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Canadian Dollar Trades Mixed Against Major Counterparts

By , October 30, 2014 5:48 am

A fan of 100-dollar notesCanadian dollar is trading mixed today, thanks to the latest comments from central bankers. Information from the Federal Reserve, as well as testimony from the Bank of Canada’s Stephen Poloz, are contributing to the loonie’s losses to the US dollar.

The Canadian dollar is moving lower today against the US dollar, but still has the upper hand against the euro. Loonie is heading lower against the greenback after the release of a statement from the Federal Reserve ending its asset purchase program. This is as expected, and now the speculation about when interest rates will rise begins in earnest.

Stephen Poloz, from the Bank of Canada, is also having an impact. His testimony before the Senate banking committee wasn’t particularly upbeat, and that is impacting the loonie’s performance against the greenback. Poloz remarked on falling oil prices, and said that he thought that they could affect Canada’s GDP in 2015.

The greenback’s gains continue to underscore the policy divergence between Canada and the United States. The BOC still plans to keep rates low, and the Fed is showing signs moving past that.

At 10:25 GMT USD/CAD is up to 1.1194 from the open at 1.1183. EUR/CAD is lower, falling to 1.4095 from the open at 1.4126. GBP/CAD is higher, moving up to 1.7913 from the open at 1.7906.

If you have any questions, comments or opinions regarding the Canadian Dollar, feel free to post them using the commentary form below.

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Data Helps Euro Pare Some of Its Losses

By , October 30, 2014 5:47 am

Mixed euro billsEuro is falling against its major counterparts today, but some of the losses are being pared, thanks to the latest data releases. Some of the regions of the eurozone are reporting progress, and that is reducing some of the difficulty with the euro.

The latest data out of the eurozone, while not spectacular, at least shows some progress. Germany saw a drop in the number of people unemployed this month, even though the unemployment rate remains the same. Another report showed that Spain had economic growth of 0.5 per cent in the third quarter. The news is helping the euro pare some of its earlier losses.

However, even with the data, the euro is still struggling to a degree. There are more concerns about Greece and its economic situation, not to mention predictions of more volatility in Greece. And the overall economic growth of the eurozone remains very sluggish. There isn’t a lot of reason for ECB policymakers to do anything but continue to ensure that the euro remains somewhat weak against its major counterparts in the hope that this will help stimulate the economy.

At 10:47 GMT EUR/USD is down to 1.2590 from the open at 1.2632. EUR/GBP is down to 0.7870 from the open at 0.7889. EUR/JPY is down to 137.2341 from then at 137.5650.

If you have any questions, comments or opinions regarding the Euro, feel free to post them using the commentary form below.

Forex News

US Ambassador to Iraq: WH Was Warned Early on About ISIS, “did Almost Nothing”

By , October 30, 2014 2:47 am

Did the rise of ISIS and the collapse of the Iraqi army really catch the Obama administration by surprise, as the White House tried to argue over the summer? Subsequent research has already shown that senior intelligence and military officials warned Congress about both as early as February, but now the man who served as Barack Obama’s ambassador to Iraq says that the administration knew what was happening — and did “almost nothing” to stop it. James Jeffrey represented the US in Baghdad from 2010-12 and oversaw the withdrawal of American troops, and told PBS’ Frontline that the White House even claimed it would act after warnings in January, and still didn’t do anything to prevent ISIS from seizing massive amounts of territory:

“The administration not only was warned by everybody back in January, it actually announced that it was going to intensify support against ISIS with the Iraqi armed forces. And it did almost nothing,” says James Jeffrey, who served as U.S. ambassador to Iraq between 2010 and 2012, in “Frontline’s” “The Rise of ISIS,” which airs on PBS Tuesday night (check local listings) and is previewed here exclusively on Yahoo News.

Jeffrey is one of a number of ex-administration officials who appear in the film and sharply criticize the decisions of the president they once served. Former U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford and former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta both take issue with Obama’s refusal to arm moderate rebels in Syria who — it is now argued — could have acted as a counterweight to the Islamic State (also called ISIS or ISIL).

