Monday, October 20, 2014

Belgrade freed from Nazi occupation 70 years ago

BELGRADE -- Belgrade was liberated from Nazi occupation on October 20 70 years ago, after four years of occupation that resulted in the death of around 40,000 people.

The operation to free the city was conducted jointly by the Yugoslav Partisans and the Soviet Red Army. They fought for each street and building from October 11 to 20.
However, the Belgrade operation, as one of the biggest and most important battles in the Balkans in World War Two, ended on October 22, with the liberation of the municipality of Zemun, which was at the time part of the Nazi puppet state dubbed the Independent State of Croatia (NDH).

Around 80,000 Yugoslav and Russian troops fought hard for 11 days against some 55,000 German troops of the Army Group Šumadija, commanded by General Hans Felber.

A total of 20,000 people died in the battle for Belgrade, 16,799 of which were German troops, while 8,739 were taken prisoner. The Partisan forces' 1st Army Group suffered 2,944 dead and around 4,000 wounded, while the Red Army's 4th Corps lost 961 troops.

Big Mac Attack

The New Cold War seems to be playing out in the fast food industry, as the Russian government seems determined to shut down McDonalds, one of the most recognizable images of the West.  Russian officials are citing health regulations, but like Mickie D's or not, they keep a pretty clean ship, offering tours to children on birthdays.

Russia has long used "food wars" as a way to send a message, and it is clear that this is the case in these closures.  The odd part is that Russia is only hurting itself, as McDonalds employs Russians and apparently gets 85 per cent of its supplies from local suppliers.  Given there are nearly 500 Mickie D's spread throughout Russia, that's a pretty big hit to the food industry in the country.

Enterprising Russians have tried to cash in on the burger appeal with burger joints of their own, but people go to Mickie D's because of its brand appeal.  At one time the Moscow McDonalds was the busiest in the world, but now is closed.

Friday, October 17, 2014

(Washington Post)  “Don’t be a fool, America,” goes one campy hit from just after the Soviet Union broke up. “Give us back the land of Alaska! Give us back our dear land!”

But since the annexation of Crimea this year, the idea of Russia pulling together old territories it once willingly sold or gifted away no longer seems so farfetched – which is giving the Alaska reclamation trope new life in social media, statements and song.

“From Alaska to the Kremlin!” an accordion player and well-known Russian singer belts in a song describing “My Homeland” that has gained well over a million views since being posted on YouTube in late September. (This version, with less hits, has English subtitles.)

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Putin receives Serbia's top state decoration

BELGRADE -- Serbian President Tomislav Nikolić has presented his visiting Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin with the Order of the Republic of Serbia of the First DEGREE.

Addressing him in Russian, Nikolić said: 

"Dear brother Vladimir, the Serb people are proud that you wear the highest Serbian order."

Putin expressed his gratitude, and added that he did not think he deserved the recognition with any great deeds: 

"I accept this decoration as a sign of respect and love that Serbia has for Russia and for the Russian people." 

Putin then said he wished to assure Serbia that relations between the two countries would develop in the future: 

"I wish to assure you that Russia, as it did in the past, will accept Serbia as a greatest ally and will do everything to further develop relations."

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Ukraine far right battles police at parliament in Kiev

(BBC)  Ukrainian nationalists have hurled smoke canisters and stones at riot police during clashes outside the parliament in Kiev.

Violence erupted when the protesters demanded that MPs pass a law to recognise a World War Two nationalist group which opposed Soviet forces.

Fifteen policemen were injured and at least 50 protesters had been arrested, the Ukrainian interior ministry said.
At least one petrol bomb was thrown at the parliament building in the unrest and there are unconfirmed reports that some bullets were fired.
Among the many Ukrainian flags in the crowd there were also flags of the far-right Svoboda and Right Sector groups. Both groups later denied that their supporters had been involved in the violence.

UPA members fought for Ukrainian independence in the war, but recognising their role is highly controversial, the BBC's David Stern reports from Kiev.

At times they were allied with the Nazis and are said to have carried out atrocities against civilians.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

FM: Serbia cannot find solution to cold war

BELGRADE -- Serbia is making resolute strides towards EU membership despite its refusal to impose sanctions on Russia, Foreign Minister Ivica Dačić has said.

