Afghan religious scholars urge Taliban to renounce violence

Religious scholars from across Afghanistan urged the Taliban to stop violence and join the peace process during a session in Kabul, the Pajhwok news agency reported on Wednesday.

Hundreds of clerics from restive Afghan provinces, including Khost, Paktia, Paktika, Ghazni, Logar, Maidan Wardak and Kabul, gathered to discuss the role of religious scholars in the establishment of peace and stability in war-torn Afghanistan, as well as in the reconciliation of insurgents.

“The ‘ulema’ [the community of Muslim scholars] should not allow anyone to create anarchy because it is their responsibility to work for the moral strength necessary to build a sound society,” the agency quoted Maulvi Abdul Hakim Munib, one of the participants, as saying.

Minister of Hajj and Religious Affairs Mohammad Yousuf Niazi said that religious scholars are capable of finding a common solution to the ongoing conflict in the country that has lasted over 30 years.

The clerics gathered in the wake of the Taliban terrorist attack on the heavily-guarded landmark InterContinental hotel in Kabul on Wednesday that left at least eight hotel employees and two policemen dead.

Taliban raid on Kabul hotel leaves 8 civilians, 2 policemen dead

At least eight civilians and two policemen were killed in a raid by a group of Taliban on a landmark hotel in the Afghan capital of Kabul on Tuesday night where senior provincial governors were staying, police say.

At least eight militants, some of them suicide bombers, were involved in the attack on the heavily-guarded InterContinental, which is popular with Westerners and has in the past hosted UN and EU missions.

Two policemen and eight civilians including a top judicial official were killed in the assault which began late on Tuesday while many guests were in the dining room, Kabul Police Chief General Mohammad Ayub Salangi said. Another twelve people were injured.

The ensuing fighting, which lasted for more than four hours, was brought to an end when NATO helicopters shot dead three insurgents who managed to reach the roof, security sources said.

Official figures on the number of people killed in the attack have not been released; however, police have said 16 bodies have been identified, including those of eight insurgents.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said an insurgent group had carried out the attack.

An Afghan official said the insurgents were armed with machine guns, anti-aircraft weapons, rocket-propelled grenades and hand grenades.

Security sources said there were up to 70 guests at the hotel at the time, all of whom are reported safe.

The assault came the day before a conference was to begin on the transition of civil and military responsibility for security in Afghanistan from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force to Afghan security forces.

Violence has flared in Afghanistan since the killing by U.S. commandos of al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden in neighboring Pakistan on May 2.

The American withdrawal from Afghanistan: To leave, to fight, to run?…

The numbers are in. Washington finally announced on Wednesday that 10,000 U.S. troops will be withdrawn from Afghanistan before the end of this year, followed by another 23,000 by the summer of 2012. In his address, President Barack Obama was expected to lay out a clear timetable for the drawdown after nearly a decade of fighting. In 2009, he promised to pull out 100,000 troops, yet Wednesday’s announcement makes it clear that the administration’s plan for withdrawal will be far more cautious than once maintained.

Slamming the door behind them

In fact, two troop withdrawals are taking place in Afghanistan simultaneously under two different commands operating in parallel: U.S. troops and the U.S.-led ISAF contingent, a NATO force that includes European servicemen.

The latter is also leaving and gradually transferring its security mission to the Afghans in a process that began on June 22.

Reports from an RIA Novosti correspondent in Kabul make it clear that despite serious internal security risks, the Afghans have no intention of keeping foreign troops of their own accord. Perhaps they will thank NATO as the door slams behind them. But it will be far more interesting to see how this troop drawdown is viewed in the United States. There are many indications of the direction America may be heading over the next few years, and it may not be too happy with where it ends up.

Hand the country over to the Taliban military… Excuse me, the Afghan military”

Previously, the war was largely perceived according to a strict party line. There was a cadre of energetic Republicans who started wars in the Middle East and threatened to follow suit in the rest of the world during the eight-year tenure of the Bush administration. And then there were the naive and kindhearted Democrats whose only dream was to put an end to these conflicts.

Now things appear almost in reverse, or are at least much more complicated. Last week, the Republicans held debates among their presidential nominees in New Hampshire, and not one of them called for a victory.

Republican front-runner Mitt Romney said: “It’s time for us to bring our troops home as soon as we possibly can, consistent with the word that comes from our generals that we can hand the country over to the Taliban military in a way that they’re able to defend themselves. Excuse me, the Afghan military to defend themselves from the Taliban. That’s an important distinction.”

At least Romney understands that the distinction is important. But another candidate, Ron Paul, said that Americans should worry about their own borders rather than “secure the border between Iraq and Afghanistan.” He was later told that the two countries do not in fact share a border and are separated by Iran, another point of U.S. strategic interest, but these petty details don’t seem to bother Republicans or their voters. After all, who cares about other people’s borders?

There are also distinctions between Democrats and Republicans. According to recent polls, 89% of Democratic supporters would like to see a substantial troop withdrawal from Afghanistan this summer. The figure for Republican voters is a mere 59%. But is that difference really significant?