Without the pressure of the American military contingent in Iraq, the army that the US spent billions to create turned into a corrupt sinecure for politically-connected layabouts, according to the film. An analyst from the Congressional Research Service concurs:

“They were people who were — they were fat cats, I call them,” Katzman, a Congressional Research Service terrorism analyst, says in the film. “They were people who were earning good money to basically sit at a desk and smoke cigarettes and drink good liquor all day.”

It took only 800 ISIS troops to seize Mosul, thanks to the dessicated readiness of the Iraqi army, according to Martin Smith, who reports for the documentary. It will take a lot more than that to push ISIS back out of a city that once held 1.8 million people, but so far the only effort made by the US and its allies has been bombing runs that have forced ISIS to harden its communication lines and operations. When Smith asks Joint Chiefs chair General Martin Dempsey whether he’s optimistic about that being enough to “degrade and destroy” ISIS, Dempsey says no:

“No, I’m not an optimist,” says Dempsey in a less-than-confidence-building response. While thecampaign’s strategy may be right, “every campaign’s assumptions have to be revisited as the campaign evolves. Some of these assumptions are no doubt going to be challenged.”

In part of the film, Obama adviser Ben Rhodes tries to blame Congress for the collapse of the Iraqi army, claiming that Capitol Hill held up weapons transfers and that supposedly created the collapse. That’s absurd; the Iraqi army collapsed and left massive amounts of weaponry and equipment for ISIS to pick up and use. The Kurds have a real issue with materiel and ammunition because they have high morale and an effective chain of command, and so actually use munitions and require resupply. The Iraqis had the munitions but a corrupt command, in large part because the US bailed out of Iraq under Barack Obama by not negotiating for a long-term presence — and that allowed Nouri al-Maliki to purge the Sunnis and transform the professional army we’d built into a patronage ghost force. Leon Panetta warned about the consequences of Obama’s refusal to negotiate a permanent presence, as did others within the administration, to no avail. Obama’s political considerations trumped US security concerns.

This isn’t the first buck-passing exercise from the White House on Iraq and ISIS. Obama blamed the intelligence community in September, saying “they underestimated what had been taking place in Syria.” The intelligence community reminded everyone that they had raised the red flag in January and February, which Ambassador Jeffrey corroborates in this film, but that Obama was too busy declaring ISIS the “jayvee” squad for his own political benefit. Not even the New York Times bought that spin, so a month later, Obama and his team are trying desperately to blame something else, anything else.

Will Barack Obama and this White House take responsibility for their failures and put a strategy in place that actually addresses the reality of ISIS that their failures allowed? Let me quote General Dempsey on this point: No, I’m not optimistic.

Assyrian International News Agency

Road Projects Inaugurated in Najaf

By , October 30, 2014 2:37 am

Road Projects Inaugurated in Najaf

By John Lee.

Aswat Al Iraq reports that Iraq’s Minister of Reconstruction and Housing, Tariq al-Khikani], has inaugurated two road projects in Najaf and laid the cornerstone for another two.

The first road project is 26 km long, with a cost of 2.73 billion Iraqi dinars; the second is 27.15 km at a cost of 10.3 billion Iraqi dinars.

Cornerstones were also laid for the second phase of a 50-km pilgrimage road at a cost of 30.8 billion Iraqi dinars, while the second road was for the other side of Najaf-Karbala with a length of 27 km and a cost of 3.6 billion Iraqi dinars.

(Source: Aswat Al Iraq)

Iraq Business News

Putin Just Made the Most Important Speech of His Career. The West Should Listen More Closely

By , October 30, 2014 12:13 am

Putin Just Made the Most Important Speech of His Career. The West Should Listen More Closely
By: Alexander Mercouris on: 29.10.2014 [12:31 ] (388 reads)

Putin Just Made the Most Important Speech of His Career. The West Should Listen More Closely

What he really wants are stability, rules, and a global balance of power – traditional conservative ideas. He thinks the rest of the world needs to rein-in out-of-control US global activism.

opinion 4 hours ago
Alexander Mercouris |

He showed his true colors – as a traditional, old-school, European conservative

Last Friday, Vladimir Putin delivered the single most important speech on foreign policy since he became President of Russia in 2000. Mikhail Gorbachev said he thought it was the best, and most significant speech Putin has ever made.

