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UK PM Theresa May removes Minister Priti Patel over secret talks with Israel

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Theresa May is facing a second cabinet reshuffle in a week, as she comes under pressure to say what the Foreign Office knew of Indian origin Priti Patel’s visit to Israel.  Ms Patel resigned as international development secretary on Wednesday after holding a series of unauthorised meetings with Israeli officials.

In a letter to the PM, she said she had lacked “transparency and openness”. However, Labour has called on Mrs May to reveal as to when government officials knew about the undisclosed meetings. Ms Patel admitted unauthorised meetings with Israeli officials had “lacked transparency”.

Priti Patel has resigned as international development secretary following controversy over her meetings with Israeli officials.  The BBC’s Diplomatic Correspondent, James Landale, explains how a family holiday went terribly wrong for her.

The row began last week, when the BBC revealed Ms Patel arranged a number of private meetings with business and political figures during a family holiday to Israel in August. After the visit, she asked her officials to look into whether Britain could support humanitarian operations conducted by the Israeli army in the occupied Golan Heights area. But Foreign Office officials strongly advised against this as the need for humanitarian aid was greater elsewhere and giving aid to the military broke aid rules, BBC diplomatic correspondent James Landale said.

Ms Patel resigned having been told by the prime minister to return from an official trip in Africa and report to Downing Street. It is the second cabinet resignation in the space of seven days, after Sir Michael Fallon quit as defence secretary last week. He was replaced by Gavin Williamson, as Mrs May adjusted her government team.

Ms Patel, who has served as the Tory MP for Witham in Essex since 2010, was formally reprimanded in Downing Street on Monday. She was asked to give details about the meetings, which were not sanctioned by the Foreign Office, and to correct information she initially gave when details of the meetings were published. It later emerged that she had held two further meetings in September with Israeli public security minister Gilad Erdan in Westminster and Israeli foreign ministry official Yuval Rotem in New York – again without government officials present.

Ms Patel’s difficulties began last week, when the BBC revealed she had arranged a number of meetings with business and political figures during a family holiday to Israel in August, without telling Downing Street or the Foreign Office. It later emerged that after Ms Patel’s visit to Israel, she asked her officials to look into whether Britain could support humanitarian operations conducted by the Israeli army in the occupied Golan Heights area.

A replacement for Ms Patel, who was a key figure in the Vote Leave campaign, was expected to be announced on Thursday, with a lot of attention on whether or not it goes to a Brexiteer.

Penny Mordaunt has been promoted to the cabinet as the new International Development Secretary, following the resignation of Priti Patel. Like Ms Patel, Ms Mordaunt was among Conservatives who backed Leave during the EU Referendum campaign. The former work and pensions minister, 44, has now left Downing Street and arrived at her new department.

It was the second cabinet resignation in a week. Last week Gavin Williamson replaced Sir Michael Fallon as defence secretary, after he quit saying his conduct had “fallen short” of the required standards after allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior.

Ms Mordaunt, MP for Portsmouth North, is a Royal Navy reservist and was appointed as the first female minister for the Armed Forces in 2015. It had been thought she was in the running to replace Sir Michael last week. She did not comment as she arrived at the Department for International Development on Thursday afternoon.

First elected to the Commons in 2010 she had been minister for disabled people in the Department for Work and Pensions until her promotion. She is also known for appearing on the reality TV programme Splash! in 2014.

As International Development Secretary she will be in charge of the UK’s £13bn foreign aid budget.Ms Mordaunt would be a popular appointment within the party. She would keep the balance within the cabinet when it came to Brexit – in terms of the numbers of ministers who supported Leave or Remain during the referendum – as well as preserving the gender balance, an issue which Theresa May was concerned about.

Former Culture Secretary John Whittingdale told the BBC: “I think it’s a good appointment. Penny is somebody who has a lot of experience, she has worked in an international department before – as armed forces minister, I have no doubt she will do an excellent job.”  Her Labour shadow Kate Osamor congratulated Ms Mordaunt on her appointment and said she “faces an immediate challenge of restoring integrity to British international development policy after the actions of Priti Patel”.

That means she must unequivocally commit to the spirit, as well as the letter, of Britain’s pledge to spend 0.7 per cent of national income on international development, and face down those in her party who want to merge DFID into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Asked if Ms Patel had been foolish or had made a concerted attempt at freelance foreign policy, the BBC’s James Landale said: “I think it’s pretty clear that the view within the government is there was an attempt to try to shape British policy within the Middle East.”