"We are aware of our obligations and there are no disputes about them - the only thing that we do not agree on with the EU is the anti-Russian embargo, which we cannot support, just like we do not support Russia's embargo on EU food imports," Dačić said.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Ukraine adopts law to purge government officials

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine's president approved legislation Thursday to purge government bodies of officials linked to the rule of the country's previous leader, Viktor Yanukovych.

The law is aimed at restoring public trust in authorities and building "a new system of government in line with European standards," President Petro Poroshenko's office said in a statement.
The prime minister says around 1 million people could be affected by the law, which lays out the terms for checks on officials in national and local government. Government workers employed for at least one year during Yanukovych's four-year tenure could be barred from state service for a period of five to 10 years under the regulations.

Critics of Ukraine's law say the public nature of the purge amounts to a political witch hunt. Ukraine's top prosecutor has warned the legislation may be unconstitutional and lead to unforeseen circumstances.

Opponents of Poroshenko's government say firing leftovers of the Yanukovych era is an attempt at suppressing political opposition.

Monday, October 6, 2014

German Factory Orders Plunged In August, Stoking Fears Of European Economic Slowdown

(International Business Times)  German factory orders had their sharpest drop since 2009, Berlin’s Economy Ministry said Monday, erasing recent gains and adding to fears of a slowdown in Europe’s largest economy.
Orders from outside the euro zone fell 9.9 percent in August from July, orders from other countries in the euro zone fell by 5.7 percent, and domestic orders fell by 2 percent.

The “hesitant economic development” of the 18-nation euro zone and uncertainty introduced by “geopolitical events” weakened demand, the ministry said. The bloc of European countries is struggling to maintain economic momentum in a recovery while political tensions with Russia continue to escalate. International sanctions against Russia and a faltering Chinese economy have deteriorated business and investor sentiment in the euro area. Inflation in the region is at a five-year low, at 0.3 percent last month compared with the European Central Bank’s 2 percent target for price stability.

The European Union and the U.S. have imposed several economic sanctions against Russia over its involvement in the Ukraine crisis, and Moscow has retaliated by banning most food imports from the Western trade partners. Moscow is reportedly considering a ban on car imports and clothes from the West, which would hurt Germany’s Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz manufacturers among others leading the country's industrial output. If the dispute with Russia over the Ukraine crisis hits Germany’s economy harder in the third quarter than the second, the German economy could fall into recession.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Ukraine crisis: Brutal 'trash bucket challenges' spread

(BBC)  As Ukraine prepares for parliamentary elections at the end of the month, a series of so-called "trash bucket challenges" are spreading across the country.

Activists, many from the far right, are throwing politicians whom they say are corrupt into rubbish bins.

Some of them have been brutal, and one official was also severely beaten. Critics have called the actions mob justice, and ask what this means for the rule of law in Ukraine in the future.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Ukraine’s refugees in Russia are there to stay, in new twist for conflict

(Washington Post)  First the war in eastern Ukraine sent Anna Gurova’s family running to Russia. Now most of the residents on her old street have departed — and she said few of them plan to return, even if peace settles over the industrial region they once called home.

As Ukraine’s conflict settles into a calmer but still bloody rhythm, many of the war’s hundreds of thousands of refugees are rebuilding their lives elsewhere and giving up on a region that appears destined for permanent instability. Many have little intention of living in an area that is violently polarized between those who support Kiev and those who trust Moscow — especially now that the battle lines appear likely to be frozen in place, perhaps for years.
“There won't be peace anytime soon. How can you be at peace when your brothers come to shoot you?” she said, referring to the Ukrainian military forces that she blamed for the violence. Most of her friends from back home are now in Russia, she said, and they have fanned across the country’s vast territory. Some moved to Magadan, a Siberian city that was once central to Stalin’s penal system. Others are in Astrakhan, a city near the Caspian Sea.

The United Nations says that more than 1 million Ukrainians have been displaced by the fighting. Estimates of the number of people who have fled vary and frequently have been used to prove political points. Official Russian estimates fluctuate on of the number of Ukrainians who escaped the fighting into their country, but officials most recently have said that 875,000 people have fled and that about 300,000 of those have applied for temporary residence.
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