67% of Russians view NATO as a threat – poll

67% of Russians view NATO as a threat – poll
Sixty-seven percent of Russians view NATO as a threat, a new survey from Gallup shows. It’s the highest number recorded since 2008.

In contrast, back in 2012, only 38 percent of Russians perceived the Western military bloc as a threat.

Fifty-four percent of Belarusians also view NATO, the security alliance of 28 countries from North America and Europe, as a threat, a 19-point jump from four years ago, the latest Gallup poll has found.

Along with the Russians and Belarusians, “more people in Ukraine (35 percent), Kazakhstan (31 percent), Kyrgyzstan (30 percent), Moldova (27 percent), Armenia (20 percent) and Tajikistan (34 percent) view NATO as a threat rather than a protection,” the international survey says.

The number of Ukrainians who view NATO as a threat has increased in recent years, according to Gallup. In 2014, when the military conflict broke out in eastern Ukraine, Ukrainians were “more likely” to see NATO as a protection (36 percent) than a threat (20 percent), researchers says.

Last year, however, the percentage viewing it as a threat shot back up to 35 percent, as the Ukrainian population has grown tired of the ongoing conflict. “Without a clear end in sight to the conflict, Ukrainians may be losing confidence in NATO’s ability to help them in this crisis,” the latest survey says.

Eastern European countries that see NATO as a source of protection are mostly members of the alliance.

Poland (where 62 percent see NATO as their protector) in January saw the largest deployment of US troops in Europe since the Cold War, while Lithuania (57 percent) has been bolstered by German, French, Belgian and other troops. Estonia (with 52 percent backing NATO) is hosting 800 NATO personnel, while Romania (where 50 percent approve of NATO) is expected to receive several Royal Air Force Typhoon jets in 2017.

The poll results are based on telephone interviews conducted throughout 2016 in the countries featured in the analysis, with a random sample of some 1,000 adults aged 15 and older, living in each country. In Russia, the sample size was 2,000 adults, Gallup says.

Russia has long been accusing NATO of staging a military buildup across its borders, saying it was undermining security in Europe. The alliance, however, justifies it by what it describes as Moscow’s “aggression.”

In response, Russia stationed its most modern weaponry and armaments in its western regions, including the exclave of Kaliningrad, which shares a border with Poland and Lithuania, and is carrying out large-scale military drills on home soil.

 

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18 civilians killed by coalition airstrikes in Afghanistan in a week – UN probe

A United Nations investigation has determined that at least 18 civilians have been killed by international coalition airstrikes in Afghanistan over the past week.

Air raids on Thursday and Friday around Sangin district in Helmand Province, southern Afghanistan, have killed at least 18 civilians, most of them women and children, the UN inquiry found. Survivors are currently being treated at a hospital in Lashkar Gah, the regional capital.

The American military says it has conducted 30 airstrikes around Helmand in the last week, and it will look into the UN’s allegations.

We are investigating the allegations and working diligently to determine whether civilians were killed or injured as a result of US air strikes,” said Brigadier General Charles Cleveland, as cited by Reuters.

While the UN statement said that the allegedly deadly strikes had been conducted by “international military forces,” only US aircraft had been involved in recent military operations in the region, Reuters reported, citing military officials.

The NATO-led military mission in Helmand has been providing support to local security forces in fighting against Taliban insurgents, Reuters said, adding that US aircraft had been deployed to provide combat support.

Nearly 900 civilians were killed or injured in Helmand Province last year, the UN said, adding that this figure “was the highest in the country in 2016 outside of Kabul.”

Earlier this week, a US military commander suggested that the NATO-led force in Afghanistan should expand its presence, as he felt the troops assisting Kabul in tackling militant insurgents were “a few thousand” soldiers short. The Afghan Defense Ministry said it supported “any decision taken between the Afghan and American governments” on the matter, adding that expansion of the international military presence would be a “good step.”

The Taliban has opposed the planned move, saying additional foreign troops in Afghanistan would bring “nothing more than suffering and more casualties,” Reuters reported.

