Monthly Archives:December 2019


World Welcomes 2020

People across the world are gathering for traditional celebrations to welcome the year 2020.

Revelers in New Zealand and other Pacific islands were among the first to celebrate the new year with fireworks displays.

Events elsewhere in the world are being overshadowed by other concerns, including in Australia where the fireworks show in Sydney is going forward as other communities in the country cancel theirs due to fears of making a wildfire crisis worse.

In Hong Kong, the usual fireworks show was canceled due to what officials said were security concerns in the city that has seen months of pro-democracy protests.

Planet Fitness, in partnership with Time Square Alliance, tested the “air worthiness” of the confetti prior to Times Square’s New Year’s Eve 2020 celebration in New York City, Dec. 29, 2019 in New York.

Events are scheduled to take place as the new year rolls around in major cities from Berlin to Dubai and London to New York.

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Russia, Ukraine Finalize Gas Transit Deal Just Before Deadline

Moscow and Kyiv on Monday signed a five-year agreement on the transit of Russian gas to Europe via Ukraine, finalizing months of difficult talks just ahead of a New Year deadline.

The current deal between the two ex-Soviet countries expires Tuesday and ties between them have been shredded since Moscow annexed Crimea in 2014 and supported a separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine.

Presidents Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelensky discussed the deal by phone and congratulated each other ahead of New Year’s celebrations, a sign that their relations could be on the mend.

The gas deal “creates a positive atmosphere for solving other bilateral problems,” the Kremlin said in a statement.

About 18 percent of the European Union’s annual natural gas consumption comes from Russia via Ukraine, which put pressure on EU officials to help broker the deal.

“Ukraine has signed a five-year transit contract,” Zelensky announced in a late-night post on his Facebook page, nearly two weeks after a provisional deal was reached.

A wide range of documents and contracts were involved, and together formed “a package deal which has re-established the balance of interests,” Alexei Miller, the boss of Russian gas giant Gazprom, was cited as saying in a statement.

The documents were signed after five days of non-stop talks.

Gazprom is expected to ship at least 65 billion cubic meters (2.3 trillion cubic feet) of natural gas via Ukraine next year, and at least 40 billion per year from 2021 to 2024, said Zelensky, from which Kiev would earn “more than seven billion dollars”.

‘Great news’ for Europe

The agreement should prevent a repeat of so-called gas wars that previously disrupted supplies and in some years caused real energy problems in EU member states.

EU Commission vice president in charge of energy Maros Sevcovic called the deal “great news for Europe’s energy security” on Twitter, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel thanked Russia and Ukraine.

“Continued gas transit via Ukraine… is a good and important signal for ensuring our European security of gas supply,” she said.

Last year, Gazprom supplied Europe with 200.8 billion cubic meters of natural gas, about 40 percent of which passed through Ukraine for roughly $3 billion in transit fees.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said earlier this month that Moscow wanted to keep some gas flowing through Ukraine, despite having built several pipelines to Europe since the current deal was agreed a decade ago.

The new agreement comes days after Gazprom paid $2.9 billion to Ukraine’s Naftogaz to settle a long-running dispute over transit fees that had blocked the deal.

Meanwhile, Russia is pursuing work on the Nord Stream 2 project that is to be completed by the end of next year and would double gas shipments to Germany.

The United States has long opposed the 9.5-billion-euro ($10.6-billion) project and the U.S. Senate voted last week to levy sanctions on companies working on it.

Washington believes the pipeline will give Russia too much influence over security and economic issues in western Europe.

Transit problems for Russian gas began after the fall of the Soviet Union when independent Ukraine took control of the pipeline infrastructure.

Several crises followed, with Russia using gas supplies to put pressure on Ukraine by cutting them repeatedly in 1992, 1993 and 1994.

The last gas crisis disrupted supplies to Europe in 2010.

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Iraqi Politicians Condemn US Strike on Pro-Iran Shi’ite Militia

Multiple Iraqi politicians condemned U.S. airstrikes on the pro-Iranian Shi’ite Kataib Hezbollah militia Sunday, which left 25 dead and over 50 wounded, according to Iraqi government TV. Local reports say the group is becoming increasingly unpopular with large segments of the Iraqi public. Iraq’s Parliament met Monday to debate the U.S.’s  action, but failed to muster a quorum. 

Amateur video showed survivors of the U.S. airstrike on the pro-Iranian Kataib Hezbollah picking through the rubble and gathering the remains of victims killed in the strike Sunday. Iraqi government media reported that 25 people died, including three Iranian officers.

On social media, pro-Iranian Shiite groups spread photos of militia fighters killed in the raid, calling them martyrs.

Fighters from the Kataeb Hezbollah, or Hezbollah Brigades militia, inspect the destruction at their headquarters in the aftermath of a U.S. airstrike in Qaim, Iraq, Dec. 30, 2019.

Iraqi state TV read a list of political leaders who condemned the raid. The broadcast added that Sunni Parliament speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi was calling on all Iraqi forces to “use self-control” to avoid any escalation.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi Parliament met Monday afternoon, apparently aiming to condemn the airstrike. But a large number of MPs from Sunni, Kurdish and some Shi’ite political parties stayed away from the session, and no quorum was reached.