Labor Party has now called on the government to set out what Foreign Office officials knew of the meetings. Writing to PM Mrs May, Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson said: “I have been informed that while she was in Israel, Ms Patel met officials from the British consulate general Jerusalem, but that the fact of this meeting has not been made public,” he wrote. “If this were the case, then it would surely be impossible to sustain the claim that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office was not aware of Ms Patel’s presence in Israel.” He added: “The existence of such a meeting or meetings would call into question the official account of Ms Patel’s behavior, and the purpose of her visit.”

Middle East minister Alistair Burt told MPs on Tuesday that Foreign Office officials in Israel were made aware of Ms Patel’s visit on 24 August and it was likely that her meetings had taken place beforehand.

Ms Patel was accused of breaching the ministerial code – which sets out the standards of conduct expected of government ministers. In her resignation letter, Ms Patel said: “While my actions were meant with the best of intentions, my actions also fell below the standards of transparency and openness that I have promoted and advocated. “I offer a fulsome apology to you and to the government for what has happened and offer my resignation.”

In her reply, Mrs May said: ”As you know the UK and Israel are close allies, and it is right that we should work closely together. But that must be done formally, and through official channels. ”That is why, when we met on Monday I was glad to accept your apology and welcomed your clarification about your trip to Israel over the summer.  “Now that further details have come to light it is right you have decided to resign.”

Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg suggested disgruntled Remainers could be behind the leak that led to the downfall of Ms Patel, who is a prominent Brexiteer. He said that some people were “still very bitter” about the referendum result and “inevitably that colors their behavior”.

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Ethnic tensions in Montenegro

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On Sunday, July 7, the citizens of Montenegro had the opportunity to witness another incident, that is, the open provocation of radical Albanian elements in Montenegro. Traditionally, on the feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, in Svac, near Ulcinj (a town on the southern coast of Montenegro) liturgy is served at the ruins of a 1, 000 year-old medieval church.

The Metropolitanate of Montenegro and the Littoral held this year the liturgy in Svac, but at the entrance to the locality, where the ancient church is located. As the Montenegrin police, at the request of Albanian politicians, did not allow the liturgy service in the church. At the gathering, strong police forces were present, especially on the entry to the site.

Priest Slobodan Zekovic, who served the liturgy, stated:

“We are no strangers here, we come here for decades. We come here on the foundations of our statehood and spirituality. With a single goal, not to forget our holy ancestors, aware of the graves that are here. I am sending the blessing of Metropolitan Amfilohije, who was supposed to bring the hand of St. John the Baptist. But, due to tensions, that will be done next yеаr. The President of the municipality said that the access to the site has been banned until December, because archaeological research is being done“.

However, last year also there were tensions in Svac. Then, about ten local Albanians blocked the road, so that Metropolitan of Montenegro and Littoral Amfilohije and the believers of the Serbian Orthodox Church could not come to Svac. The leader of this group was Hadzija Sulejmani, a member of the Ulcinj Assembly and a member of the Democratic Party of Albanians. Sulejmani tried to explain his shameful act by saying that the church has never been an Orthodox holy place, and that he, as a Muslim and a representative of the Ulcinj municipality, does not allow access to the church.

Everything becomes much clearer after seeing a monument that the local Albanian politicians set up in 2005 in the form of a memorial plaque, which says: “In the name of our ancestors Illyrians who founded this ancient town of Svac as the legacy of our Albanian culture …” In other words, then the Albanians marked their territory and now slowly begin with violent means to “defend” it.

History is clear about the Svac. The city of Svac has never been the city of Illyrians, and especially not the city of Albanians. In 2012, the Ministry of Culture of Montenegro started exploring Svac. The research team, led by archaeologist Mladen Zagarcanin, discovered Serbian and Roman pottery in the same layer, which clearly shows the centuries-long presence of Serbs in that area. Stefan Nemanja, the Serbian Grand Prince (Veliki Župan), merged Svac to Serbian Grand Principality (also known as Raška, lat. Rascia) in 1183. When the Mongol hordes in 1242 conquered and demolished the city of Svac, it was restored by the Serbian queen Jelena, the wife of King Uros, who lived in Ulcinj at the time. For architectural decoration, the painters and masters are brought from Serbian Grand Principality Raška (lat. Rascia) . The remains of the Church of St. John are still visible in the city today, where still writes that it was built in 1300. In 1571, the town of Svač was completely destroyed by the Turks. However, what is important to mention is that the Albanians took part in the destruction of the Svac, together with the Turks. So today we have come to a crazy situation that the people who ruined Svac, and that’s the Albanians, want to acquire the historical heritage of that medieval city. In a doctoral dissertation “The influence of the Austro-Hungarian Empire on the creation of the Albanian nation”, Bulgarian historian Teodora Toleva, who studied the Vienna imperial archive, writes:

”After thorough studying of the archives we may claim that at the beginning of the 20th century the Albanian population did not still represent a formed nation. The ethnical groups in Albania live isolated; they do not have connections between themselves, except when fighting. The possibilities for their convergence were practically nonexistent; murders are common, even for the people from the clan. There were two basic dialects in the country that were so different that people could hardly understand each other. There was no unique literary language, but more than twenty different manners of writing in local dialects. The coefficient of literacy did not even exceed 2%. The population belonged to three religious confessions – Muslims, Orthodox and Catholics. The Albanians did not have national awareness, they did not have general interests, they did not express solidarity and they did not develop in the direction of waking the national feeling. Hence, at the beginning of the 20th century there was no Albanian nation.” Toleva also noted that:

“At a time when Vienna decides to implement a new plan for Albania, there are about twenty different transcripts of Albanian dialects. Three are basic: one uses the Arabic letters, the other is Cyrillic, the third is Latin. ” Official Vienna also had a decisive influence on the unification of the Albanian language. A letter that the Albanians still use today was accepted at a congress in Bitola in 1908. The decisive role was played by the Austro-Hungarian consul Karl. Grammar, literary books, history books, all printed in Vienna. The promotion of the Albanian language was carried out at every step. The reason why Austro-Hungary did all this was Serbia, which was then the main enemy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Through the creation of the Albanian nation, the Austro-Hungarian Empire wanted to weaken Serbia. And,  they did it.

Today, the Austro-Hungarian Empire policy has been taken over, dominantly by the United States and United Kingdom, but also from some other Western states.  The main goal is to create Greater Albania. Recently, the self-proclaimed Kosovo and Albania decided to implement a common foreign policy. Unlike the West, which supports that unlawful act, which raises tensions in the Balkans, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned that act.

“The provocative steps of Tirana and Pristina, which are in line with the realization of the concept of ‘Greater Albania’, cause serious concern. In this context we see the signature on July 2, the Albanian-Kosovo agreement on unification of diplomatic missions in third countries. We note that the US and EU prefer not to respond to such destructive measures and to effectively cover the ‘Greater Albanian events’ that are destructive for the region “, stated Russian Foreign Ministry.

In accordance with the support from the West, political representatives of Albanians in Montenegro every day behave more and more insolently. The current Montenegrin authorities do nothing to make Albanian politicians know that they have to respect the laws of Montenegro. While Serbs in Montenegro are strictly forbidden to display Serbian flags, Albanians in the places where they are majority display Albania’s national flag. Albanians every day show more clearly that Greater Albania is the only thing that would satisfy their national interests. The recent event that happened in Svac is something that previously could be seen in Kosovo and Macedonia. Therefore, now, while the fire is still weak, it is necessary to extinguish it. Otherwise, the Greater Albania’s fire can swallow both Ulcinj and other parts of Montenegro.

 From our partner International Affairs

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New “executive branch” of EU and Russia: EU hostile, but not united

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The recent decision by the European Council to nominate Ursula von der Leyen of Germany for the post of European Commission Chairperson and Christine Lagarde of France for President of the European Central Bank has caused many eyebrows to raise. Nevertheless, since this “feminist” set of candidates will surely receive the approval of the European Parliament, it’s these people that Russia will have to deal with. (Nominees for the posts of European policy chief  and president of European Council – Josep Borrell of Spain, and Charles Micheln of Belgium – became less of a surprise: their victory in the European Parliament is a sure thing too.)