 

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Syria settlement delayed due to Obama’s team, with Trump things might change – FM Lavrov

Syria settlement delayed due to Obama's team, with Trump things might change - FM Lavrov
The situation with peace talks on Syria is currently “more favorable” for things to really get better in the war-torn country, Russia’s FM Sergey Lavrov has said. Obama’s team slowed down the process, but under Trump things might improve, according to the diplomat.

We are currently in the situation… that is much more favorable to start working on a real settlement of the crisis. We were close to it in September last year, but the Americans failed to implement an agreement which had been coordinated with us earlier, which once more confirmed the Obama’s administration inability to negotiate on many issues,” Russia’s foreign minister said in an interview with Russian television channel NTV.

READ MORE: Russian FM Lavrov expects to talk to US counterpart Tillerson soon on Ukraine & bilateral relations

They took an agreement, and then couldn’t do anything [within it],” Sergey Lavrov said, adding that “largely because of Obama’s reluctance to have an argument with some countries in the region,” a settlement through the UN’s participation “turned to [result in] zero progress.”

Moscow could no longer rely on such dragging partnerships, Russia’s top diplomat said, adding that a decision has been made to taken action in other ways, such as through Russian-Turkish relations.

We know that Turkey has influenced and continues to influence a very considerable number of field commanders,” Lavrov said, noting that Moscow’s cooperation with Ankara resulted in a ceasefire agreement in Syria in late December last year.

I want to make it clear: we’ve already said on different levels that we are not trying to undermine UN’s efforts [in resolving the Syrian crisis]. Although our initiative was largely based on [others’] inaction, we understand that much more sides should be involved in peace talks than those currently working on Astana [negotiations],” Lavrov told NTV. There should be more participants both from Syria and “players from the outside,” he added.

Parallel to the Astana peace process, Moscow is preparing for talks under the auspices of the United Nations, the minister said, adding that so far such a meeting has been confirmed for February 20.

Talking of Moscow’s expectations of those talks, Lavrov said that the “whims” of some Syrian opposition groups’ leaders, “especially of those who have long been living outside Syria,” should not be taken into consideration. “If it once again becomes a hindrance to hold UN talks, then the organization’s reputation will be seriously damaged,” Lavrov said.

Meanwhile, Russia has been actively involved in meetings on Syria in Astana, where talks with the participation of Ankara and Tehran have recently finished. The sides have generally agreed details on cease fire monitoring, the minister said, adding that the agreements reached “will soon be implemented.” Efforts to summon more fighting groups in Syria to join in talks with the Syrian government are also in the works, he added.

READ MORE: Moscow mediates talks between Assad & Syrian Kurds – Russian FM

Saying that US representatives were present at the first meeting in Astana as monitors, Lavrov confirmed that an invitation has been sent to Washington to take part in the talks once a new team on the Middle East and Syria is formed under the incoming Trump administration.

Moscow is fully aware that relations between the US and Iran have deteriorated with Trump’s arrival in the White House, Lavrov said, but added that Russia “stands for common sense.”

If US President Trump’s main priority on the international arena is fighting terrorism, then it should be admitted that in Syria not only the Syrian army supported by Russian Air Force are fighting ISIL [Islamic State terrorist group, IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL], but also Hezbollah groups supported by Iran [are involved in the anti-terrorist fight],” Lavrov said. “There’s a choice of priorities here.”

The minister added that while Americans are known for their “pragmatic” policies, it “wouldn’t be pragmatic to just precariously exclude Iran from the anti-terrorist coalition.” Russia, on its side, “always treats any country’s stance with respect,” he said, having expressed Moscow’s willingness to discuss any ways to solve the crisis, “even those that absolutely contradict” Russia’s views.

READ MORE: ‘US-Iran tensions could be defused during Putin-Trump meeting’

I am sure that Donald Trump is absolutely sincere when he every time confirms his determination to defeat IS. We are ready to cooperate with him,” Lavrov said, having expressed hopes that cooperation between Russian and American military in Syria “will soon start to form again.”

 

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