There are those on the far right like Senator John McCain, who advised Obama to withdraw no more than 3,000 troops from Afghanistan this year in what would essentially be a purely symbolic gesture. Meanwhile, those who want to pull out 100,000 troops tomorrow have become the majority. This, for instance, is the position of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. At their recent conference in Baltimore, they suggested spending $112 billion not on Afghanistan this year but on job creation in the United States.

Significantly, the focus of the debate has shifted to money rather than human loss. Under Obama, there were 684 deaths in Afghanistan, which, for the public, is apparently an acceptable figure. The flow of losses experienced under the Bush administration is slowing to a trickle. But $10 billion per month seems like quite a considerable price tag. In Vietnam, the opposite was true of the motives behind public protest…

Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen writes: “Staying in Afghanistan will only buttress the argument of the New Isolationists. This is the larger danger. America remains the sole nation capable of playing the role of adult. The world needs us. The world will soon need us even more.” He then offers a laundry list of countries that may provoke conflicts and lead the world to war unless America intervenes in a leading role. Who knows – he may be right.

The first 10,000…

Republicans can afford to be isolationists and reflect public sentiment on withdrawal from Afghanistan in a way that the Democratic administration cannot. This is the primary reason that it now faces serious problems in constructing a plan for withdrawal.

A Washington Post blog reads: “If you’re in Washington these days, and you’re hearing a pitter-patter, it’s probably the sound of lawmakers running away from the Obama administration’s strategy in Afghanistan.”

The point is that the price of today’s decisions on withdrawal deadlines may have to be paid in the near future. Neither mayors, nor Republican nominees will be the ones who foot the bill. What if power is handed over to the Taliban military, as Romney suggested? That may well be the case after the secret talks conducted between the United States and the Taliban over the past few months failed to produce any meaningful results. And why should the Taliban accept U.S. terms? All it has to do is wait.

In his address, Obama invoked a key phrase that is bound to please every American: “America, it is time to focus on nation-building here at home.” The message is that an attempt to build a modern and democratic nation in Afghanistan was a failure, and it’s time to let the Afghans do it themselves.

The outcome of Obama’s new Afghan strategy is still unclear. When he refers to a withdrawal, the president is now speaking about the soldiers whom he sent to Afghanistan himself. His administration came into office with a complete revision of the war’s previous strategy. In 2009, he agreed (albeit with reservations) to the proposals of his generals – sending another 33,000 troops to Afghanistan after the previous contingent proved inadequate. His idea was to strike hard and pull out fast while the enemy was still out of breath.

Today, he said that he plans to bring these 33,000 soldiers home, “thereby fully recovering the surge…” The timetable gives commanders what they want: one more combat season. After next summer, some 68,000 troops will remain in Afghanistan – the same force in numbers that served under Bush. Meanwhile, the 2014 deadline that Obama set in 2009 for full withdrawal remains intact.

It’s too early to pry into details or discuss whether Obama’s “strike-and-withdraw” plan has been a success. That much will be clear only after the presidential elections in 2012.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

Obama announces plans for U.S. troop pullout from Afghanistan

U.S. President Barack Obama announced his plans to withdraw 10,000 troops from Afghanistan this year and bring home all 33,000 U.S. “surge” troops by next summer in a televised speech on Wednesday night.

The first U.S. soldiers would begin returning home next month, in line with the deadline set by Obama in December 2009, when he authorized the surge of U.S. troops to break the Taliban’s control in Afghanistan.

“After this initial reduction, our troops will continue coming home at a steady pace as Afghan Security forces move into the lead,” Obama said.
“Our mission will change from combat to support. By 2014, this process of transition will be complete, and the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security,” he said.

The United States had made significant progress on meeting its three goals for the surge: denying al-Qaeda a safe-haven, reversing the Taliban’s momentum and training the Afghan security forces to defend their own country, the president said.

Calling the surge “one of the most difficult decisions that I’ve made as president,” Obama said the drowndown will start “from a position of strength.”

“This is the beginning – but not the end – of our effort to wind down this war,” he said.

Under Obama’s plans, up to 5,000 troops would leave the war-ravaged country next month, and another 5,000 soldiers would return home by the end of the year, officials say.

This means that some 70,000 U.S. servicemen will stay in Afghanistan well into the summer of 2012.

Outgoing U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates endorsed Obama’s withdrawal plans.

“I support the president’s decision because it provides our commanders with enough resources, time and, perhaps most importantly, flexibility to bring the surge to a successful conclusion,” Gates said in a statement issued following Obama’s speech.

The United States is the largest contributor to the 48-nation International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which currently has more than 130,000 troops in Afghanistan. The interntaional coalition has been fighting Taliban militants in Afghanistan since 2001, but attacks on foreign and Afghan troops, police, and civilians are still frequent.

In his speech, Obama stressed that the Unites Stats would continue its efforts aimed at eliminating Al Qaeda, which is currently “under more pressure than at any time since 9/11” due to the killing of its leader Osama bin Laden.

Bin Laden was killed in May in a raid by U.S. Navy SEALs on his compound in Pakistan some 50 kilometers from Islamabad.