Significantly, both the “prime minister” and the “foreign minister” from the European Union’s new team have been spotted making outrageously averse remarks regarding Russia. Ursula von der Leyen, holding the post of Minister of Defense of the Federal Republic of Germany, said less than a year ago that one ought to speak with Russia from a position of strength. In response, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu advised Ms. von der Leyen and other Germans to ask their grandfathers what happens when Germans try to speak with Russia from a position of strength. Josep Borrell, speaking in an interview with the Spanish El Periodico, described Russia as “an old enemy” of Spain and Europe that is somewhat  “posing a threat again,” whereas China, in his words, is but a “rival”.

The Russian Foreign Ministry reacted by demanding that Borrell account for these words, which clearly do not fit into the framework of friendly relations between Russia and Spain. The EU’s foreign policy chief-to-be came out of this situation with an elephantlike grace, chiding the Russian Foreign Ministry for “excessive” reaction and explaining his position by saying the following: “I said that Europe’s old defender – the United States – is no longer defending it, causing the rise of Europe’s former rival – the USSR “. Thus, the European diplomat has managed to strengthen a prejudice-based lie (about Russia as an enemy) with another (about the notorious “attempts by Putin to restore the USSR”). And there is a third lie – a hint at the now dishonored theory of a conspiracy between Trump and Russia. For someone  burdened with the responsibilities of the head of European diplomacy, there seem to be too many prejudices and stereotypes. In all likelihood, these new representatives of the EU will not be easy to deal with.

Nevertheless, the near victory of von der Leyen and the removal from the race of the Dutch socialist Frans Timmermans, and representative of the European People’s Party (i.e.”Democratic Christian”) Manfred Weber of Bavaria, speaks of serious differences, bordering on hatred, within the EU. After all, it’s these two nominees (plus Danish liberal Margrethe Vestager, who served as European Commissioner for Competition) that were considered favorites for the post of  European Commission chief right up to the G20 summit in Osaka. Chancellor Angela Merkel, who openly supported Weber’s candidacy and wanted the job of European Central Bank chief for the current head of the German Central Bank, Jens Weidmann, appears to be on the losing side, given the current layout of forces. Even such a well-informed player in European affairs as George Soros, predicted on the platform of the globalist Project Syndicate that in the event of Weber’s “failure” to head the European Commission, Merkel’s ambitions would be offset by the appointment of Jens Weidman. But this just didn’t happen: the EU’s top finance position went to Christine Lagarde.

Why did the options planned for so many weeks for the above mentioned candidates, which cannot be seen as 100% losers (Timmermans will remain vice-chairman of the European Commission, and Weber is set to become chairman of the European Parliament) were dropped?

The European Union makes it no secret that countries of the “Visegrad group”, first of all, Poland and Hungary, came out against Timmermans. And this is no wonder: it was Timmermans, as vice-president of the European Commission, who “oversaw” Poland’s punishment for its “sins against democracy” and has called for sanctions against Warsaw if it does not abandon so unwelcome for the EU judicial reform. As for Hungary, Timmermans was as harsh with its Prime Minister Viktor Orban. As a result, even Andrei Babis, the Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, which did not have time, unlike Poland and Hungary, to experience the negative rhetoric of Timmermans, said bluntly: “Timmermans is not the person who can unite Europe.”

As it happens, by voting against Timmermans, the current Polish leadership took revenge for their own failure last year, when they made an attempt to remove Donald Tusk, former Polish prime minister considered to be EU-loyal political opponent of the current ruling party in Poland, “Law and Justice”.

Thus, the current choice of candidates has become a sign of ever increasing instability and unpredictability of the European Union, including in its relations with Russia. In my opinion, two trends are gaining strength at the same time. Firstly, the selection of candidates for top jobs in the European “mainstream” is based, among other things, on the principle “who speaks harshiest of Russia will win” ( this guaranteed success of von der Leyen and Borrell). Secondly, as Eastern European countries are slowly gaining weight, their attitude towards Russia ranges from hostile ( Poland and the Baltic States) to neutral and conciliatory ( Hungarian Prime Minister Orban).

The Orban factor, according to a variety of reports, became a key one for “not supporting” Manfred Weber’s candidacy on the part of France, which eventually led Weber to defeat. President Macron did not conceal his discontent with the fact that Weber, as head of the European People’s Party faction in the European Parliament, did not exclude Viktor Orban and his party Fides from this faction.

