about the issues in the (impeachment) hearings in the Congress, we will continue to be a strong and adaptable alliance. That has happened so many times before. These important issues will not undermine NATO.FILE – Brexit supporters display their signs in front of Parliament in London, Oct. 23, 2019.Q. They don’t affect NATO?Stoltenberg: As I have stated many times, it is about how to manage differences and small and big crisis — from the Suez Crisis in 1956, to the French withdrawal from the NATO military cooperation in 1966, when actually France, one of the major allies, left the military cooperation with NATO. It was also an issue when Turkey went into Cyprus in 1974, or when we had the Iraq war, some allies were in favor, some were against it.So, these are serious issues where we have seen differences between allies, but again and again we have been able to unite around our core task to protect and defend each other based on the idea ‘one for all, all for one.’ And the reason why we do that is because this in our own national security interest; we are safer and stronger when we are together.That is the reason why we are able to overcome these differences. I am not saying that the differences are without importance. We see them today on trade and climate change, and the situation in northeast Syria. However, again I, if we look back, I think what we can learn from history that it is possible to overcome these differences if we have the political will. Moreover, I feel that the political will is there to maintain a strong bond between North America and Europe.FILE – People stuck flowers in remains of the Berlin Wall during a commemoration ceremony to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall at Bernauer Strasse in Berlin, Nov. 9, 2019.Q. There is also a huge global shift that is taking place. NATO started as a bulwark against the Soviet Union, which disappeared. It had a relatively peaceful period after the Berlin Wall fell. Now we have rising powers. We have Russia, which maybe is not a power in the economic sense, but military it is. Then we have China that has declared that it wants to overcome America by 2025.  From NATO’s perspective, how would you signify this?Stoltenberg: NATO is the most successful alliance in history for two reasons: partly because of a unity, that we have been able to unite around our own core task despite differences on many other issues. The other reason why we are the most successful ones in history is that we have been able to adapt to change when the world is changing for 40 years, we did only one thing. We deterred the Soviet Union in Europe.Then the Berlin Wall came down, the Cold War ended, and people started to ask do we need NATO? And they said either NATO has to go out of area, meaning to go into operations outside the NATO area, which was never done before.
So out of area, or out of business.And what NATO did, we actually went beyond NATO territory. We went into the Balkans. We helped to end the bloodshed there.We also did something we have never done before. We became part of the fight against international terrorism. After 9/11 we went into Afghanistan. And since then we have been participating in different missions.Now NATO has to adapt again, partly because we see a more assertive Russia, illegally annexing Crimea, but also because we see new threats, new challenges — cyber-hybrid, but also the rise of China. We need to understand all kinds of implications of the shifting global balance of power has for our security. There are some opportunities but also some obvious challenges. China has the second largest defense budget in the world. They are modernizing their armed forces.The recent display of many new hypersonic advanced missiles intercontinental missiles. In addition, of course we need to fully understand the consequences. So, what we are doing is this, that we once again are proving that we are adaptable, that we are able to change the way the world is changing.FILE – Militia members and soldiers of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) march past Tiananmen Square during a rehearsal before a military parade marking the 70th founding anniversary of People’s Republic of China, on its National Day in Beijing.Q. One thing that China also is doing is it has a combination of military and economic power. And it has also, it has a strong presence in Europe.  At a recent hearing in Congress, some experts were saying that China is building infrastructure in some countries that are defaulting on the financial, enabling China to take over the various infrastructure projects to the point that it could threaten NATO. Let’s say if they have access to European ports, they could block movement of NATO’s ships in various circumstance. Are you worried about that?Stoltenberg: Our military operations and forces depend on civilian infrastructure, on roads, bridges, harbors, airports, cables crossing the Atlantic and telecommunications networks and so on. That is the reason why we also developed what we call resilience guidelines. And we recently updated one of them the way we call them basic requirements actually for a civilian infrastructure.Recently we updated our basic requirements for the telecommunications to include 5G, which is one of the areas where we really are seeing big changes and where societies will be completely transformed by the move from 4G to 5G.