Main news of June 21

WORLD

* The Russia-led post-Soviet EurAsEC alliance transferred the first $800 million tranche of an emergency loan to Belarus to stabilize its finances, Russian Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin said


* Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh is in good health and has started receiving visitors, the Saudi portal Al-Watan said, citing a Yemeni diplomatic source

* The Georgian opposition Labor Party strongly criticized the country’s president, Mikheil Saakashvili, for sending soldiers to Afghanistan following the killing of a ninth soldier by Taliban militants

 

* International political pressure needs to be put on Syrian authorities to end the bloodshed and solve the country’s domestic problems, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said

 

* The UN General Assembly confirmed Ban Ki-moon for a second five-year term as Secretary General

RUSSIA

* Forty-four people, including eight foreigners, were killed when a Tu-134 passenger aircraft crashed in Russia’s northwestern republic of Karelia, the Emergencies Ministry said

* Russia may ban German meat imports due to the spread of a highly virulent E.Coli infection in Germany and other European countries, Russia’s veterinary chief Nikolai Vlasov said

 

BUSINESS

* Russia’s Alliance Oil has reached agreement with Spain’s Repsol to set up a joint venture for oil production in Russia, a Russian business daily reported

* Russia’s Sukhoi Civil Aircraft and Italy’s Alenia Aeronautica will jointly develop a business jet based on the Sukhoi Superjet 100 airliner, the companies said at the 49th International Paris Air Show in Le Bourget

* Russia’s flagship airline Aeroflot will buy eight Boeing 777 long-haul airliners under a firm contract signed between the two companies at the Le Bourget Air Show outside the French capital

* Russia’s state-run gas giant Gazprom and petrochemicals firm Sibur signed a letter of intent to build new refining capacities for gas extracted from the giant Kovykta field in East Siberia, Gazprom Deputy Board Chairman Alexander Ananenkov said

* Russia’s Sukhoi Civil Aircraft signed a contract with Indonesian PT Sky Aviation for the delivery of 12 Superjet 100 passenger aircraft, a deal worth $379.2 million

* Russian aircraft leasing company Ilyushin Finance Co., part of United Aircraft Corporation, and Ukraine’s Antonov aircraft maker signed a $300 million deal to supply 10 An-158 short-haul airliners to foreign customers

* The Russian gas giant Gazprom and Ukrainian national oil and gas company Naftogaz started setting up a joint venture to develop the Black Sea shelf, Naftogaz Board Chairman Yevhen Bakulin said

Georgian opposition party blasts Saakashvili for sending troops to Afghanistan

The Georgian opposition Labor Party has strongly criticized the country’s president, Mikheil Saakashvili, for sending soldiers to Afghanistan following the killing of a ninth soldier by Taliban militants.

“Georgia has long become a cannon fodder store for NATO and the United States,” party spokesman Kakha Dzagania told journalists on Tuesday.

Many NATO member countries have refused to send their troops to Afghanistan, he said, while President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia, seeking to join NATO, “does this to our children.”

By doing so, Dzagania said, the Georgian president is trying to “maintain [his] power.”

The Labor Party, which holds 6 out of 150 seats in the Georgian parliament, has urged NATO not to “make use of the tragedy of the Georgian people” and to reject Georgia’s participation in the military operation in Afghanistan.

Georgian Private Gia Goguadze, who had been serving in Afghanistan since 2010, died in a hospital after being seriously injured during an attack by Taliban militants in the volatile southern Helmand Province last week.

Goguadze became the ninth Georgian soldier to have been killed in Afghanistan since the country joined the international U.S.-led coalition fighting the Afghan insurgency in 2009.

More than 900 Georgian troops are currently deployed in Afghanistan, including some 750 in the Helmand Province and 175 in the capital, Kabul.

U.S. troops are scheduled to begin withdrawing from Afghanistan next month, followed by other contingents involved in the ISAF. Responsibility for security will be gradually handed over to Afghan military and security forces.

Slovakia to send 20 special services officers to Afghanistan

Slovakia will send 20 special services officers to Afghanistan for the first time since the U.S.-led international coalition began its operation against Taliban two decades ago, the Slovak TASR news agency has reported quoting the country’s defense minister.

The soldiers, who will join the 346 Slovak troops already serving in the war-torn southern Central Asian country, will be involved both in special operations and in training Afghan security officers, Lubomir Galko was quoted as saying.

The Slovak troops are currently deployed in Kabul and the volatile southern province of Kandahar.

The 47-nation International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) currently has more than 130,000 troops in Afghanistan. The U.S.-led coalition has been fighting Taliban militants in Afghanistan since 2001, but attacks on foreign and Afghan troops, police, and civilians are still frequent.

U.S. troops are scheduled to begin withdrawing from Afghanistan in July 2011, followed by other contingents involved in the ISAF. Responsibility for security will be gradually handed over to Afghan military and security forces.

The new, aging face of al Qaeda

Ayman al-Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s longtime No. 2, has been chosen as the new leader of the global terrorist organization, according to postings on Jihadist websites. Zawahiri, a former doctor from Egypt, has been hiding from U.S. special services for nearly a decade. He will turn 60 on June 19.

Islamists are not known to make lavish presents to their superiors, and birthdays are less of an occasion in the Middle East than in the West. Muslims honor Allah, not his servants. It was a coincidence that Zawahiri’s elevation came only a few days before his birthday. But still, there is something symbolic in the move.

