Ukraine plans NATO referendum… but alliance reportedly shuns missile shield talks with Kiev

Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko says he intends to hold a referendum on NATO membership, while the alliance is said to have shelved planned talks on Ukraine’s missile defense over fears these could worsen relations with Russia.

“Four years ago, just 16 percent [of Ukrainians] advocated NATO membership for Ukraine. Now it is 54 percent,” Poroshenko said in an interview with German newspaper Berliner Morgenpost, on Thursday.

“As president, I will act in accordance with the opinion of my people – and will hold a popular vote on the issue of NATO membership. And if Ukrainians vote for it, I will do everything to secure our membership in the alliance,” Poroshenko said, adding that in his opinion the alliance “is indispensable” and “the only functioning organization of collective security” in the world to date.

Meanwhile, NATO itself might not be so keen on strengthening ties with Ukraine. According to a new  by the Wall Street Journal, the alliance has recently postponed a planned meeting with Ukrainian officials regarding , allegedly to avoid provoking Russia.

“There is some political sensitivity in the engagement of Ukraine because obviously that could fuel an overreaction by the Russians,” an unnamed NATO diplomat told the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday.

NATO was considering meeting with Ukraine – as it has done in the past with Japan and European partners – to discuss the possibility of debris or an errant interceptor falling on the country’s territory, were the alliance to use its missile defense system stationed in nearby Romania.

According to NATO officials, the bloc intends to use the system only to defend the allied nations and does not plan to intercept missiles headed to Ukraine. The NATO diplomat cited by the Wall Street Journal said the decision to put off talks does not preclude future discussions on the issue with Ukraine, although the bloc intends to move cautiously to avoid irking Russia. 

NATO’s missile defense system in Romania consists of a radar and a number of interceptors on land and at sea. It came under NATO full control last year, with officials repeatedly stressing that the system is solely designed for defense, mostly to intercept any ballistic missiles potentially fired from Iran.

However, Moscow has viewed statements of this kind with suspicion, urging NATO to agree on limits to its missile shield, which set up dangerously close to Russia’s borders.

According to the WSJ, officials familiar with internal NATO discussions claimed that as relations with Moscow were already tense, the move to discuss missile defense with Ukraine – Russia’s immediate neighbor – could be misunderstood.

Reports contradicting the WSJ’s claims have also emerged.

We did not cancel any negotiations with any country whatsoever,” an anonymous alliance official told RIA Novosti.

We will continue to exchange information, consult and cooperate with our neighbors and partners, as and when necessary, doing it gradually and in stages.”

According to the official, “with regard to NATO missile defense, [we] recognize and respect the interests of other countries. […] In recent years we have been discussing missile defense with our partners, and we continue to work with them on this issue.”

Apart from NATO broadening its missile defense, the alliance and Russia have been increasingly at odds over the bloc’s general military buildup in Europe. In the latest move, US troops and heavy weapons began arriving last month in Europe as part of ‘Operation Atlantic Resolve’, a mission designed to curtail a perceived ‘Russian threat’ to Europe. Eighty-seven US battle tanks, 144 Bradley fighting vehicles, and 3,500 soldiers arrived near Russia’s borders as part of the buildup agreed upon at the alliance’s summit in Warsaw last July. NATO has also been holding military drills ever closer to Russian territory, most recently in Poland and Lithuania.

This policy towards Moscow, repeatedly slammed by Russia as a threat to the country’s national security, has been growing in scale since Crimea voted to split from Ukraine and rejoin Russia in a referendum in the wake of the Ukrainian coup in 2014. NATO supported Ukraine's coup-instated government over the issue, and still considers the Crimea transition an annexation. Furthermore, NATO and EU countries also imposed an array of economic sanctions on Russia’s banking, energy and defense sectors, to punish Moscow for the Crimea transition and its alleged, but never proven, support of the anti-government rebels in east Ukraine. These were recently extended for another six months, despite negative reactions from Italy and France. 

In his interview with Berliner Morgenpost, Ukraine’s President Poroshenko urged for sanctions to remain in place, as they are allegedly the only thing keeping “Russian aggression” at bay.

Do you know who wants the lifting of the sanctions most? President Poroshenko. But before that, Russia must withdraw all its troops from our territory so that Ukraine can restore its territorial integrity and sovereignty. A premature loosening of the sanctions would strengthen the Russian aggression against Ukraine – putting Europe at risk. Who knows where Putin would next want to help a Russian minority? In the Baltics? In Bulgaria? Or maybe in Germany?

@RT_com Anti-Russian sanctions cost Western countries over $60bn - research

Photo published for Anti-Russian sanctions cost Western countries over $60bn - research — RT Business

Anti-Russian sanctions cost Western countries over $60bn - research — RT Business

Countries that backed sanctions against Russia have suffered significant export losses with products targeted by the Russian embargo accounting for only a small fraction of the loss, according to

“The sanctions work. Russia pays a high price for its aggression. The standard of living has fallen considerably, the Russian currency is losing its value. It is the sanctions that will keep Putin at the negotiating table and will force him to fully implement the Minsk Accords,” Poroshenko said. 

Recent studies show however that sanctions against Russia have backfired, affecting instead the countries that supported them. In addition, according to Russian President Vladimir Putin, the rift created by anti-Russian sanctions has severely affected cooperation in battling other crucial crises, including international terrorism – “driv[ing] apart states” and preventing international partners “from joining forces in combating a common evil.

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Int’l investigators allowed Ukraine to fabricate MH17 evidence – Russia

The Russian Foreign Ministry has said that investigators probing the MH17 crash allowed Ukraine to fabricate evidence, turning the case to its advantage, while denying Moscow any comprehensive role in the inquiry.