And that’s a way for us to make sure that we have functioning safe and secure critical infrastructure in peace, in crisis, and of course also in conflict.Q. Is that something that NATO can influence while accepting new members like Macedonia, like Serbia in the future.Stoltenberg: Well other countries that join NATO they have to meet their two standards. They have to have of course a safe and secure way of communications. For instance, there are requirements for civilian infrastructure and telecommunications as 5G, they also apply for new members like North Macedonia.They do not apply for nonmembers. We cannot force nonmembers. We can ask them and again, we can advise them and zone. It is for Serbia to decide what kind of telecommunications they have and how they organize their civilian infrastructure. We welcome the fact that Serbia is a close partner. We work with Serbia. We recently had the will of our civilian preparedness exercises in Serbia. And I visited Belgrade. Met with the Serbian president. And we actually inaugurated the start of that exercise, which shows that we are working together. Serbia is a neutral country. Serbia is not aiming or striving for NATO membership. It is up to Serbia to decide.Q. Why is it important for NATO to have open doors and take in countries, small countries, which are militarily- and security-wise not that strong and cannot contribute in a substantial manner.Stoltenberg: Because when our neighbors are more stable, we are more secure. And, of course, when neighbors join NATO then we become even more stable and even more secure. One of the great successes of NATO is that we started with 12 countries. We had a significant increase at the end of the Cold War with 16 members of NATO. Now we are soon to be 30, almost twice as many.Those were former countries in Eastern and Central Europe joining NATO and many of them also joining the European Union. That means that hundreds of millions of people were invited into the community of NATO. And that has helped create democracy that underpins the prosperity and peace. We see a Europe, which is more united, more at peace than Europe has probably ever been.
The normal situation in Europe was conflict, war between European countries for centuries and then another Cold War dividing totally Europe. There are problems. We have Ukraine, we have Georgia. We have all other challenges where we see instability and Russia crushing sovereignty.But overall, what you have seen since the fall of the Berlin Wall 30 years ago is an enormous achievement for everyone who believes in peace, democracy, freedom because we have a much more united and much more peaceful Europe. And that’s where much because of a need to want enlargement.Q. What is the biggest challenge that you think NATO faced during these 70 years of existence?Stoltenberg: The greatest success is of course that NATO made it possible to end the Cold War without a shot being fired in Europe. And by doing that we created the conditions for the fall of the Berlin Wall for the unification of Germany and for the reunification of Europe.Q. So, the Berlin Wall is the pinnacle?Stoltenberg: It’s a symbol of the most important achievement that that after 40 years — from 1949 to 1989 — 40 years of existence we were able to prevent war, a confrontation between the Soviet Union, the Warsaw Pact, and NATO and actually contribute to the opposite, peace and reconciliation between countries in east and west of Europe.Then there are of course, there are many other challenges. We are now living in a totally new time where we have terrorism. We have a shifting balance of power globally and we have cyber and many other things. But historically then I think that the end of the Cold War and the way it ended is NATO’s greatest achievement.Q. What is the greatest challenge now?Stoltenberg: The unpredictability. During the Cold War it was very clear what was the challenge. Now there are so many that are more different threats and challenges. It is hard to predict. It is hard to foresee the unforeseen. However, we have to be prepared for the unforeseen. That is the reason why we need an agile NATO ready to be able to react when a new crisis occurs.