A leader from the old guard

It would be even more symbolic if the U.S. were able to dispatch the new al Qaeda leader this year, better still before the 10-year anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the United States. It is believed that Zawahiri was as deeply involved in the operation as his boss Osama bin Laden, who was killed by U.S. special forces in Pakistan on May 2.

The U.S. has offered $25 million for information leading up to the capture or killing of Zawahiri. The price may go up following his promotion. The reward for bin Laden was $50 million, but it is unclear if anyone has received any part of that sum.

Zawahiri’s appointment is good news for counterterrorism officials, as it is always easier to fight an enemy you know. Zawahiri’s name was mentioned in the media as a possible replacement for bin Laden immediately upon news of his death.

However, one Western political analyst who presumably has close ties with extremists said there is a rift between al Qaeda’s old and young members. He said the al Qaeda youth had put forward Egyptian Saif al-Adel as an interim leader of the organization but to no avail.

Fading symbol of jihad

It appears there was never any question among the jihadists that the new leader of al Qaeda should be Zawahiri, who had fought the Soviets in Afghanistan. The decision of the mysterious “general command” of al Qaeda to elevate Zawahiri was met with acceptance on extremist websites. Pakistani Taliban spokesman Ihsanullah Ihsan said about Zawahiri: “Yes, this man can be the organization’s leader.” Western political analysts showed much more interest in the news.

Zawahiri will be a nominal leader because most experts say that al Qaeda is not a vertically structured organization with centralized leadership. Its regional affiliates in North Africa, the Caucasus, the Arabian Peninsula and other regions have a common ideology but operate independently. Moreover, other terrorist groups often falsely claim to be al Qaeda affiliates.

Al Qaeda, the symbol of radical jihad, has been overshadowed by popular unrest in Arab countries. Zawahiri is the aging face of a fading organization, which may be good for the organization’s enemies. Al Qaeda’s time is almost up, and it may now be easier to deal with it, although new enemies may soon take its place.

Osama bin Laden, who ruled his organization via infrequent messages from his hiding place in Pakistan, could not have been remained the leader for years. But while he and his closest associates hid from U.S. forces, a tidal wave of revolutions was brewing in the Middle East.

The young fruit vendor who sparked the revolution in Tunisia did not blow himself up in a crown of unsuspecting people, like an al-Qaeda terrorist, but set fire to himself in protest after his stand was confiscated. And the impact of his act was much greater than any terrorist attack.

Zawahiri will be focused on his survival

A U.S. official said on the condition of anonymity that Zawahiri will have to think more of his own survival than plotting terrorist attacks.

However, the new leader of al Qaeda obviously had enough time to ponder the future of his religion and country, hoping to use the wave of popular unrest to reinforce his organization’s popularity.

He said in his 28-minute video address posted on the Internet last week that it is not individuals but whole nations that have risen against America. Zawahiri, the mastermind behind many of al Qaeda’s terrorist attacks, called on Arabs to carry on the revolutions against the despotic regimes forced on them by the West.

He spoke about Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Syria and Morocco, adding that not an inch of the Palestinian land must be left to the U.S. henchman, Israel.

In the past, al Qaeda leaders hiding in the mountains of Afghanistan formulated global objectives and sought to achieve them through terrorist attacks. But Zawahiri’s attempt to usurp the Arab revolts and cast himself in the role of coordinator will fail. This aging, gun-toting militant can’t keep up with the young revolutionaries whose weapons are anti-government slogans and a bunch of jasmine flowers.

The Arab revolts were not inspired by al Qaeda, which has proved unable even to find itself a more compelling leader than Ayman al-Zawahiri. Al Qaeda has lost its ability to captivate, praise be to Allah.

Yelena Suponina is a political commentator for The Moscow News and Middle East expert.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

Russia’s Medvedev, Afghanistan’s Karzai to talk cooperation

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev will discuss on Wednesday with his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai issues of bilateral cooperation, a Russian presidential aide said.

The presidents will meet in the capital of Kazakhstan, Astana, which currently hosts the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).

“During the talks, Medvedev and Karzai are expected to exchange their opinions on the priority directions in the development of trade and economic cooperation with the main emphasis on the implementation of joint large-scale projects to restore and modernize Afghanistan’s infrastructure,” Sergei Prikhodko said.

The presidents, Prikhodko said, are also set to discuss the current situation in Afghanistan and in the region as well in the light of the fight against drugs production and smuggling.

Afghan drug production increased dramatically after the U.S.-led invasion toppled the Taliban in 2001, and Russia has been one of the most affected countries, with heroin consumption rising steeply.

About 90 percent of heroin consumed in Russia is smuggled from Afghanistan via former Soviet republics, including Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Around 30,000 Russians die from heroin abuse every year.

Dozens killed in series of blasts in Afghanistan

A series of bombs and explosions across Afghanistan killed at least 24 people on Saturday, officials said.

In the worst attack, a vehicle hit a roadside mine in southern Kandahar province, one of the main battlegrounds in the nearly 10-year Taliban-led insurgency against the Kabul government and NATO troops. Fifteen civilians were killed, the interior ministry said.

Earlier in the day, a suicide bomber killed at least three people and injured 12 in eastern Afghanistan. Provincial police chief Sardar Mohammad Zazai said the attack took place outside of a police headquarters building in the province of Khost.

