Russia Doubts Mid-november Date For Syria Peace Talks

“At the end of the day I’m an athlete, and that’s what I’m focused on. But I felt that too many people are quiet and they’re not comfortable sharing their opinion, and it’s just my opinion.” Given the sensitive nature of the issue, the USOC and each sport’s national governing body prepare their athletes thoroughly with media training to handle such situations. Several athletes said they had been told to express their opinion but also understand the issue and the repercussions. “You don’t have to choose sides on that issue or say any comments, but they want you to know where they stand and what they’re telling the public, and I think that’s very good for us athletes,” bobsled pilot Jazmine Fenlator said about the USOC and her own federation. “You don’t want to say anything that’s completely (erratic) next to what your organization that supports you says, but you’re also entitled to your opinion. So they tell us to feel free but also know some of the repercussions of making bold statements. Now you become a politician when you’re there to compete, and they don’t want those distractions for us.” Once the athletes arrive in Sochi, they are obligated to follow Rule 50 of the Olympic charter, which states “no kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted” at any Olympic site. Miller also took aim at the premise of Rule 50. “Politics in sports and athletics are always intertwined even though people try to keep them separate,” he said. “Asking an athlete to go somewhere and compete and be a representative of a philosophy and all that different crap that goes along with it and then tell them they can’t express their views is pretty hypocritical and unfair.” Billie Jean King has spent a lifetime advocating equal rights. When told about the general hesitancy U.S. athletes expressed on the topic, King weighed in. “Sometimes I think we need a John Carlos moment,” King said, referring to the U.S.

Insight: As Ukraine looks west to Europe, Russia’s shadow looms

REPERCUSSIONS Both Ukraine and the EU appear determined to seize the moment and sign the agreement, no matter what the reservations. The message that would send to the wider region, including the resource-rich Caucasus, would be a powerful one. From the EU’s point of view, Ukraine is an opportunity that cannot be missed: Kiev wants closer association and if Europe does not act now, it may well lose it to Russia and the customs union forever, the tide of history ebbing away. The failure to draw in Ukraine would likely diminish the EU’s sway over other countries covered by the eastern partnership policy, undermining its goals of spurring democratic reforms in the region and safeguarding political stability. “We cannot accept any attempt to limit these countries’ own sovereign choices,” European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told the European Parliament in his annual address last month. “We cannot turn our back on them.” The hope in Europe is that opening trade routes will improve cooperation on other issues such as security and, over time, demonstrate the benefits of democratic governance. In the near-term, Europe needs help in addressing crime – countries such as Moldova lie on important trafficking routes towards the EU. In the Caucasus, territorial disputes such as that between Armenia and Azerbaijan could hurt Europe’s energy aims and pull it into conflict with Russia. “The fundamental interest in the eastern partnership is to have a zone of stability to the east of the European Union and not be faced with state failure … in which case there could be spillover into the EU,’ said Michael Leigh, a senior adviser with the General Marshall Fund in Brussels. PAY THE PRICE But for all its planning, Europe also knows retribution, in the shape of an energy squeeze, is likely from Russia. Moscow, which has a long-standing disagreement with Ukraine over gas, has said it will raise Ukraine’s gas prices and officials do not rule out it doing the same for the EU, which gets nearly 40 percent of its gas from Russia.

Russia says Assad could talk to moderate rebels

“But she may not still be there in early December,” one of them said, hinting at the possibility of a compromise that involves her leaving the country soon after the summit. REPERCUSSIONS Both Ukraine and the EU appear determined to seize the moment and sign the agreement, no matter what the reservations. The message that would send to the wider region, including the resource-rich Caucasus, would be a powerful one. From the EU’s point of view, Ukraine is an opportunity that cannot be missed: Kiev wants closer association and if Europe does not act now, it may well lose it to Russia and the customs union forever, the tide of history ebbing away. The failure to draw in Ukraine would likely diminish the EU’s sway over other countries covered by the eastern partnership policy, undermining its goals of spurring democratic reforms in the region and safeguarding political stability. “We cannot accept any attempt to limit these countries’ own sovereign choices,” European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told the European Parliament in his annual address last month. “We cannot turn our back on them.” The hope in Europe is that opening trade routes will improve cooperation on other issues such as security and, over time, demonstrate the benefits of democratic governance. In the near-term, Europe needs help in addressing crime countries such as Moldova lie on important trafficking routes toward the EU. In the Caucasus, territorial disputes such as that between Armenia and Azerbaijan could hurt Europe’s energy aims and pull it into conflict with Russia. “The fundamental interest in the eastern partnership is to have a zone of stability to the east of the European Union and not be faced with state failure … in which case there could be spillover into the EU,’ said Michael Leigh, a senior adviser with the General Marshall Fund in Brussels. PAY THE PRICE But for all its planning, Europe also knows retribution, in the shape of an energy squeeze, is likely from Russia. Moscow, which has a long-standing disagreement with Ukraine over gas, has said it will raise Ukraine’s gas prices and officials do not rule out it doing the same for the EU, which gets nearly 40 percent of its gas from Russia. Moscow has in the past, during disputes with Ukraine, cut off the flow to EU member states, several of which are entirely dependent on Russia’s supplies, and could do so again.

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A pledge by the Syrian government to abandon chemical arms has increased prospects for the peace conference, proposed by Russia and the United States in May, to go ahead. U.N. Security Council powers hope it can be held in mid-November. Lavrov said it must be organized soon since “radicals and jihadists are strengthening their positions” in Syria. “The task is to not lose any more time, and to bring to the negotiating table with the government those opposition groups that … think not about creating a caliphate in Syria or just seizing power and using it at their will, but about the fate of their country,” Lavrov said after meeting Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, secretary general of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. Lavrov also called into question the thoroughness of a U.N. chemical weapons mission after suggesting that it had not examined a site outside of Aleppo where Russia and the Syrian government say rebel forces likely used chemical weapons. “The commission recently returned (to Syria) and already announced that it finished its work and is returning to New York,” said Lavrov. “As far as I understand, they examined several more places where there are claims chemical weapons were used near Damascus. And as before, the commission did not travel to the outskirts of Aleppo, where a serious incident of the use of chemical weapons occurred on March 19.” Syrian rebels blame Assad’s government for that attack. Russian experts visited the location earlier this year and took samples of material from the site that were later analyzed at a Russian laboratory certified by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Russia’s U.N. envoy said previously.

As Ukraine looks west to Europe, Russia’s shadow looms

“I do not rule out that the armed opposition, if it does not stand for extremist or terrorist views, could very well be represented,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters. “By the way, this is something that President Assad has said as well.” World powers agreed last month to schedule the first direct negotiations between Assad’s regime and the rebels in Geneva in mid-November. The so-called Geneva 2 talks follow a failed round of negotiations between world powers over the crisis in the same city in June 2012. Russia has backed Assad’s government throughout the 30-month conflict and is the chief architect of a Syrian chemical weapons disarmament plan that was backed by the United Nations Security Council following the August 21 nerve agent attack near Damascus. This year’s Geneva meeting has been repeatedly delayed because of disagreements between Moscow and the West about who should be party to the talks. Lavrov stressed that it was up to Western and Arab governments to make sure that representatives of the armed opposition agreed to attend the Geneva meeting despite growing differences among their ranks. But he questioned whether the West could manage to do this by November. “Until recently, we expected our Western partners, who committed themselves to bring the opposition to the conference, that they would be able to do this fairly quickly,” Lavrov said. “But they did not manage to do it quickly. I do not know if they will manage to do it by the middle of November.”