Boris Johnson Fights Winter Blues in a Drenched Election Campaign

Britain’s ruling Conservatives are banking heavily on the star quality of their leader, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who’s had an uncanny ability in the past to connect with voters and to cheer them up.He’s struggled on the campaign trail for next month’s highly contentious election, however, and, surprisingly, he hasn’t prospered in several encounters with voters, prompting commentators to query whether the shine has worn off Boris or whether Britons are wearying of his knockabout style.His election earlier this year as leader by the Conservatives, who view themselves as the natural party of government, was partly driven by the idea that the ever-upbeat, mop-haired former London mayor and journalist could secure them a parliamentary majority by casting his political spell, dashing around the fractious country with an invigorating message and cheery rhetoric laden with quips and jokes and endearing gaffes.Hardline anti-European Union Conservatives also saw Johnson as the best bet to break the three-year logjam in Parliament over Britain’s planned and messy departure from the EU, and to be the one to actually “deliver Brexit.”However, the much-vaunted Johnson magic hasn’t so far been the spell-binding force of old in an election that’s the most unpredictable in years, thanks to Brexit, the fracturing of the country’s main parties, and the emergence of new ones.Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson has his picture taken with supporters prior to boarding his campaign bus, in Manchester, England, Nov. 15, 2019.Torrential rain hasn’t helped. Midweek, Johnson, dressed as though he were out for a day’s hunting on an aristocratic estate, faced angry voters in the deluged English regions of Yorkshire, Derbyshire, the east Midlands and Lincolnshire, where flood defenses failed once again failed to prevent rivers from breaching their banks and flooding homes and businesses.
Shortly after arriving in the sodden Yorkshire town of Stainforth, as a hundred soldiers were deployed to help shore up the failing flood defenses, one middle-aged woman resident stopped briefly to tell Johnson, “I’m not very happy about talking to you, so, if you don’t mind, I’ll just mope on with what I’m doing.”Pushing her wheelbarrow by bemused soldiers and the startled, mumbling Johnson, she added, “You’ve not helped us … I don’t know what you’re here today for.”A townsman shouted at him, “You’ve took your time, Boris, haven’t you?” Johnson’s sheepish response, “We’ve been on it round the clock,” didn’t assuage the man. The day before Johnson inexplicably announced the flooding wasn’t sufficiently bad to call a “national emergency.”“Campaigning as a maverick challenger and campaigning as the sitting prime minister are two very different things,” a member of his election team acknowledged privately to VOA.Autumn and winter floods have become ever more frequent in England — the consequence of climate change, according to scientists, overdevelopment and neglect of infrastructure by successive governments. Johnson can hardly be blamed that once again the flood defenses failed, ruining homes and endangering businesses. However, the government’s slow response in getting the army to help and Johnson’s late arrival in deluged regions, a day after his main rivals, Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn and the Liberal Democrats’ Jo Swinson, had visited, was less than sure-footed.Britain’s opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn poses for a photo after speaking at a campaign event in Lancaster, England, Nov. 15, 2019.It was especially surprising as Johnson’ electoral strategy is based on pulling off something that evaded his Conservative predecessor, Theresa May, at the last general election less than two years ago — winning over some of the Labour Party’s heartland working-class constituencies in the north of England and the Midlands, which voted for Brexit in the 2016 referendum. The Conservatives need to make inroads with these voters  to compensate for the likely loss of pro-EU seats in the south of England and London, where the Liberal Democrats and Labour are likely to do well.  Liberal Democrats would ditch Brexit, Labour would negotiate a new deal and hold a second referendum offering a choice between their exit deal and remaining as a full EU member.An 11th-hour bid by the Conservatives to dissuade Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party from running candidates in Labour’s heartland northern seats, where they’re likely to split the anti-EU vote, failed Thursday, complicating Johnson’s path to victory.Johnson on Thursday was accused of running scared by refusing to meet members of the public during a visit to Somerset, where he was trying to bolster the campaigns of Conservatives, also known as Tories, against strong Liberal Democrat challenges. In the market town of Taunton he was heckled as he visited a school and a scheduled stop-off at a nearby bakery was shelved.On paper, though, Johnson should be able to secure a comfortable parliamentary majority. The Conservatives have a 14% lead over Labour, the country’s main opposition party, which under Jeremy Corbyn has lurched far to the left, and which is running on an aggressive renationalization and tax-the-rich manifesto.Corbyn is also less the firebrand on the campaign trial than he was in the last election, when Labour benefited from a late surge to confound the pollsters and the Conservatives. The Labour leader’s popularity rating in the opinion polls has slumped to a historic minus 48%, 43 points lower than Johnson, who himself has a dismal approval rating of minus 5%. Only Swinson is in positive territory.Leader of Britain’s Liberal Democrats Jo Swinson reacts as she speaks at a campaign event in London, Britain, Nov. 9, 2019.Nonetheless with a big lead over Labour Johnson looks to be safe. “If current polling and anecdotal evidence from doorstep campaigning is correct, Mr Johnson ought comfortably to secure the majority he seeks on December 12,” notes Jeremy Warner, a commentator for the pro-Conservative Daily Telegraph.However, few pollsters are confident even about their own opinion polls, especially as most were wrong about about the past two elections. Brexit has turned Britain into a politically tumultuous country — old allegiances have been upended, a wide generation gap has been exposed, with younger voters shifting left and older voters shifting right. With the emergence of new political groups and the reinvigoration of the centrist and pro-EU Liberal Democrats there could be some big surprises on election night. The number of variables in play makes it especially hard to predict what will happen.The winter weather also poses a huge danger for the ruling Conservatives — as the flooding demonstrated this week. Governments traditionally have avoided calling elections in the winter — this is the first since 1974, when the sitting Labour government made moderate gains but failed to obtain an overall majority. In the last December election, in 1923, the ruling Conservatives also failed to secure a majority in the House of Commons.The problem for any government is that voters tend to be grumpier in the winter with the darkness and poor weather — a feel-good factor tends to play more favorably for the party in power, but when voters are unhappy they are more likely to punish their rulers, say pollsters.According to Rob Parsons, political editor of the right-leaning Yorkshire Post, the floods “risk washing away Tory hopes of taking the north.”  Another winter-related factor that poses a threat to the Conservatives is the National Health Service, already a key election issue with both the Conservatives and Labour vying with each other over who will spend more on Britain’s hospitals. Lengthy wait times because of winter illnesses such as flu will inevitably be blamed on the government, according to pollsters. 