No group has claimed responsibility for the assault.

The interior ministry also said six civilians, including a woman and two children, were wounded by mortar bombs fired at a district police headquarters in the eastern province of Kunar.

Intended to target Afghan and NATO security forces, the bombs frequently kill and wound civilians.

The New York Times has reported that the US military is sending 80 counter-intelligence agents to help stem the threat of Taliban infiltration in the Afghan security forces, following a series of shootings of NATO soldiers.

KABUL, June 11 (RIA Novosti)

RIA Novosti photographers in World Press Photo history

A photo exhibition, Selected Works by RIA Novosti Photographers in World Press Photo History, which will feature the work of prestigious award winners, will open at Moscow’s Krasny Oktyabr confectionery plant on Friday, the organizers told RIA Novosti.

The exhibition, dedicated to the news agency’s 70th anniversary, focuses on eternal human values.

“We have consciously included not only photos that actually won awards, but also a group of photos that our photographers sent to the WPP over the years,” said Anastasia Davydova, who heads RIA Novosti’s Exhibition Projects Center.

She said this was done primarily for the viewers’ sake, to let them make their own decisions about the photographs and to agree or disagree with the judges.

“All these shots are still good to see, I mean they have not become outdated but have retained their historical or universal human value. One can say they have withstood the test of time,” Davydova added.

Alongside the display featuring RIA Novosti photos, the confectionery plant will house this year’s prize-winning photos from the World Press Photo contest, including the World Press Photo of the Year 2010: a portrait of an Afghan woman. Bibi Aisha, 18, was disfigured as retribution for fleeing her Taliban husband’s home (her nose and ears were cut off).

RIA Novosti’s display will stand out primarily because of its unique use of technology, Davydova said.

“We won’t print or frame our images in the traditional way. We print them on fabric, and we do it twice. The main image will hang at a distance from the wall to make it “alive,” while its black-and-white “shadow” printed on transparent silk will cling to the wall,” she explained.

In her words, light will play an integral role in the display, putting the images in greater relief and bringing them to life.

RIA Novosti photographers have won more than 20 WPP awards, the most prestigious photojournalism awards, over the agency’s 70-year history.

The display will include photos by Igor Kostin, who was at the epicenter of the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986 and risked his own life to create a unique collection of over 600,000 photos.

It will feature several collections and individual photographs by Vladimir Vyatkin, a six time WPP winner, including The Chechen Syndrome (2000­), Ballet: Behind the Scenes (1985), Good Hands of Doctor Vakhtang Nemsadze series (1985) as well as portraits of choreographer Igor Moiseyev with his wife, Irina, and of a bodyguard at a political conference in Kabul.

There are several works by Valery Shustov, one of the first Soviet photo correspondents to win first prize in the Netherlands in 1969: the famous Baikal at Peace, Grand Prix at the Fotomundi show, as well as his series Learn to Swim Before You Learn to Walk! (1979) and Oil Field Fire in Dagestan (1978).

The display contains two works by Viktor Chernov, who is famous for his portraits of people at work: Professor Meshalkin Performing a Successful Heart Surgery (1981) and Professor Fyodorov Performing Eye Surgery (1984).

There is a photo by Vladimir Fedorenko, Mikhail Gorbachev Among Participants of the First Congress of People’s Deputies, which won the WPP Golden Eye Award in 1989.

Photographs in the exhibition related to sports include Igor Utkin’s Volleyball series (Grand Prix 1969) and Alexander Grashchenkov’s A Family at Igor Charkovsky’s Physical Training School that won the Golden Eye award in 1985. There are also works by Dmitry Donskoi, who specialized in sports photography for 35 years (The Duel, 1979), as well as by Sergei Guneyev, one of the oldest Kremlin pool photo correspondents and a well-known master of sports photography. He covered every Olympics starting from 1980; this display contains his most vibrant images.

Alexander Lyskin is another WPP winner. He is also known for his membership in Britain’s Royal Photographic Society. The display includes his works Contrast and Chukotka Graphics.

There are portraits from Boris Kaufman’s 1972 Women of Dagestan series. In 2010, RIA Novosti organized an exhibition of his works at the Museum of Contemporary History of Russia.

Other photographs in the exhibition include Yury Kaver’s Birch Trees (1984) and In the Golden Dunes (1983); Vyacheslav Bobkov’s Radiobiological Research (1976) and Elk Farm (1978); Oleg Ivanov’s First Steps, Vitaly Arutyunov’s Repairs at 101-meter-high Motherland Memorial in Volgograd; and Max Alpert’s 1973 photo story Surgeon Nikolai Amosov.

The exhibition will be on display at Krasny Oktyabr through July 10 and will travel to Samara and Kazan afterwards.

World Press Photo is an independent, non-profit organization run under the royal patronage of Prince Constantijn of the Netherlands, where World Press Photo was founded in 1955. Its main activity is holding the world’s largest and most prestigious annual press photography contest at Oude Kerk in Amsterdam. In addition to World Press Photo of the Year, prizes are awarded in the following categories: Spot News, General News, People in the News, Sports, Contemporary Issues, Daily Life, Portraits, Arts and Entertainment, and Nature. Three prizes are awarded for individual photographs and three prizes for photo series. An album of winning photos is published every year with commentary in six languages, and exhibitions are held in several countries, which draw a lot of attention.

