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Merkel recalls Putin, and Erdogan collects a flush royale from sanctioned countries

8-6-2022 |

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Reuters: South Korea and Japan - friendship against the DPRK

South Korea's tougher stance towards the North under its new conservative president will be welcomed by Tokyo as Japan seeks to boost its military capabilities amid rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula and more broadly in the region, analysts say.

South Korea and the United States this week fired missiles and staged a joint show of air strength in response to a barrage of short-range ballistic missiles launched by North Korea on Sunday.

Signs North Korea is preparing for another nuclear test and a resumption of joint South Korea-U.S. military drills help Japan justify its pursuit of becoming a normal military state, said Kim, a former South Korean Navy officer.

For decades, Japan has stuck to a policy of keeping defence spending within 1% of gross domestic product, countering concerns about any revival of the militarism that led the country into World War Two.

During U.S. President Joe Biden's visit to Tokyo last month, however, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida emphasised Tokyo's readiness to take a more robust defence posture, something Washington has long welcomed to counter an increasingly assertive and militarily capable China.

Corey Wallace, a Japanese politics and security expert at Kanagawa University, said while Japan is winning public support with its stronger defence policy, better relations with Seoul were a bonus.

"The Ukraine situation has galvanized public support for defence spending in ways the threat of China never did. Tokyo sees a window of opportunity to push on a door that was somewhat closed before," Wallace said.

About 72% of Japanese support stronger military defence, a poll of 1,060 respondents by Nippon Television Network and Yomiuri Newspaper on June 5 showed, and more than half wanted Japan to boost defence spending. Other recent surveys said most also expect better relations with South Korea under Yoon.

A stronger combined defence posture between South Korea and the United States towards North Korea will also help Japan focus more on keeping China in check, experts say.

The Guardian: No regrets over handling of Vladimir Putin, says Angela Merkel

“I would feel very bad if I had said: ‘There’s no point talking to that man [Putin]”, Merkel said in an onstage interview at the Berliner Ensemble theatre on Tuesday night – her first public appearance since leaving office half a year ago.


Photo: REUTERS/Annegret Hilse

“It is a great tragedy that it didn’t work, but I don’t blame myself for trying,” she added in an unusually frank answer from a politician who rarely spoke freely while in office.

Asked about whether she regretted opposing the US-led membership action plan for Ukraine and Georgia in 2008, Merkel said: “Ukraine was not the country that we know now. It was a Ukraine that was very split … even the reformist forces [Yulia] Tymoshenko and [Viktor] Yushchenko were very at odds. That means it was not a country whose democracy was inwardly strengthened.” She said Ukraine at the time was “ruled by oligarchs”.

From the Russian president’s perspective, “it was a declaration of war”. While she didn’t share Putin’s perspective, Merkel said she “knew how he thought” and “didn’t want to provoke it further”.

She claimed to have blocked Ukraine’s route to membership of the military alliance with the country’s best interests at heart.

“You cannot become a member of Nato from one day to the next,” Merkel said. “It’s a process, and during this process I knew Putin would have done something to Ukraine that would not have been good for it.”

The Minsk agreements of 2014 and 2015 were signed by then Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko to reach a political settlement in east Ukraine, but have since been criticised for forcing concessions while the country was militarily on the back foot.

Merkel defended the accords, saying they bought Ukraine time.

“It calmed down the matter and bought Ukraine time to develop into the country that it has become now.”

Merkel said she felt the geopolitical problems created by the collapse of the Soviet Union had been present throughout her 16 years in power. “It wasn’t possible to properly end the cold war … the Russia question always remained.”

“I didn’t believe that Putin could be changed through trade,” Merkel said. But she said her belief was that if political cooperation was impossible, it was sensible to at least have some economic connections with Moscow.

While Merkel condemned Russia’s war of aggression in clear terms, she also seemed to suggest some blame needed to be apportioned to the west.

“What happened is a great mistake on Russia’s behalf … an objective break with all rules of international law that allow us to coexist in Europe in peace. If we started to go through one century after another arguing which territory belongs to whom, then we would be at war non-stop.