Estonian Minister: Russian Security Services Used Estonia to Fund Activities Abroad

Russia’s security services moved money through Estonia to finance operations overseas, the Baltic country’s finance minister, who is leading a cleanup after a money laundering scandal, told Reuters.Martin Helme said that Estonian authorities are also investigating whether individuals under U.S. sanctions benefited from the movement of money through Estonia, which is undertaking reforms after 200 billion euros ($220 billion) in suspect transactions flowed through Danske Bank’s branch in the country.The Kremlin, Russia’s General Prosecutor’s Office and the Federal Security Service and Investigative Committee did not reply to emailed requests for comment.”There are two sorts of money that come from Russia. One is stolen money that wants to escape Russia,” Helme said during a telephone interview with Reuters, adding that the remainder was “very closely entangled” with Russia’s security services.Helme, who heads a committee including police and prosecutors tackling money laundering and terrorism financing, said some of the money “has been used by the Russian security services to finance their operations abroad”.Danske Bank was ejected from Estonia, a former Soviet satellite, this year after admitting suspicious money flowed through its branch there between 2007 and 2015.A spokesman for Danske Bank, which has said it had Russian clients in Estonia, declined to comment because of ongoing investigations into its activities.Helme did not specify which Russian entities he was referring to or cite any evidence to support his allegations.
The head of Russia’s Federal Service for Financial Monitoring told President Vladimir Putin this week that Moscow was winning international recognition for its efforts to tackle money laundering.Estonia is investigating money that flowed through the country in recent years and is sharing information with U.S. authorities, Helme said, adding that this included whether people subject to U.S. sanctions were involved.”We are very worried about that,” he said.As in neighboring Latvia, the United States has been the driving force behind the cleanup of banks in the Baltics, many of whom offered a bridge for Russians moving money to the West.Reforms are taking place against the backdrop of Washington’s efforts to diminish Russia’s influence in countries like Estonia, which has historically fraught relations with Moscow and hosts NATO troops to deter any potential incursion.Helme said he had discussed international sanctions during an October meeting in Washington with Marshall Billingslea, the U.S. Treasury’s Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing.Latvian echoThe allegations by Helme echo an earlier warning by a minister in Latvia that Russian citizens, including people subject to U.S. sanctions, had put money in Latvian banks, some of which may have been used for political manipulation.Three senior Latvian officials told Reuters last year that authorities investigated the movement of funds from Russia through a Latvian bank to support an attempted coup in 2016 in Montenegro. A Kremlin spokesman denied any such activity.Helme said Russian authorities had recently visited Estonia, which is home to a large Russian-speaking population and was once governed by Moscow.”They are here to find out what we know and use that information to better conceal their operations,” he said.
The Russian General Prosecutor’s Office did not respond to a request for comment.Russia’s central bank has revoked hundreds of bank licenses in recent years as part of efforts to strengthen the sector and fight money laundering.($1 = 0.9074 euros)