MOSCOW. June 9, (RIA Novosti)

Taliban says shoots down U.S. drone

A U.S. unmanned aerial vehicle has been shot down by Taliban forces in Afghanistan’s eastern Kunar province, Taliban spokesman Zabiulla Mojahed said on Wednesday.

He said the UAV, brought down on Tuesday evening, is the second in the past two days.

The International Security Assistance Force has yet to comment on the incident.

UAVs are used in Afghanistan for aerial reconnaissance, missile strikes, and ammunition deliveries to remote military garrisons.

 

KABUL, June 8 (RIA Novosti)

Afghanistan unprepared for NATO pullout

Afghanistan’s government is unprepared for a pullout of the foreign contingent starting from late June, Nikolai Patrushev, the head of the Russian Security Council, said on Monday.

NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in May that foreign troops would leave the country in a period between late June 2011-2014.

“We agree that Afghans need to take over the responsibility so that the military, secret services and law enforcement agencies could independently do their job. But we think they are not ready,” Patrushev said during his visit to New Delhi.

The NATO-led anti-terrorist operation in Afghanistan began in the wake of the 9/11 attacks on New York when terrorists hijacked two passenger jets and rammed into the World Trade Center towers.

Following his negotiations with India’s national security adviser Shiv Shankar Menon, Patrushev said both Russia and India were ready to help the Afghan government in training security officials.

Patrushev also said Afghanistan’s peaceful life was impossible without socioeconomic progress and promised to help restore the economy but ruled out the possibility of deploying Russian servicemen in Afghanistan.

“There will be none of our military presence there, we have learned our lesson,” Patrushev said.

Soviet troops were deployed in Afghanistan in 1979-1989 to support Afghan Communists against the indigenous Mujaheddins. Soviet authorities eventually pulled the troops out due to the endless character of the war.

Patrushev said Afghans would have to negotiate with the armed opposition.

“The Taliban differ – some of them are terrorists that have to be eliminated, and some joined out of despair,” Patrushev said.

He called on different countries, including Pakistan, to help fight drug trafficking in Afghanistan but added that India, which has complicated relations with Pakistan, did not mind cooperation between Moscow and Islamabad.

NEW DELHI, June 6 (RIA Novosti)

Bout’s Lawyers in U.S. Blame Politics

NEW YORK — Lawyers for Russian businessman Viktor Bout, extradited to the United States to face charges that he conspired to sell weapons to a terrorist group, say the case should be thrown out because the U.S. used extreme political pressure to force Thailand to turn him over.

In papers filed late Friday and Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, the lawyers said the case against Bout was brought for “purely political reasons” after authorities realized the U.S. military continued hiring Bout’s companies to supply U.S. soldiers in Iraq even after he was banned in July 2004 by the Treasury Department from doing business with the United States.

Treasury officials had cited claims Bout made $50 million in profits from arms transfers to the Taliban when Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida were in Afghanistan.

Bout is scheduled for trial in October. He was extradited from Thailand last year after his arrest in March 2008 in a Bangkok hotel. He has pleaded not guilty and has asked that charges against him be dismissed.

The Russian government has complained that his extradition was unlawful and political.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. prosecutors’ office, Carly Sullivan, declined to comment Tuesday.

The defense lawyers said one Bout front company was estimated to have made about 1,000 flights into U.S.-controlled air bases in Iraq by the end of 2004. They said the U.S. military gave at least 1.9 million liters of free airplane fuel to Bout’s pilots and U.S. government contractors paid Bout-controlled companies roughly $60 million to fly supplies into Iraq.

They said the United States decided to go after Bout following embarrassing disclosures of incompetence “or worse” in the Defense Department and State Department.

The lawyers said it was unclear whether the motivation for the pursuit of Bout was payback for the embarrassment he had caused the U.S. government or to create a scapegoat to deflect attention from “the government’s unseemly relationship” with him.

The scheme to capture Bout was created in late 2007, when U.S. authorities began a campaign dubbed Operation Relentless to offer Bout a huge arms deal to men posing as members of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucianarios de Colombia, or FARC, a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization operating in Colombia, the lawyers noted.

The lawyers said that a court in Thailand first found Bout was not extraditable to the United States under a treaty between the countries.

“But after more than a year of persistent and extreme political pressure exerted on the Thai government by the United States, a Thai appeals court ultimately reversed the lower court decision and ordered extradition,” the lawyers wrote.

America the forgiving and Pakistan the abandoned

It would be an exaggeration to say that the United States has paid dearly for killing Osama bin Laden in Pakistan on May 2 without notifying the Pakistani government. But there have been consequences, which became apparent during U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s brief visit to Islamabad last Friday. Now the United States will have to withdraw some forces from Pakistan at the request of its “partner” in the war on terror. The operation to take out bin Laden was a tactical success, but it may complicate the situation on the dangerous border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

No help or harm

Clinton’s visit was brief but very serious. Clinton was accompanied by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Michael Mullen during her meetings with President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani, Army Commander Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and Inter-Services Intelligence Chief Ahmed Shuja Pasha. This is the first such high-level meeting since bin Laden was killed.