In it he charted a clear course for Russia, defining its place in international affairs and setting out the principles and objectives of its foreign policy.

The response of the western political and media elite has been pitifully inadequate. The speech has attracted surprisingly little attention. The emphasis has been not on what Putin said about Russia or international relations in general but on what he specifically said about the US.

Western commentary wrongly but overwhelmingly treats the speech as simply a critique of US foreign policy (a “diatribe”) with Putin hypocritically condemning a US foreign policy he feels is targeted against him. Behind this is the assumption that the speech is Putin’s defiant response to the US sanctions policy imposed on Russia since the start of the Ukrainian crisis even though the actual speech barely touches on this question.

Putin did have a lot to say about US foreign policy and what he said was very critical. However to focus purely on that part of the speech is to fail to do it justice and to ignore its very coherent intellectual framework.

Putin came across a very different person from the aggressive expansionist and nationalist demagogue and gambler of western commentary. It is also different from the Putin some other people want him to be. Anyone looking to Putin to lead some great crusade against the US is on the evidence of this speech going to be disappointed. As some have noticed, what he actually wants from the US is not conflict but cooperation.

Putin’s vision of the international system is a profoundly conservative one – a fact he actually admitted himself after the speech in answer to a question. Running like a thread throughout the speech is a typical conservative’s yearning for stability and mistrust of change, a wish for a predictable rule based system in which the sovereign rights of nations are respected and in which change when it happens is contained and managed and never encouraged.

Since Putin’s concern is for stability, an aspect of his vision, which would be instantly familiar to an old style European conservative but which is totally alien to a modern western liberal, is that it is totally value neutral. Where westerners today habitually divide nations into democracies and dictatorships and decide their attitudes to them on that basis, Putin treats them all the same, considering their domestic arrangements to be something for them to worry about.

Underpinning everything is a belief in the need for an orderly system preserved by a balance of power. For Putin, the USSR’s greatest contribution was precisely in that by providing a counter weight to the US it secured international stability. Much of the speech is a lament for the loss of the counterweight provided by the USSR.

The part of the speech that criticises US foreign policy draws on these assumptions: the US became intoxicated by the unexpected position it achieved as a result of the USSR’s collapse and rather than acting to preserve the stability of the international system went instead on a rampage through a sequence of violent unilateral actions designed to reshape the world according to its image and interests and in order to perpetuate its dominance.

In the process order and stability have been thrown away and the result is violence and chaos. Putin recites the list: Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan (where he traces the story back to US support for jihadism against the Soviet army in the 1980s), Libya, Syria and now Ukraine, pointing out that none of these places is better off than it was before the US began to take an interest in them.

In a striking phrase that may cause offence in the US Putin compares the US to a nouveaux riche fecklessly squandering away the windfall.

The speech also shows where Putin wants to position Russia. In another striking phrase Putin says that he wants Russia to assume leadership of nothing save possibly the defence of international law.

Running like a thread through the speech is a deep commitment to international law interpreted in the most conservative way on the basis of legal documents, treaty texts and Court decisions. The creative efforts of (as Putin would put it) self-interested western reinterpretation of international law (such as R2P) are spurned as rationalisations for violating it.

By contrast Putin’s response to Western criticism of his Crimean policy is to defend it in the most traditional way by citing the UN Charter and the International Court of Justice’s Advisory Opinion on Kosovo.

Putin’s training as a lawyer is an aspect of his background that few in the west are aware of. Judging from his words, it is at least as formative as was his service in the KGB.

This is a vision of Russia as the sheet anchor of the international system, acting together with its allies China and the other BRICS states to restrain the US where possible, rescuing the US from its follies whilst upholding international law, world order and stability.

It is a vision European statesmen of the nineteenth century would have instantly recognised but which political leaders in the US and Europe today barely understand, which is one reason why his speech is little understood.

It is a vision that is very popular in Russia, a country with a history of turmoil where order and stability are highly prized. It is also arguably a vision that corresponds with Russia’s interests. As an emerging economy Russia needs a stable and orderly international environment to allow space for its economy to develop.