The head of the pro-Iranian Hezbollah militia hit by the air raid, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, vowed revenge, as militia fighters shouted approval.

Many Iraqi protesters who gathered in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, however, chanted slogans against Iran, which has become increasingly unpopular for meddling in Iraqi politics.

They chanted, “Iranians get out of Iraq,” and “Free Baghdad.”

Iraqi analyst Ahmed Shawki told Alhurra TV that pro-Iranian Shiite militias, including the Hezbollah group struck by U.S. warplanes Sunday, have become increasingly unpopular for their repression of popular protests.

He says that it has become clear to everyone since the protests began that the Shi’ite militias are under the command of Iran’s supreme leader, and they have killed and maimed many demonstrators.  Shi’ite militias, he adds, dominate the government, and no one dares to stop them.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told journalists that the U.S. airstrikes were a response for pro-Iranian Shiite militia attacks on U.S. forces.

“What we did was take a decisive response that makes clear what President Trump has said for months and months and months, which is that we will not stand for the Islamic Republic of Iran to take actions that put American men and women in jeopardy,” he said.

A U.S. contractor was killed, and several others wounded several days ago, when Shiite militia fighters, reportedly from the Hezbollah militia group, fired rockets on the K-2 military base in Kirkuk. Pro-Iranian Shiite militia forces have also fired rockets or attacked U.S. forces at other Iraqi bases in recent months, including Balad, Taji, Ain al-Assad and Baghdad Airport, as well as the U.S. Embassy.





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Меркель привітала контракт про транзит російського газу

Канцлерка Німеччини Анґела Меркель привітала новий контракт про транзит російського газу територією України, укладений пізно ввечері 30 грудня.

«Я задоволена, що переговори про транзит російського газу через Україну, що тривали півтора року, дійшли нині до успішного завершення. Продовження транзиту газу через Україну після 1 січня 2020 року – добрий і важливий сигнал про гарантію безпеки постачання газу до Європи», – наводить її слова пресслужба німецького уряду.

Раніше підписання контракту привітали також у Європейській комісії.

30 грудня національна акціонерна компанія «Нафтогаз України» і російський газовий монополіст «Газпром» підписали контракт на транзит російського газу до Європи з використанням української газотранспортної системи на п’ятирічний термін із можливістю продовження. Термін нині чинного контракту збігає вранці 1 січня 2020 року.

Анґела Меркель, яка активно підтримує проєкт «Газпрому» «Північний потік-2», водночас весь час заявляла і про необхідність зберегти транзит російського газу через ГТС України. Тим часом будівництво російського газопроводу, що мав постачати газ до Європи в обхід України і вже збудований приблизно на 90 відсотків, зупинилося через санкції США, дата його можливого поновлення наразі не ясна.

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В ЄС привітали підписання контракту на транзит газу між «Нафтогазом» і «Газпромом»

Віцепрезидент Єврокомісії Марош Шефчович привітав підписання контракту на транзит газу з використанням української газотранспортної системи між «Нафтогазом України» і російським «Газпромом».

«Високо ціную всю важку роботу і зусилля. Погоджена минулого тижня політична угода між Україною, Росією і Європейською комісією, що забезпечить постійний потік газу в Європу з 1 січня 2020 року, підписана і скріплена печаткою», – написав Шефчович у твітері в ніч на 31 грудня.

Він також привітав міжоператорську угоду між Україною і Словаччиною за сприяння Єврокомісії. «Усі складові для транзиту газу через український маршрут тепер на місці. Чудова новина для енергетичної безпеки Європи», – додав Шефчович.


Напередодні виконавчий директор «Нафтогазу» Юрій Вітренко повідомив, що українська компанія і російський «Газпром» підписали контракт на транзит газу з використанням української газотранспортної системи за принципом «качай або плати» на п’ять років.

20 грудня представники України, Росії, Євросоюзу, а також компанії «Оператор газотранспортної системи України», «Нафтогазу» та російського «Газпрому» попередньо домовилися зберегти транзит, натомість українська енергетична компанія відмовилася від інших позовів проти російського монополіста.

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ФСБ «депортувала» ялтинського блогера Гайворонського на материкову Україну – Чубаров

Голова Меджлісу кримськотатарського народу Рефат Чубаров заявляє, що ялтинський блогер і журналіст Євген Гайворонський, якого раніше вивезли з анексованого Криму в Краснодарський край Росії для «видворення», вже перебуває на материковій частині України.

«Євгена Гайворонського, журналіста, який жив у тимчасово окупованому Криму і під час вторгнення російських військ підтримав дії Росії по захопленню Криму, сьогодні вночі депортовано на материкову частину України. Як повідомив Євген Гайворонський, його, в супроводі співробітників ФСБ і міграційної служби Росії було видворено в районі прикордонного переходу між Росією і Україною Чертково-Мілове (Луганщина – ред.)», – написав Чубаров у фейсбуці вранці 31 грудня.


На даний час, за його словами, Гайворонський має бути вже у Бахмуті на Донеччині, звідки він планує їхати до Києва.