The French newspaper Le Monde carries detailed reports on the issue. For the French president, who deems Orban, along with Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini,  his personal enemies over disagreements on migration issues, any means will do to fight against the Hungarian politician. Le Monde carries reports about Macron’s attempts to cut down EU payments to the Hungarian budget due to Hungary’s unwillingness to bear its share of the migration burden on the EU. And although Macron has not succeeded in these attempts,  the battle between the “progressists” (Macron) and the “traditionalists” (Orban and the Visegrad Group, which is behind him) is driving the main wedge into the European Union, including its position towards  Russia. Both the elections to the European Parliament and the differences over the candidacies for the “executive branch” of the European Union have clearly demonstrated this. 

From our partner International Affairs

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North Macedonia and Albania not allowed even in EU “waiting room”

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The recent decision by an EU summit to postpone until October the solution on welcoming in Albania and Northern Macedonia as new members marks yet another setback for the European Union, which testifies to lack of unity among its members. Both Albania and Northern Macedonia have done all they could in the past few years to prove their loyalty to NATO and the West with a view to secure early admission to the European Union. Albania has joined NATO and supports Kosovo separatists, while the former Yugoslav regional capital Skopje chose to change the name of its country from Macedonia to Northern Macedonia, despite the unconvincing results of the de facto failed referendum on this issue in February this year. All these efforts were not rewarded, not even by a formal announcement on the start of the membership talks.

The matter is that European capitals make no secret of the reasons for such a postponement: the parliaments of Germany and the Netherlands opposed the entry of Macedonia, and Albania in particular. These parliaments have thereby refused to implement the recommendations of the European Commission of May 29 which advised member states to speed up the process of welcoming new members into the Union from countries of Western Balkans.

Instead of information on the beginning of the negotiations, Macedonia and Albania received a humiliating communiqué of the European Council, calling on these “hopefuls” of the EU membership to do more to secure the rule of law, strengthen democratic institutions, etc.

Macedonians and Albanians feel deceived also because the EU’s Commissioner for Enlargement, Johannes Khan, promised last year that membership negotiations would begin in June 2019 if both countries carried out reforms of their judiciaries and security services.

Albanian Prime Minister Edie Rama said that his country has fulfilled the reforms required by Brussels and that Tirana has thus earned the right to enter admission negotiations.

“I want to say that the European Union should proceed from geostrategic and geopolitical considerations, and it also should take into account the achievements of candidate countries,” – Prime Minister Rama was quoted as saying on June 11, 2019. “If candidate countries deserve to be admitted, the European Union should not deny them this right.”

The Prime Minister of Northern Macedonia, Zoran Zaev, went as far as stating that postponement of negotiations on his country’s accession to the EU could lead to the fall of his government and the victory of nationalist forces “hostile to the European Union”.

Behind all these statements lies demonization of Russia and the attempts to present it as a “destabilizer” of the situation in the Balkans, just as it was done by  Montenegrin leader Milo Djukanovic, who accused Moscow and so-called “Serbian nationalists” of an attempt to stage a coup in his small country for the purpose of preventing Montenegro from entering NATO.

The version of what happened was provided by a Montenegrin court, which blamed leaders of the opposition Democratic Front for an attempt to seize power in Podgorica with the help of two dozen Serbian militants. The court described the incident as a typical conspiracy and a “high-profile process” in the style of Andrei Vyshinsky. Nevertheless, the Western press has accepted this version, telling its to readers about plans by wicked Russians and Serbs to kill Mr. Djukanovic, who positioned himself as a Serbian-Montenegrin nationalist during the “Yugoslav Wars” of the early 1990s.

Will North Macedonian Prime Minister Zaev succeed in performing the same trick, will the EU accept his version that “forces hostile to the European Union” will take over if his country does not join the European Union in the near future? It seems that the European Union is skeptical about Zaev’s “warnings”. It knows only too well that Zaev himself came to power as a result of a Macedonian “color revolution” that removed the former leader Nikolu Gruevsky, who led the left-wing party VMRO-DPNE. This party is still the largest opposition party in the parliament of Northern Macedonia.

Shortly after coming to power Zaev reoriented the country to NATO, hoisting a NATO flag in front of the Macedonian government building.  Taking advantage of people’s hopes for joining the European Union, Zaev ensured the victory in the presidential election of his henchman Stevo Pendarovsky. But now that the prospect of starting negotiations looks remote and indefinite, Zaev and his entourage may indeed face a destabilization. The position of Albanian government of Edi Rama, who is facing powerful protests across the country, is hardly better. 

From our partner International Affairs

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