Importantly throughout the speech Putin made it repeatedly clear that economic development remains for Russia an overriding priority and that the government would take no retaliatory action that might get in the way.

It is also a vision that is likely to be very popular around the world outside the Western camp, where governments and people have become increasingly wary of western interference in their affairs.

In the west, and in the US especially, it will inevitably be seen as a challenge. (en) RSS feed for articles and news

EU-Russia Sanctions: No One Wants to Show They are Giving in First

By , October 29, 2014 9:30 pm

EU-Russia Sanctions: No One Wants to Show They are Giving in First
By: Ria Novosti on: 29.10.2014 [12:59 ] (164 reads)

EU-Russia Sanctions: No One Wants to Show They are Giving in First

Topic: Russia Responds to Western Sanctions

The EU has decided to leave its existing sanctions against Russia in place without any changes, claiming that they are “optimal” and “efficient”, but, according to experts, the EU simply does not want to lose its face.
© Flickr/ Dimitar Nikolov
12:45 29/10/2014

MOSCOW, October 29 (RIA Novosti) – The anti-Russian sanctions imposed by the European Union will not be scaled back or rescinded in the immediate future.

They’re likely to be in effect until mid-March of next year, an EU diplomatic source told RIA Novosti.

But as Nigel Kushner, the CEO of W Legal, an international law firm that specializes in sanctions, explained to Radio VR, the EU simply does not know what to do next.

On the one hand, he said, the EU is sitting tight at the moment, desperately hoping that the situation does not deteriorate, and frightened of retaliations from Russia. On the other, they don’t want to show that they are giving in first.

“For many EU viewpoints the ball is in Russia’s court,” he said. “And, I think the EU is frightened about what Russia’s reaction might be. If we compare that to the sanctions against Iran, it is quite different. Iran could not fight back. Iran was punished, and the Iranian economy was decimated for a number of years. But Russia can fight back. Yes, Russian economy can be impacted but certainly not in the same way as the Iranian one.”

“Recently there was great fear in the EU that Russia might ban car imports from the EU,” Kushner added. “Sometimes the unknown factors in the sanctions regime cause a more significant effect that the known ones.”

“I don’t think sanctions will work against Russia, but the EU is stuck: it is pretty clear that any military retaliation by the EU simply will not happen. But at the same time, the EU cannot sit back and do nothing,” he said.

Kushner added that the sanctions could be lifted overnight – it is a very easy process. However, the difficulty is that the EU needs to unanimously agree on it, and that is where there are problems. There would be holdouts within the EU; for example, the Czech Republic which has said recently that “if Russia shows good will”, then the Czech Republic might push within the EU for an easing of sanctions. But you have two problems here, he added: what does “good will” mean? It will mean different things to different EU member states: is it a deal when gas supplies are delivered to Ukraine or when the Ukraine repays its debts to Russia? Or is it tied more closely to the behavior of Russia in Crimea?

The second problem is, Kushner added, that even if you have “good will”, how powerful is the Czech Republic within the EU? How can they dictate and ensure that there is unanimous agreement?

“One thing that I’ve seen over the previous months – is great disagreement amongst the EU leadership: there is the perception in the EU that the pain has not been shared equally,” he said. “For example, Poland has really been suffering from Russian sanctions on exports of fruits and vegetables, and dairy products and meat, but what about the others? So, there is a perception among some countries that the UK, for example, hasn’t really been impacted significantly. The French were upset that they were being forced to give up the sale of warships. So, everyone thinks that the EU is one happy family, but really it is not.”

Robert Oulds, Director of the Bruges Group, an independent British-based think tank, is convinced that if Russia easies its sanctions in the EU, it will simply be seen in the corridors of Washington and Brussels as a sign of weakness.

“If Russia makes a concession, then more pressure will be put upon Russia to make further concessions until the US reaches it geopolitical aim of getting Ukraine into NATO and the EU,” he told Radio VR. “My advice is quite simple: do not make concessions. This conflict was started in the West, when it played political games in Ukraine and overthrew its democratically-elected President. It has been encouraged by the West, which has turned the blind eye to the criminal actions of the Ukrainian military forces, which are targeting civilians. If any concessions are made then more concessions will be demanded.”