Following tradition, the U.S. media portrayed it as stern Uncle Sam (or Aunt Hillary) showing mercy to Pakistan, where the most wanted terrorist and a mass murderer of Americans lived for several years next door to its most prestigious military academy.

America, in this respect, is not unlike the Soviet Union under Leonid Brezhnev or to imperial China: it expects vassal-like expressions of gratitude from foreign dignitaries. But the reality is different, as shown by the withdrawal of U.S. military trainers from Pakistan: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/us/US-bows-to-Pak-demandcuts-troops/articleshow/8597008.cms

It’s harder to find information on the withdrawal in the U.S. media, but a Pentagon spokesman has confirmed the reports.

The number of U.S. counterterrorism trainers in Pakistan will fall from 200-300 to about 50, with their departure set for early June, possibly as soon as next week. According to a Pakistani military officer speaking on condition of anonymity after May 2, the trainers cause more trouble than they’re worth. This will presumably smooth over relations between the United States and Pakistan. In Islamabad, Clinton acknowledged the losses suffered by Pakistan in the fight against their common enemy. In return, the Pakistanis said they will finally open bin Laden’s compound to the CIA. This gift came less than a month after the raid.

Perhaps the most significant statement Clinton made at the news conference was that no peace deal in Afghanistan can succeed unless Pakistan is part of the process. Now the partners must not only settle their grievances after May 2 but also decide what will happen next, with the U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan scheduled to begin this summer.

After the U.S. withdrawal

For all the drama surrounding NATO’s unsuccessful operation in Libya and its requests for Russian assistance in reaching a settlement, no less important is the fact that the United States is now holding talks with representatives of the Taliban, probably in Germany. For the time being, the general public knows nothing about these talks except that they are in progress. Many questions remain.

One question is whether America will surrender Afghanistan to its undefeated enemy, but this is a bad question. As for Pakistan, its involvement is even bigger than that of the United States, and it will be left to its own devices if America leaves the region. Obviously, it was elements in the Pakistani secret services that created the Taliban and helped shelter bin Laden, but it is the country’s current civilian government and population that will pay the price for this.

Experts were unanimous in their prediction that al Qaida would avenge bin Laden’s death. But so far only Pakistan has been the target of revenge attack. For example, a suicide bomber killed 35 people in the town of Hangu on Thursday, on the eve of Clinton’s arrival.

It is very hard to say whether America’s drone war against the Taliban in Pakistan is succeeding. According to reports, the attacks have killed as many civilians as Taliban fighters. The drone strikes create anger not only at the Americans but also at the country’s government. And while the Americans will leave eventually, the government will remain.

Pakistan is cooperating in earnest in the U.S. war against terror. In fact, the scale of their contribution outstrips that of the United States. According to the Times of India (http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/pakistan/Hillary-Clinton-gives-clean-chit-to-Pakistan/articleshow/8599145.cms), up to 140,000 Pakistani troops are fighting terrorists in northern Pakistan and southern Afghanistan. Since 2007 alone, Pakistan has paid for its alliance with America with 4,400 civilian lives.

Judging by the reporting on Clinton and Mullen’s visit, America would like Pakistan to launch a powerful offensive against the enemy to provide cover as the United States withdraws troops from the area. Even after the partners reconcile over bin Laden, there will still be this serious issue left to resolve.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

NATO air strike kills 16 civilians in south Afghanistan

A NATO air strike has killed 16 and wounded another six civilians in the southern Afghan province of Helmand, an employee of the provincial governor’s press service who preferred to stay anonymous told RIA Novosti on Sunday.

“By now it is clear that the air strike delivered with Hellfire rockets on houses killed seven girls, five boys and four women who were within the firing range. Not a single Taliban militant has been found on the site of the air strike,” the employee said.

The incident occurred early on Saturday morning when a NATO convoy was ambushed by Taliban militants. The NATO troops, which engaged with the militants, summoned warplanes for support and the air strike destroyed almost completely the village, from which the militants conducted fire, the employee said.

It is hard to give the exact figure of victims among the civilians as the police and the local construction company are continuing their work to clear the debris and retrieve dead bodies from the rubble. The exact number of victims is expected to be given by Monday, he said.

Violence remains high in Afghanistan, with the Taliban group, which was toppled in a 2001 U.S.-led campaign, staging regular attacks on provincial government officials, police and civilians and planting roadside bombs to target Afghan, U.S. and NATO troops.