“I don’t share the opinion of Mr Putin, to make that very clear. But we didn’t manage to create a security architecture that could have prevented this [war in Ukraine]. And we should think about that too.”

AP: Lavrov abandoned his dreams of Serbia and engaged in Ukrainian grain

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is due to hold talks Wednesday with Turkish officials on a plan that could allow Ukraine to export its grain through the Black Sea to global markets amid an escalating food crisis.

Ukraine is one of the world’s largest exporters of wheat, corn and sunflower oil, but the war and a Russian blockade of its ports have halted much of that flow, endangering food supplies to many developing countries. Many of those ports are now also heavily mined.

An estimated 22 million tons of grains are sitting in silos in Ukraine.

Turkey is involved in efforts for the establishment of a U.N.-led mechanism that would create a secure corridor for the shipment of the Ukrainian grain — and for Russia to export food and fertilizer. Turkey would facilitate and protect the transport of the grain in the Black Sea, Turkish officials have said.

A top Russian official said Tuesday that Ukraine needs to remove sea mines near its Black Sea port of Odesa to allow grain exports to resume.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Russian military would need to check commercial ships taking the grain to make sure they don’t carry weapons. He added that after they are loaded with grain, Russia would help escort the ships to international waters.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said Tuesday that technical details were still being worked out.

 Lavrov arrived in Turkey days after NATO members Bulgaria, North Macedonia and Montenegro reportedly refused to allow his plane to fly through their airspace to reach Serbia. Lavrov’s plane was able to fly directly to Turkey over the Black Sea.

Lavrov’s discussions in the Turkish capital are also expected to focus on Turkey’s plans to launch a new cross-border offensive in northern Syria against Syrian Kurdish militia that Ankara considers to be a security threat.

Turkey needs Moscow’s approval to continue its presence in northern Syria, despite the two supporting opposite sides in Syria’s civil war. In 2020, 37 Turkish soldiers were killed in Russia-backed airstrikes against rebels in Syria’s last rebel-held Idlib province.

Lavrov’s meeting also comes as Turkey — a NATO member — has voiced opposition to Sweden and Finland’s bids to join the alliance. Moscow has also objected to the Nordic countries’ candidacy — which analyst say may play a role in discussions concerning Syria.

Turkey has maintained its close ties to both Ukraine and Russia. It has criticized Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but hasn’t joined international sanctions against Russia.

France24: All the flags will be visiting us (if no one else welcome them)

Erdogan seems to have decided to open the doors to all the pariahs of the Western political arena. In addition to Russia's representative Sergey Lavrov, Turkey welcomed Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Tuesday.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro arrived in Turkey on Tuesday for an official visit as other Latin American leaders gathered for a summit in Los Angeles, to which the United States did not invite him.

The VTV state channel showed footage of Maduro arriving at the airport in Ankara, where he was received by senior officials of Turkey, an important ally of Venezuela.

"I am delighted to start this international tour, in the lands of the sister Turkish nation," Maduro wrote on Twitter.

"I appreciate the warm welcome and affection they have shown us. I am sure that we will consolidate the ties of union and cooperation between our peoples."

Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba were not invited to a week-long Summit of the Americas, hosted by Washington. Mexico's president skipped the event in protest at the exclusion of the three countries' leaders.

Leaders of the so-called Northern Triangle of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras were also absent, even though illegal migration from the region is expected to be a key talking point.

Maduro arrived in Turkey hours after Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov of Russia, another ally. It was not known if Maduro and Lavrov would meet, but the Venezuelan leader is to be received by his counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, according to the Turkish presidency.


Photo: AP/ARIANA CUBILLOS

"All aspects of Turkey-Venezuela relations will be reviewed and steps to enhance the relations will be discussed," a presidency statement said.

Turkey is a friend of Venezuela, which sought to reinforce ties with countries such as China, Iran and Russia after US sanctions against the Maduro government.

Picked and squeezed for you: Irina Iakovleva