Oulds added that the US should mind its own business and pressure should be put on the Ukrainian president and his government to establish a peaceful resolution of the conflict in his country and stop being so nationalistic. This may be easier said than done in a country where nationalism and Russophobia are becoming more and more synonymous, and where accepting Crimea’s decision to join Russia could constitute political suicide. (en) RSS feed for articles and news

NATO: Rebellion in the Ranks?

By , October 29, 2014 9:07 pm
Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin, the wily strategist of Russian revanchism, is well on his way to reconstructing the Warsaw Pact. That, at least, is what the pundits of The Washington Post are making it out to seem. Last week, Jackson Diehl penned a column on how Putin has driven a wedge between NATO and its easternmost members. Anne Applebaum, meanwhile, pins the failure to maintain quiet on the eastern front on NATO itself and its decision not to establish bases in the region 10 years ago. The resulting crisis of confidence in what were once Soviet satellites, she laments, has undermined alliance cohesion.

These misreadings of what’s taking place on the eastern stretches of Europe contribute to an almost 1946-like sense of foreboding and inevitability. The small countries of Eastern Europe are bending to Moscow’s will, and the West is doing little more than appease the bear. Diehl and Applebaum stop short of declaring a new Iron Curtain and insisting that the region choose sides (over and above membership in NATO). But their all-or-nothing logic tends in that direction.

Contrary to these assertions, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and the rest of the region are not replaying 1946. Although these governments are pursuing very different strategies, they all know that a new Cold War would exact a terrible price on their countries. In most cases, they are quite sensibly trying to forestall this scenario. NATO’s imperative to push ever eastward, which pundits like Applebaum are urging it to do now under the cover of demonstrating resolve, will only make matters worse.

To understand why these pundits are wrong, first it’s important to understand how Russia and NATO arrived at this impasse.

After the Berlin Wall fell nearly 25 years ago, the new democratic governments in East-Central Europe couldn’t wait to leave the Warsaw Pact. Who could blame them: the Pact was a symbol of their subjection to the will of the Soviet Union. They showed a measure of caution, however, and didn’t disband the alliance until February 1991. Then, again at a rather cautious pace, they crept under the umbrella of NATO. First the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland took the plunge in 1999. In the second wave of expansion in 2004, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, and the Baltic countries joined the fold. Albania and Croatia had to wait until 2009.

Russia was not overjoyed at these developments, to put it mildly. The Kremlin was under the impression that it had received guarantees that NATO would not expand to its doorstep. As Mary Elise Sarotte writes in Foreign Affairs, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and company received unwritten assurances early on that not even East Germany would be part of NATO. Then, in exchange for what amounted to a huge Deutschemark bribe, Gorbachev assented to a united Germany entering NATO. The Soviet Union didn’t expect NATO to move further eastward. But then, the Soviet Union also didn’t expected to disappear with the stroke of a pen. It is to the Russians’ perennial dismay that they never got any of these promises down on paper.

NATO didn’t have to twist the arms of the former Warsaw Pact members to switch sides. The coup in Moscow in 1991 and the outbreak of hostilities in Yugoslavia were both reminders of the importance of a security guarantee – against a revival of Russian imperialism and the potential of internecine conflicts. Also, whatever reservations they might have had about joining an alliance that had lost its original overarching purpose and however ambivalent they might have felt about the costs of modernizing their militaries to achiever interoperability with NATO, the countries in the region realized that membership conferred enormous non-military advantages. With accession to the European Union still in the future, NATO’s imprimatur was a powerful signal to investors that it was safe to pour money into the aspirant countries.

Still, significant portions of the population throughout the region expressed reservations about NATO membership. In Hungary and the Czech Republic, support for joining was actually quite low: at 32 percent and 28 percent respectively in 1997. Bulgarians were generally split down the middle. Only in Romania, often an outlier in the region, was support consistently in the 70 percent range.

Then the governments went to work on persuading their citizenry. Bulgarian opposition to NATO fell to a mere 1 percent by 2002. In Slovenia, where the public was quite skeptical of the alliance in the 1990s, opinion turned around sufficiently by 2003, when the country held a referendum on membership in both the EU and NATO. Citizens backed both measures, though their enthusiasm for the EU (89 percent) overshadowed their approval of NATO (66 percent). The populations in the other countries in the region similarly fell in line.