Підтвердження цієї інформації з інших джерел наразі немає.

20 грудня підконтрольний Росії Ялтинський міський суд ухвалив рішення про «примусове видворення» Євгена Гайворонського «з території Росії». Після цього його вивезли з анексованого Криму в Краснодарський край Росії.

До цього, 31 жовтня, Гайворонського звинуватили в новому адміністративному правопорушенні за статтею про «образу в інтернеті влади і символів Росії» за пост у соціальній мережі Facebook щодо президента Росії Володимира Путіна.


12 листопада підконтрольний Росії міськсуд Ялти вирішив визнати незаконними документи, за якими ялтинському блогеру і журналісту Євгену Гайворонський видали паспорт громадянина Росії.

А до цього підконтрольний Росії Мировий суд Ялти заарештував блогера на 15 діб за звинуваченням в ухилянні від лікування наркозалежності.

Адвокат Олексій Ладін пов’язував арешт Гайворонського з попереднім затриманням активіста в березні 2019 року за підозрою у вживанні наркотичних засобів. Сам блогер назвав «маячнею» звинувачення у вживанні наркотиків.

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Вітренко: «Нафтогаз» і «Газпром» підписали контракт на транзит

«Той факт, що ми підписали контракт на транзит за принципом «качай або плати» на п’ять років – є непересічною подією…»

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Spain: Socialists Pin Future Government on Catalan’s Release

Spain’s state attorney called Monday for an imprisoned Catalan politician to be allowed to be sworn in as a member of the European Union parliament, a step that could ease the way for a center-left governing alliance to take office in the country.

The European Union’s top court ruled this month that Oriol Junqueras, who served as Catalonia’s vice president until 2017, had the right to parliamentary immunity when he was elected to the bloc’s parliament in May, when he was already on trial.

In response to the ruling, the Spanish state attorney’s office on Monday said that Junqueras should be allowed to leave prison to take his seat. But it said that a request should be made immediately for the European Parliament to drop the separatist politician’s immunity, so that he would serve the 13-year prison term for his role in a secession bid two years ago.

The Supreme Court is expected to make a decision in coming days.

FILE PHOTO: Spain's Socialist leader and acting Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez applauds as he attends a rally to mark the kick…
FILE – Spain’s Socialist leader and acting Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez attends a rally to mark the kick off his campaign ahead of the general election in Seville, Spain, Oct. 31, 2019.

Junqueras remains the leader of the Catalan ERC party, whose 13 lawmakers’ abstention from the 350-seat Congress of Deputies would allow the Socialists of caretaker Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and the anti-austerity United We Can (Unidas Podemos) to form a minority coalition government after months of political impasse in Spain.

The state attorney’s move could lead ERC to abstain from the confidence vote, expected as soon as next week. ERC has said it will make its final decision in a party meeting next week.

Governing agreement

In a further sign of an impending end to the political deadlock, Sanchez and United We Can leader Pablo Iglesias were set to announce later on Monday their governing agreement, a 50-page document outlining more taxes for high-earning individuals and companies, plans to water down a labor reform passed in 2012 at the height of the financial crisis, as well as increases to spending on social policies.

Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias speaks during a plenary session at Parliament in Madrid, Spain, September 11, 2019. REUTERS…
FILE – Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias speaks during a plenary session at Parliament in Madrid, Spain, Sept. 11, 2019.

They also plan to roll back a national security law passed by a previous conservative government and increase the minimum wage, which stands at 1,050 euros (1,176 dollars), according to Spanish daily El Pais, which obtained a copy of the document.

Spanish laws allow minority governments to be formed as long as they receive more votes in favor than against in the parliament’s lower house. But even with the support of a small Basque nationalist party, Sanchez and Iglesias need ERC’s abstention. They have been widely criticized by other parties for relying on the help of an imprisoned separatist.

The 50-year-old Junqueras was convicted of sedition and misuse of public funds in October for his role in promoting the illegal 2017 secession bid of the prosperous northeastern region of Catalonia, which includes the city of Barcelona.

He was under trial already when he decided to run in the European elections in May. Spain’s Supreme Court denied Junqueras permission to get out of jail at the time to take his position.

‘Against the interests of Spain’

Pablo Casado, leader of the conservative Popular Party that for decades took turns in power with the Socialists, said that Sanchez was being opaque in the negotiations and that, as an interim prime minister over the past few months, the Socialist leader had governed “against the interests of Spain.”

“You can’t negotiate the government of Spain with those who want to break it apart,” Casado told reporters.

The Popular Party, the fast-rising far-right Vox party and the center-right Citizens (Ciudadanos), which suffered a big defeat in the Nov. 10 repeated general election, together hold 150 seats in the lower chamber.

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Scores of Robotic Researchers Set to Explore Red Planet in 2020

The first space race pitted the United States against what was then the Soviet Union for the bragging rights of being first in space travel. The space race of the 21st century is a quest by many to land the first people on Mars. VOA’s Arash Arabasadi coasts the cosmos in this look at the various space agencies’ 2020 plans to research the Red Planet.

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