Danica Kirka & Angela Charlton: Paul D. Shinkman/The Associated Press:US News/Nov 19 & 20, 2018

In the World…

In the World…

Why critics worry about a Russian official running Interpol

By Danica Kirka and Angela Charl

ton/The Associated Press/Nov. 20, 2018

A financier and kremlin critic warned Tuesday that naming a top Russian police official to be president of Interpol would undermine the international law enforcement agency and politicize police cooperation across borders.

Bill Browder, who runs an investment fund that had once operated in Moscow, said Russian President Vladimir Putin has tried to use Interpol to hunt down critics and electing a Russian to lead the agency could intensify such efforts. The London-based businessman has campaigned for sanctions against Russian officials charged with human rights abuses after his former lawyer died in custody.

“If a Russian were to become head of Interpol I think that will put the organization in grave danger of being fully discredited… and particularly if the Russians then try to use this new person to chase after me after it’s already been established that Russia has abused Interpol several times before,” Browder told The Associated Press.

Interpol’s general assembly, meeting in Dubai, is expected to elect its new president on Wednesday. Alexander Prokopchuk, a general in the Russian Interior Ministry who is currently a vice president of Interpol, is the front-runner to become its next president.

Critics have long accused powerful governments of trying to use Interpol to pursue their political enemies.

Speaking to the BBC, Browder said: “You have a country, Russia, which has used chemical weapons in Salisbury, they’ve shot down a passenger plane in Ukraine, they’ve tried to hack elections all over the world, they’ve cheated in the Olympics and all of a sudden you’re going to take a Russian, a guy who’s basically taking instructions from Putin, and put him in charge.

Russia denies accusations of foreign interference, and announced new charges against Browder this week in a long-running legal battle against him.

Based in the French city of Lyon, Interpol is a clearinghouse for police agencies around the world, helping them cooperate outside their borders. It is best known for issuing red notices, or alerts that identify a suspect pursued by another country, effectively putting them on the world’s “most-wanted” list.

Interpol itself won’t comment on the upcoming vote. The Interpol presidency is more of a ceremonial position compared to the hands-on leadership role of the secretary-general. The president oversees the executive committee, which meets a few times a year and makes decisions on Interpol’s strategy and direction.

Interpol’s charter explicitly proclaims its neutrality, and two years ago it introduced measures aimed at strengthening the legal framework around the red notice system. As part of the changes, an international team of lawyers and experts first check a notice’s compliance with Interpol rules and regulations before it goes out.

But the potential of a Putin loyalist in such a prominent role has prompted concern among those critical of the Russian president’s leadership. Four U.S. senators, including Marco Rubio, have urged U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration to oppose the Prokopchuck candidacy.

Asked about the senators’ statement, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it amounted to meddling in the vote.

“It’s interference in the electoral process, in elections at an international body,” Peskove said. He refrained from further comment pending the outcome of the vote.

This in not the first time that Interpol’s votes are causing controversy.

Human rights groups raised the alarm two years ago when Interpol’s general assembly approved Meng Hongwei, a longtime senior Chinese security official, as president. Human Rights Watch warned that Meng’s election would “embolden and encourage abuses” in the Interpol system. Amnesty criticized “China’s longstanding practice of trying to use Interpol to arrest dissidents and refugees abroad.”

Meng is now under arrest in China as part of a possible domestic political purge – hence the vote this week to replace him.

Interpol’s general assembly is made up of member states, each of which has an equal vote. It also votes on membership such as Tuesday when they rejected admitting Kosovo. Interpol members voted last year to admit Palestine as a member, causing uproar in Israel.


 

Ukraine’s War With Russia Poised to Escaleate in Azov Sea

The foreign minister says Ukraine w ill not stand for the spike in provocative activity near the Crimean Peninsula in recent days

By Paul D. Shinkman/US News/Nov. 19, 2018

A dispute over shipping lanes is threatening to reignite the 4-year-old simmering war between Ukraine and Russia following confrontations sparked by both sides in recent days.

Russian border guards on Manday detained Ukrainian fishing vessels in the Sea of Azov, a strategically important body of water contained to the north by Ukraine, to the west by the Crimean Peninsula and to the east and south by Russia. Monday’s incident came days after Russian President Vladimir Putin slammed Kiev for detaining Russian commercial ships also in the Azov in what he described as “a totally illegal move” and which Kremlin officials have warned may prompt retaliation.

It’s a very deliberate attempt to raise the stakes,” Ukrainian Defense Minister Pavlo Klimkin said Saturday on the sidelines of an international security conference that took place here. “It’s about creeping annexation of the Azov Sea, but it’s also about Crimea.”

Crimea came under Russian control in 2014 through what Moscow says was a public referendum but what Kiev and its Western backers consider an illegal annexation. That same year, Russia began supporting separatists rebels in the eastern Ukrainian region known as Donbas. Klimkin estimates as many as 5,000 Russian forces and 1,500 tanks remain there.

Klimkin said the campaign in the Azov is designed to intimidate Ukraine and to disrupt its economic activities.

Twice last year, Russia shut off access to a key passageway to the Azov known as the Kerch Strait, and its ships have blocked ports in the Ukrainian towns of Berdyansk and Mariupol. The economic disruptions cost Ukraine as much as $40 million each year, according to an analysis by private intelligence firm Stratfor.

Kiev in 2016 filed a formal grievance to a tribunal in The Hague claiming that Russia’s actions violate the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. The proceedings are ongoing.

Both sides have indicated they’re willing to further militarize the region. Ukrainian Prime Minister Petro Poroshenko pledged in September to build a naval base in the Azov before the end of the year. Kiev also took possession of two U.S. Coast Guard Island-class cutters earlier this year.

Though it doesn’t have any permanent naval bases in the area, Russia has in recent months deployed at least 10 warships and 40 patrol boats to the Azov, Stratfor reports. Senior Russian political leaders have said they have no intentions of boosting the country’s military presence there.

It’s yet unclear how far the U.S. is willing to go in support for Ukraine. In a joint statement after Klimkin’s meeting with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last week, both sides “condemned Russia’s aggressive actions against international shipping transiting the Black Sea, the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait to Ukrainian ports” and agreed that “Russia’s aggressive activities in the Sea of Azov have brought new security, economic, social, and environmental threast to the entire Azov-Black Sea region.”

The U.S. has continued sanctions against Russia, as well as lethal arms shipments and training programs for Ukrainian forces in retaliation for what it considers destabilizing activity in and around the region. However it’s questionable – perhaps even doubtful – whether Washington would be willing to go to war with Russia over the former Soviet state.

Klimkin admits that the Ukrainian military is unmatched to take on Russia’s increasingly sophisticated armed forces, but adds that his country is willing to fight back.

“We are very decisive on defending our interests, and we can’t let the Russians take up control of the whole Azov Sea,” Klimkin said. “The Ukrainian army is not the same army like was the case five years ago. I believe we are prepared.”