But this fundamental ambivalence never entirely disappeared. In fact, latent dissatisfactions sharpened when the countries in the region began to understand that NATO wasn’t just a security guarantee: it was a set of obligations. And those obligations were not simply to modernize their militaries and participate in periodic exercises. It meant authorizing combat missions (in Kosovo in 1999) and contributing soldiers to out-of-area operations, such as Afghanistan.

The Czech Republic joined NATO only six days before the alliance started bombing former Yugoslavia over the issue of Kosovo. “Javier Solana phoned me up and informed me that NATO would start to bomb former Yugoslavia the following Monday, and we as a new member of NATO should formally accept that decision,” then-Czech foreign minister Jan Kavan told me last year. “Given the traditional friendship between the Czechs and the Serbs going back many many years, this was a very difficult decision. After a very acrimonious debate at the cabinet level that lasted until early in the morning, we finally agreed. But we only agreed to allow NATO planes to fly over our airspace, no other form of cooperation. Neither our air force nor the army played any role in an action that most of us had major problems with.” It was not the kind of cooperation NATO expected. “Because it took us such a long time and was obviously a reluctant decision, NATO made it clear that it was not happy with us,” Kavan concluded.

The war in Afghanistan two years later was even more controversial. When Polish soldiers began to die in the NATO mission, enthusiasm for the more confrontational style of the United States began to wane. By 2009, 77 percent of Poles wanted their troops out of Afghanistan.

Then came the war in Georgia in 2008. It didn’t last long, and the origins of the conflict are murky. But what was abundantly clear, particularly to the countries of East-Central Europe, was that NATO didn’t do much in response. Of course, because Georgia wasn’t a member of NATO, the alliance’s collective security clause didn’t come into play. But that was a fine distinction for many in the region. They were fighting in wars far from their borders but sitting on their hands when it came to conflicts closer to home.

Jump to the present. Russia’s seizure of Crimea and its military involvement in eastern Ukraine have sent shock waves through East-Central Europe. These moves should ordinarily promote greater NATO cohesion, not less. And indeed, at the most recent NATO summit, Poland pushed for a proposal to permanently base 10,000 NATO troops on its territory. NATO politely said no. The Baltic members wanted missile defense batteries to protect against Russian missiles. Again, NATO said no.

But although Washington would have liked to see a solid anti-Russian front from Poland down to former Yugoslavia, the region has been much more nuanced in its policies. The ambivalence of the 1990s has resurfaced.

Consider, for instance, what’s happening in Poland where a new prime minister and foreign minister are sending different signals about their Ukraine policy. On the one hand, Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz has suggested that Poland needs to pay more attention to its own security and has no plans to intervene in Ukraine. At the same time, Kopacz has renewed calls for greater U.S. military presence in her country, and her defense minister has signaled that Poland is ready to sell arms to Ukraine. So, Poland has certainly not lined up on Putin’s side. But it’s not going to take on Russia by itself.

The Czech Republic and Slovakia, meanwhile, came out against economic sanctions on Russia. It’s not that these countries are prioritizing the health of their economies over the fate of Ukraine. In fact, their commercial relationship with Russia is relatively modest. The two countries trade first of all with Germany, then with each other and other Central European countries. The decision to oppose sanctions is nevertheless pragmatic. Both countries worry that an overall downturn in EU-Russian relations, and a resumption of conflict over oil and natural gas transfers, would have a devastating impact on the entire region.

Serbia and Bulgaria, meanwhile, have long had closer relations with Russia, Putin or no Putin. Neither country wants to be put in the awkward position of having to choose between the east and the west. And, until recently, they didn’t really have to do so.

The obvious exception to this pragmatism is Hungary. Led by the right-wing Fidesz party, Hungary has grown ever more distant from both the European Union and NATO. In July, for instance, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban declared that “since the rule of Soviet empire, no other external power has dared to try to curb the sovereignty of Hungarians openly, choosing a legal form.” Was he referring to Russia? No, he was reserving his wrath for the European Union. The European Parliament had recently issued a scathing report on the Hungarian government’s performance, and Orban was fuming. It only reinforced his turn eastward.

