Russia negotiates union with former Soviet states

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Updated 20 December 2012
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Russia negotiates union with former Soviet states

MOSCOW: Russia sought yesterday to expand its influence over former territories during integration talks that Washington has cast as a bid to “re-Sovietize” the region.
President Vladimir Putin met separately with the leaders of Belarus and Armenia before engaging the head of resource-rich Kazakhstan about ways to more closely bind the neighbors’ economies.
He also attended a collective security meeting that resolved to create a Moscow-led air defense unit that would focus its activities on the regions surrounding war-torn Afghanistan.
Western attempts “to force other nations to accept their own standards can lead to the most serious circumstances,” Putin said in a trademark swipe at the United States.
This is especially underscored by the “dramatic situation in North Africa and the Middle East,” Putin said.
Putin once called the Soviet Union’s demise one of the 20th century’s great calamities and has sought to stamp Moscow’s authority over its old holdings.
Two blocs have now emerged from Soviet ruins — a Customs Union with Belarus and Kazakhstan as well as an alliance called the Eurasian Economic Community that loosely groups seven other states.
The Kremlin is casting attempts to blur post-Soviet borders as only natural in a world beset by economic problems.
“Considering the current turbulence and unpredictability in the world of economics... (and) the whiff of crisis that is always around us, the only way to survive is by following the integration trend,” said Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
“So the processes taking shape in the post-Soviet landscape — to call this an attempt at Sovietization is to show a near-complete misunderstanding of what is going on,” Peskov told the state news channel Vesti.
But Washington — keen to maintain its own ties with nations in Central Asia that host key pipelines and some of the world’s biggest energy reserves — has been more than skeptical.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton infuriated Moscow by claiming that “there is an attempt to re-Sovietize the region.”
“We know what the goal is and we are trying to figure out effective ways to slow down or prevent it,” she said in Dublin before entering Dec. 6 talks with her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.
The unusually sharp comments came despite US efforts to win Moscow’s backing for a solution to the 21-month conflict in Syria.
Yesterday’s talks in Moscow had also been due to include Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych — a former backer of Putin who more recently tried to mend his nation’s bridges with the European Union.


Former guerilla set to be sworn in as East Timor leader

Updated 22 June 2018
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Former guerilla set to be sworn in as East Timor leader

DILI, East Timor: East Timor will swear in a new government led by former guerilla fighter Taur Matan Ruak Friday following a protracted political crisis that has paralyzed the tiny Southeast Asian nation.
Ruak will head the second government in less than a year in the impoverished half-island nation that won independence in 2002 after a brutal 24-year occupation by neighboring Indonesia.
Born Jose Maria Vasconcelos but universally known by his nom de guerre Taur Matan Ruak — which means “Two sharp eyes” — was a commander in the East Timorese resistance before becoming chief of the newly independent nation’s army.
He also served in the largely ceremonial role of president between 2012 and 2017.
Parliament was dissolved in January amid tensions between former prime minister Mari Alkatiri’s minority government and an opposition centered around independence hero Xanana Gusmao.
An alliance led by Gusmao clinched an absolute majority in elections held in May.
Ruak’s new government includes members of Gusmao’s National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction, the People’s Liberation Party and the youth-based Khunto.
The incoming administration will face big challenges, especially as the clock is ticking fast on East Timor’s disappearing oil and gas reserves.
The resources pay for the bulk of government spending but oil revenues are in steep decline and the country has few other productive economic sectors.
About 60 percent of East Timor’s population is under 25, according to the World Bank, while some 40 percent of its people live in poverty.
Providing jobs for young people and reining in public spending — especially on large infrastructure projects — will be key tasks for the new government, analysts say.