KABUL, May 29 (RIA Novosti) 

 

Russian Press at a Glance, Wednesday, May 25, 2011

POLITICS

A Moscow appeals court upheld the multi-million dollar theft and money laundering conviction against jailed Russian tycoons Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev on Tuesday and reduced their 14-year sentence by one year. Khodorkovsky’s defense said the ruling had been predictable and bears only “cosmetic” changes. (Kommersant, Vedomosti, Rossiiskaya Gazeta, Izvestia)

Belarus continues its desperate fight against a severe currency crisis. The authorities may impose a state monopoly on imports as a follow-up to the recent devaluation of the national currency. Russia says nobody is going to blindly pump money into the troubled country as a charitable gesture, and expects privatization of at least one-seventh of the Belarusian economy in exchange. (Moscow News, Vedomosti)

Former Federation Council speaker Sergei Mironov will officially leave his post on Wednesday. His replacement has not been chosen yet, but sources close to the Kremlin say that it will be a respected United Russia member. (Kommersant)

“If Palestine is not recognized, a new intifada will begin.” Interview with Musa Abu Marzook, the deputy head of Hamas’ political bureau, on prospects of the future Palestinian state. (Moscow News)

WORLD

Georgian opposition has failed again to unite in an attempt to overthrow Mikheil Saakashvili’s regime. The opposition party of ex-defense minister Irakly Okruashvili refused to take part in the Day of Wrath on Wednesday. Okruashvili has cancelled his return from self-imposed exile abroad. (Kommersant, Izvestia)

A growing ash cloud spewed by Iceland’s Grimsvotn Volcano grounded more than 250 flights across Europe on Tuesday. Some logistics companies claim that precautionary measures taken by air carriers are ungrounded. (Kommersant, Rossiiskaya Gazeta)

The production of heroin in Afghanistan has grown 40 times since the start of the NATO operation against the Taliban, Russian anti-drug chief Viktor Ivanov announced at a meeting of heads of G8 anti-drug agencies in Paris. Ivanov explains the cause of this sensational phenomenon in an interview. (Izvestia)  

ECONOMY

The Russian government will strengthen control over energy giant Gazprom this year by increasing the number of its representatives to seven on the company’s 11-member board of directors. (Kommersant)

Hungary bought Surgutneftegaz’s 21.2 percent stake in Mol Nyrt for 1.88 billion euros ($2.65 billion), thwarting what Mol management termed a “creeping takeover” of the country’s largest refiner by the Russian oil producer. (Moscow Times, Kommersant, Vedomosti)

BUSINESS

Search engine Yandex announced the pricing of its NASDAQ initial public offering of 52 million shares at $25 per share Tuesday, higher than the earlier price guidance of $20 to $22 per share – and shot up more than 42 percent in the first half day of trading. (Moscow Times, Vedomosti, Rossiiskaya Gazeta, Izvestia)

Russia’s Alrosa has revealed its reserves of diamonds on the eve of going public – 1.23 billion carats. They are larger than those of Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton, and Petra Diamonds combined. (Vedomosti)

Russian tycoon Mikhail Prokhorov’s pet banking project – the MFK bank – is showing signs of failure. Shareholders are not happy with the poor financial results. (Kommersant)

Russia officially opens sales of iPad2 on May 27. The device will cost from 19,000 rubles ($670) to 31,000 rubles ($1,100) depending on configuration. (Kommersant)

Russia’s gold mining company Polyus Gold has hired former top manager of the Canadian SNC-Lavalin James Nieuwenhuys as operations director. Nieuwenhuys is expected to double the company’s gold output by 2014. (Kommersant)

SOCIETY

An Australian think tank, the Institute for Economics and Peace, has put Russia in a dismal 147th place in its annual Global Peace Index of 153 nations. Russia is considered aggressive because of the large number of terrorist acts, sprawling organized crime and inflated defense budget. (Kommersant)

For more details on all the news in Russia today, visit our website at www.en.rian.ru

Main news of May 23

WORLD

* Libyan Transitional National Council (TNC) spokesman Abdel Rahman Shalgham said the Libyan opposition and Russia have an understanding regarding the recognition of the opposition government in Benghazi

Organizers of the first authorized mass rally in Syria since the lifting of a state of emergency last month cancelled the event citing an “external threat”

* Russia accused Georgia of violating the right to public assembly by using force against protesters demanding the resignation of President Mikheil Saakashvili

* Russia has promised to support the Palestinian bid for statehood at the UN in September, Hamas deputy political bureau chief Moussa Abu Marzouq said

* Representatives of the Palestinian groups Fatah and Hamas agreed a joint statement with Russia, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said

* The Taliban have denied that their leader Mullah Mohammad Omar has been killed in Pakistan, after Afghan TV channel TOLO reported his death

* The Pakistani Taliban have claimed responsibility for an ongoing assault on a Pakistan Naval station in the southern city of Karachi, global media said

RUSSIA

* Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin invited members of an internet community formed in Russia’s leading social network VKontakte to join his People’s Front, saying there was a place for unofficial groups in politics willing to get things done

* Russian prosecutors have opened a criminal case on charges of negligence that led to the loss of three Glonass satellites last year, the Prosecutor General’s Office said

* The Russian government should adjust its minerals extraction tax rather than excise duties to stabilize domestic fuel prices and avoid gasoline shortages, Kremlin aide Arkady Dvorkovich said

* Troops in Russia’s Far East were fed dog food to cover up for the theft of thousands of dollars worth of food, military prosecutors said

BUSINESS

* Belarus’s National Bank has devalued the national currency by over 50 percent, the bank said on its website on Monday

* The Russian government should adjust its minerals extraction tax rather than excise duties to stabilize domestic fuel prices and avoid gasoline shortages, Kremlin aide Arkady Dvorkovich said

* Russia’s flagship airline Aeroflot plans to hire Alitalia’s Vice President in charge of strategy Giorgio Callegari as deputy CEO for strategy, Kommersant business daily reported citing sources close to the company