Hungary’s relationship with Russia has been on an upward swing, in part for reasons of energy. Hungary has signed deals with Gazprom for the delivery of natural gas and with Rosatom to build two new blocks at Hungary’s nuclear power plant in Paks. But there is also an ideological affinity between Orban and Putin. The Hungarian leader has declared his preference for Hungary to be an “illiberal democracy,” and he definitely has Putin’s Russia in mind as a potential model.

So, the countries of the region don’t have a unified position on Russia, nor are they succumbing to Putin’s arm-twisting or his charm offensive. Serbia and Bulgaria have longstanding ties to Russia, Hungary is forming an illiberal partnership with Moscow, the Czech Republic and Slovakia have larger economic concerns, and Poland wants to be even more firmly anchored in NATO even as it distances itself from direct entanglement in Ukraine.

But it’s not just a misreading of Eastern European motives that plagues the analysis of Diehl and Applebaum. By emphasizing Putin’s malevolence and NATO’s fecklessness, they fail to appreciate the impact that austerity measures dictated by Brussels and military costs dictated by NATO have had on the small countries of East-Central Europe. The rebellion in the East has been growing over a long period of time. Even if Putin wasn’t engaging in strong-arm petro-politics or attempting to reconstruct Novorossiya, the region would be expressing its reluctance to follow every order issued by Brussels or Washington.

It wasn’t long ago that East-Central Europe experienced a long-anticipated “return to diversity” with the collapse of the Soviet template. NATO and the EU provided them with some initially welcome institutional structures to fill the vacuum. Now, the countries of the region are all chafing, to one degree or another, at the “adult supervision” provided by these multinational entities (much as they once chafed at the directives provided by the multinational entities of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union).

Both Brussels and Washington should learn to respect the diversity of East-Central Europe and stop trying to force the former Warsaw Pact countries to toe the line when it comes to Russia. The region knows a cold war when it sees one, and it certainly doesn’t want to go through all that again.

John Feffer is the director of Foreign Policy In Focus.

Foreign Policy In Focus

Christian Tells of Conditions in Iraq

By , October 29, 2014 9:05 pm

(photo: Rich Harp)HARBOR BEACH — For Fady Amin, Christianity and activism are two things that proved to be very dangerous.

The Iraqi refugee, now living in the U.S. with his extended family, told his story this week at United Methodist Church of Harbor Beach.

In his youth, Amin became involved with a youth political group, and was the chairperson for Iraqi Christian Youth Committee. As such, he did ecumenical work with different churches in the region.

In a conservative country which is 97 percent Muslim, these things were near taboo.

Fady Amin was born in 1978 in Baghdad, the largest city and capital of Iraq. He earned a degree in mechanical engineering and worked as a logistic support adviser to a large company in that country, a company that supplied security and logistics to a variety of customers.

According to Amin, his company did business with both the Iraq and U.S. governments, British companies and a variety of others, including the U.S. military.

Education and a good job were not the things that drove Mr. Amin — it was his belief in a Christian God and an internal need to be an activist.

As Amin tells the story, he was a member of Our Lady of the Deliverance, a Syriac Catholic Church in Baghdad. He also was involved with church youth and a movement to change things for the better in Iraq.

Amin soon became aware of the harsh realities of being Christian in that region of the world. In 2004, his church was bombed, destroying much of the facility. The bombing, as it proved later, was nothing compared to what was to come.

On Oct. 31, 2010, terrorists again attacked his church in Baghdad. This time, it was not an empty church and it was not with explosives — but bullets.

The terrorists captured the building and all parishioners attending church services. They took hostages and began systematically killing members. In particular, they targeted youth and clergy. Before government forces could intervene, they had killed 47 churchgoers and two priests.

During his presentation, Amin asked parents to excuse children because of the violent images he would show on an overhead screen, which included scenes from a bombing in 2004 and the church attack in 2010.

Pictures of screaming women, wounded parishioners and the slain clergy were evidence of the violence Christians are subjected to in that part of the world. It was at that time that Amin’s family began seriously considering leaving their homeland.