“Russia suggested working together from the start and relying on the facts only,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said in a statement for the media on Wednesday, commenting on the findings in the criminal probe into the MH17 crash by a Dutch-led team of international investigators.

“Instead of [working together], international investigators suspended Moscow from comprehensive participation in the investigative process, allowing our efforts only a minor role. It sounds like a bad joke, but at the same time they made Ukraine a full member of the JIT [Joint Investigation Team], giving it the opportunity to forge evidence and turn the case to its advantage,” Zakharova added.

The spokesperson also noted that the JIT bases its findings on evidence provided by Ukrainian power structures, which are “undoubtedly a party with a vested interest.”

“To this day, the investigators continue to ignore the overwhelming evidence provided by the Russian side, despite the fact that Russia is the only side that submits accurate information and constantly discloses new data,” Zakharova said.

“Russia is disappointed that the situation surrounding the investigation into the Boeing crash is not changing. The findings of the Dutch prosecutor's office confirm that the investigation is biased and politically motivated.

"To arbitrarily designate a guilty party and dream up the desired results has become the norm for our Western colleagues," the spokesperson said.

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Obama, Putin meet on G20 sidelines over Syria, Ukraine

HANGZHOU, China, Sept. 5 (Xinhua) -- U.S. President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, discussed the Syria and Ukraine issues at a meeting here Monday on the sidelines of the 11th Group of 20 summit.

The meeting, which lasted more than an hour, was "longer than planned, "Russian media quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying.

The two leaders discussed Syria and Ukraine before moving on to a one-on-one talk, Peskov said, noting that the meeting went well.

Putin said at a press conference after the meeting that he and Obama had "some alignment" of positions and an understanding of what they could do to de-escalate the situation in Syria.

It can be said that Russia-U.S. efforts in fighting terrorist organizations, including those in Syria, would be significantly improved and intensified, he added.

Both countries are interested in fighting terrorism, Putin said, adding that "the U.S. president is absolutely sincere in striving for a resolution of the Syrian conflict."

Meanwhile, Obama called the meeting "constructive" but not "conclusive."

"Typically the tones of our meetings are candid, blunt, business-like and this one was no different," he said at a separate press conference following the meeting.

However, he said that given the gaps of trust that exist, that's a tough negotiation.

"We haven't yet closed the gaps in a way where we think it would actually work," Obama said.

Earlier Monday, a senior Obama administration official was quoted as saying that the two presidents failed to force a breakthrough in negotiations over a cease-fire in Syria, but have agreed to keep up negotiations.

The two leaders directed their top diplomats to return to talks quickly, likely later this week, the official said.

The United States and Russia have been trying to reach a deal over the Syria crisis. Obama said Sunday that the two sides still have "grave differences," but there is still possibility "to make some progress."

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who met in this eastern Chinese city on Sunday for Syria talks, launched a fresh round of negotiations on Monday morning, but ended without agreement, U.S. media reported.

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‘Threat of 2nd Chernobyl’: Kiev’s new nuclear project puts Europe at risk, Greens warn

The construction of a spent nuclear fuel storage facility in Ukraine poses “significant safety risks for the whole of Europe” because of numerous rule and standards violations, Ukrainian environmentalists warn.

The Ukrainian Greens Association, a non-profit environmentalist organization, listed the risks in a statement released on Monday.

“We are deeply concerned about plans to build a spent nuclear fuel storage in the upper reaches of the Dnepr River close to densely populated places,” the statement said, citing a speech made by the association’s spokeswoman, Anna Rak, at the first Nuclear Energy Policy Forum in Brussels on June 30.

Rak also emphasized that the government plans “to secretly fast-track the construction of a surface dry, spent nuclear fuel storage system… close to the Dnepr river,” ignoring basic safety standards and “creating the threat of a second Chernobyl.”

Ukraine’s Greens stressed that the decision to build the facility just 70 kilometers away from the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, in Chernobyl’s exclusion zone, was taken “without a proper environmental impact assessment and public consultation with the [local] residents.”

They also warned that the contractor for the project, Holtec International, actually lacks sufficient experience while the technology it plans to use in construction has never been tested or tried in any other country.

The association added that the procedure of choosing the contractor was “neither transparent nor open,” warning that Ukraine may once again become a subject to “unpredictable and dangerous nuclear experiments,” apparently referring to the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

The organization demanded that Ukrainian authorities “ensure that the project complies with all international rules and standards before the construction is launched” and emphasized that the residents of the Kiev region have “an unconditional right” to get all relevant information about the project and to take part in the discussion concerning its construction.

The Ukrainian Greens Association also urged the European Commission, the European Parliament and international environmental bodies to carry out an “independent environmental assessment of the project.”

The warning for the Ukrainian Greens came just as the Ukrainian Energy Minister Igor Nasalik confirmed that the government secured a $260 million loan to finance the construction project.

The move also comes amid mounting concerns about the future of the European nuclear energy sector as over about 45 percent of current nuclear plants are expected to go offline in the next 10 years.

As Europe is sluggish with its large-scale projects, further slowed down by engineering, construction and financial woes, two meetings in Paris and Brussels were organized in June by the New Nuclear Watch Europe (NNWE) advocacy group to discuss he hottest issues impeding progress in the nuclear sector – costs and hazards.

All participants agreed on the necessity to develop a common continental standard on spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste management, with the case of Ukraine in particular appearing to emphasize this necessity.

Paris also held the World Nuclear Exhibition (WNE), where leading energy companies discussed the matter, shortly before the NNWE meetings were held.

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