Erdogan Says Turkey Won’t Dispose of Russian S-400s

Turkey is willing to purchase U.S.-made Patriot air defense systems but will not agree to disposing of the Russian S-400 system it has already bought, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Thursday.Speaking to reporters on board his plane on his way back from a meeting with Donald Trump in Washington, Erdogan said the U.S. president was engaged in “sincere efforts” to resolve disputes between the NATO allies.Turkey took delivery of the Russian S-400 system this year, dismissing warnings from the United States that it poses a threat to NATO security.As a result, Washington suspended Turkish participation in the multinational F-35 fighter jet program.“We told them we can purchase the Patriots too. We regard the proposal to completely remove the S-400s (from Turkey) as meddling in our sovereign rights,” the state-run Anadolu Agency quoted Erdogan as saying. “There can be no question of us leaving the S-400s and turning toward the Patriots.”FILE – First parts of a Russian S-400 missile defense system are unloaded from a Russian plane near Ankara, Turkey, July 12, 2019.Erdogan said: “I want both America and Russia to be my friend. All our efforts are geared toward that.”The dispute over the competing air defense systems is one component of the tension between the two countries. Turkey has also come under fire in Washington for its incursion into Syria last month to drive away Syrian Kurdish forces that fought with the U.S. against the Islamic State.Turkey, meanwhile, is angry at the U.S. for supporting the Kurdish forces it views as a threat and for refusing to extradite a Muslim cleric it accuses of fomenting a 2016 coup attempt against Erdogan.Erdogan also told reporters that he had returned a letter that Trump sent on Oct. 9, urging Erdogan restraint over his plans for an offensive in Syria. Trump wrote: “Don’t be a tough guy. Don’t be a fool!”Opposition parties had decried the letter as an insult to Turkey, calling on Erdogan to send it back to Trump.Erdogan said Trump did not react when he handed him back the letter. 

GOP Senators Confronted Erdogan Over Video, Participants Say

A band of GOP senators rebuffed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s effort to depict anti-Islamic State Kurd forces as terrorists in a contentious Oval Office meeting, as the White House allies took a far harder line against Erdogan than did President Donald Trump.
Participants said Erdogan played a propaganda video for Republican senators attending Wednesday’s meeting, drawing a rebuke from Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham and others.
Graham said Thursday that he asked Erdogan, “do you want me to get the Kurds to play a video about what your forces have done?”
The lawmakers also told Erdogan that he is risking economic sanctions by going ahead with a new Russian anti-aircraft missile system.
The exchange behind the scenes was far more confrontational than the reception Trump gave Erdogan in public.

MH17 Investigators Release Phone Intercepts with Links to Russia

The Dutch-led team investigating the 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine has released new phone intercepts that it said includes recordings of Russian military commanders speaking with separatist fighters and a Kremlin official.The intercepts were released on November 14 as part of a new push by the Dutch team, known as the Joint Investigative Team (JIT), seeking new witnesses for the crash of MH17, which killed all 298 people on board.In June, Dutch prosecutors announced that three Russians and one Ukrainian would be put on trial in the Netherlands for their alleged involvement in the incident.In announcing the charges, prosecutors said there was evidence of a direct line of command between Russian officials and separatists who were fighting in eastern Ukraine and had announced the formation of an unrecognized government called the “Donetsk People’s Republic” (DNR).MH17 was flying between Amsterdam and Kuala Lumpur when it exploded and crashed in territory in eastern Ukraine held by pro-Russian fighters on July 17, 2014.The JIT has said that a sophisticated antiaircraft missile system known as a Buk was used in the attack, and that the weapon came from Russia.In a statement accompanying the release of the intercepts, the JIT said it was seeking more witnesses as prosecutors compile more evidence ahead of the trial of the four men, scheduled for March 2020.”Recent analysis of witness statements and other information revealed that Russian influence on the DPR went beyond military support and that the ties between Russian officials and DPR-leaders appear closer,” the team said.”The intensity of Russian influence is relevant to investigating further persons involved in the downing of MH17. That is why today the JIT releases this new appeal for witnesses,” the JIT said.In the intercepts, which were published on YouTube and date from July 2014, according to the JIT, several men can be heard discussing what appears to be a chain of command.In one, which the JIT said was placed at the beginning of July 2014, a man who appears to sound like a commander tells another that “men are coming with a mandate from Shoigu” — a reference to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.In another call dated March 2015, a man whom JIT identified as Leonid Zakharchenko, a military intelligence officer for the separatists, is heard discussing with another man about a third man’s potential legal problems.
The conversation repeatedly mentions the name Surkov — a reference to Vladislav Surkov, a top adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin.A spokesperson for the JIT did not immediately answer an e-mail from RFE/RL seeking further comment.Other prominent individuals that JIT said were mentioned in the intercepts include Igor Girkin, a top separatist commander in eastern Ukraine who was among the four charged by Dutch prosecutors, and Sergei Aksyonov, who became the Russian-appointed leader in Crimea after Moscow annexed the Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula in March 2014.