Amin said a reason to leave was “because of the persecution of Christians over there.”

“Terrorists targeted Christians … in our churches and in our homes,” he said. “Some people were afraid to go to church.”

Amin applied for immigration as a refugee through the United Nations. In 2012, he arrived in the U.S. He later went back to Iraq to gather his mother and his brothers and their families. In February of this year, he left Iraq permanently. He and his extended family now live in California.

But tragedy still has its effects on Amin. He still has family and many friends in Iraq. In June, ISIS attacked Nineveh (now called Mosul), and took control. Amin said the terrorist group gave Christians in the area three choices: convert to Islam, pay tribute or be killed.

Amin went on to say that the area had a great concentration of Christian churches. Many Christians fled the region, and there are now 100,000 Christian refugees or displaced people in other areas of Iraq. Many left with little more than the clothing on their backs.

Amin was brought to Michigan and Ohio by a group of Presbyterian churches. He is traveling these states with their help and the assistance of other churches. He usually gives lectures with a PowerPoint presentation and a personal message.

Amin says he tries to leave a message without going into politics. While in Harbor Beach, he said, “our message now is to reach people telling them we need your prayers, your support, and we need to raise attention of the genocide of Iraqi Christians.”

During a question and answer period after his message, one person asked, “From your perspective, is it an unrealistic hope to have democracy in your country?”

Amin responded by saying everyone has hoped for democracy since 2003. Unfortunately, different groups have kept this from happening, the latest being ISIS.

Another asked how often he has contact with people in Iraq, and did he plan to go back. He said he has constant contact with friends and the church in Iraq. At this time, he has no immediate plans of returning.

The last question asked by the audience was, what Americans could do to help the persecuted church in Iraq?

“People feel alone. (You) need to let them know they are not alone.”

Assyrian International News Agency

GKP Shares Rally on Announcement

By , October 29, 2014 8:55 pm

GKP Shares Rally on Announcement

By John Lee.

Shares in Gulf Keystone Petroleum (GKP) closed 14 percent higher on Wednesday following the company’s announcement that it is to reschedule its Interim Management Statement.

The shares had been up as much as 30 percent in the afternoon, on expectations of positive news to follow.

The company statement said:

“As a result of constructive discussions currently taking place in Erbil with the Kurdistan Regional Government’s Ministry of Natural Resources (“MNR”), and to co-ordinate with the reporting schedules of the other key producers in the Kurdistan Region, the Company has agreed with the MNR to reschedule its Interim Management Statement, currently scheduled for Thursday 30 October, until Thursday 13 November.”

(Sources: Gulf Keystone Petroleum, Yahoo!)

Iraq Business News

NZD Sinks After Fed & RBNZ Policy Announcements

By , October 29, 2014 6:53 pm

Rolled bills on the plain banknotesThe New Zealand dollar, as well as other currencies, dropped against its US counterpart yesterday after the Federal Reserve ended the third round of quantitative easing. The outlook for a period of stable interest rates in New Zealand itself was not helping the currency either, resulting in further drop at the current trading session.

As was expected, the Reserve Bank of New Zealand kept its main interest rate at 3.5 percent. The central bank mentioned in the statement that “global economy is growing at a moderate rate”, but also noted that “recent data suggests some softening in the major economies, apart from the United States”. As for domestic growth, the RBNZ said that it was above the trend for this year. Despite the huge drop of the New Zealand currency, policy makers were still unhappy with the exchange rate, saying:

Lower commodity prices and increased global financial market volatility have taken some pressure off the New Zealand dollar. However, its current level remains unjustified and unsustainable and continues to constrain growth in the tradables sector. We expect a further significant depreciation.

As a result, the statement concluded:

A period of assessment remains appropriate before considering further policy adjustment.

The kiwi, which had already been weakened by the Fed monetary announcement, weakened further after the RBNZ statement.

NZD/USD dropped from 0.7810 to 0.7789 as of 00:57 GMT today. GBP/NZD advanced from 1.6174 to 1.6202, while NZD/JPY declined from 84.98 to 84.88.

If you have any questions, comments or opinions regarding the New Zealand Dollar, feel free to post them using the commentary form below.

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