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Ex-NATO chief urges allies to boost help for Ukraine
by Staff Writers
Brussels (AFP) Oct 11, 2017

Ukraine detains two top defence officials in graft case
Kiev (AFP) Oct 11, 2017 - Ukraine's anti-corruption bureau said Wednesday it had detained a deputy defence minister and another top military official for allegedly embezzling millions in state funding through an illegal oil-purchase scheme.

The announcement was the highest-profile indictment against any official since the Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) launched a graft case against the now-deposed tax service chief Roman Nasirov in March.

NABU did not identify the two defence officials but said the fraud had cost the budget 149 million hryvnias ($5.6 million / 4.7 million euros at today's exchange rate) in 2016.

The bureau said the arrangement involved an oil purchase contract that was later revised to inflate the original price by 16 percent to benefit the unnamed supplier.

"NABU detectives and special anti-corruption prosecutors have detained two suspected culprits -- a deputy defence minister of Ukraine and the director of the state resource procurement and supply department of the Ukrainian defence ministry," NABU said in a statement.

Ukraine's defence ministry said an investigation into two officials whose titles matched those named by NABU was in progress but provided no other details.

- Poroshenko's promise -

Corruption has long ravaged the crisis-torn former Soviet republic and been a top concern of both Ukraine's foreign partners and global financial support organisations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

But NABU has faced stiff resistance since its launch in December 2015 from institutions such as the general prosecutor's office and the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU).

Analysts view both as controlled by vested interests and incapable of leading independent probes into financial misdeeds.

The IMF is pressing the pro-Western leaders who rose to power after a 2014 revolution ousted a Russian-backed regime to shore up NABU's efforts by setting up a special anti-corruption court.

They say those indicted by NABU often walk free after paying bail and point to Nasirov's case as an example.

Nasirov is still under investigation by the general prosecutor's office and has only been barred from leaving Kiev while he cooperates with the authorities in the slow-moving case.

Poroshenko told a meeting of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in the French city of Strasbourg on Wednesday that Ukraine had reached "the point of no return for judicial reform".

"I know that the creation of the Anti-Corruption Court draws special attention," Poroshenko said in comments released by his office.

"Currently, we are looking for optimal way to establish this vital body."

Poroshenko said the current draft law on anti-corruption courts had problems and required broader concensus.

"That is why there is a need for all democratic political forces and civil society to get united," Poroshenko said.

NATO members should step up efforts to help Ukraine in its conflict, the alliance's former chief said Wednesday, warning that a Russian proposal for a peacekeeping force was a "Trojan horse".

Anders Fogh Rasmussen said NATO nations should supply defensive equipment to Ukrainian forces battling Russian-backed insurgents in the country's east in a conflict that has claimed more than 10,000 lives since it erupted in 2014.

Russian President Vladimir Putin last month asked the UN to approve a lightly-armed peacekeeping force to protect international observers monitoring the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine.

Rasmussen, who was NATO secretary general from 2009 to 2014, told an event in Brussels that Putin "may have changed his calculus" following tighter international sanctions over Russian interference in Ukraine.

He said the proposal could be a "first indication" the situation may start to change, but urged caution on the peacekeeping force.

"In its current form Putin's peacekeeping proposal is what I would call a Trojan horse, it is a non-starter," Rasmussen said.

"But I think we need to seize the moment and try to reshape it to put him to a test, because this is our first opening in years to actually end the conflict, so I think it would be a big mistake just to denounce his proposal."

A peacekeeping mission was needed, he said, but one with "the right mandate, the right terms and the right capabilities".

Kiev, which has long called for UN peacekeepers to be deployed, fears Moscow would use any force to lock in gains made by Kremlin-backed rebels and is simply trying to ease the international pressure it faces.

Some 600 observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) are on the ground in eastern Ukraine but have failed to stop the fighting.

Ukraine has submitted an alternative to the Russian proposal which goes significantly further, deploying UN peacekeepers across the east of the country including on the border with Russia to prevent armed forces from entering.

Former Danish prime minister Rasmussen said he recently visited Ukrainian forces on the frontline in the conflict-torn Donbass region who told him they needed not heavy weapons but secure communications equipment, night goggles and the like.

"I think NATO members could do more by providing defensive systems to Ukraine so that the Ukrainian military improves its capability to defend itself and defend Ukraine," he told AFP.

"I think it will raise the costs of Russian aggression so that it could eventually also change the calculus in the Kremlin."

Rasmussen, who was replaced by Norway's Jens Stoltenberg, played a leading role in shaping the early NATO response to Russian aggression in Ukraine.

Ukraine has been pressing the west to supply it with offensive weapons to take the fight to the rebels, but the international community has been wary of doing anything that might escalate the conflict.

Philippines hails US as top ally, welcomes war games
Manila (AFP) Oct 5, 2017
The Philippines' military chief hailed the United States as his nation's "number one ally" and announced a return of regular war games, following President Rodrigo Duterte's call for warmer ties. Duterte last week vowed to be "friendly" with the United States, signalling an end to relentless criticism that included a vow to end all joint military exercises and branding then US president Bara ... read more

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