Russia invites NATO leadership for ‘open discussion’ at Moscow Security Conference

Russia invites NATO leadership for ‘open discussion’ at Moscow Security Conference
NATO’s top leadership and member states’ officials have been invited to the Moscow Security Conference, Russia’s Defense Ministry has said, reaffirming its persistent pursuit of open dialogue amid the alliance’s firm rejection of military cooperation.

“Despite suspended cooperation in the military sphere, invitations to the forum have been sent to all member countries of the North Atlantic alliance and the European Union, as well as to the NATO leadership,” Aleksandr Fomin, Deputy Defense Minister, said during a briefing in Moscow on Friday.

Russia’s Defense Ministry has been staging the Moscow Conference on International Security annually since 2011. The open forum offers a unique opportunity for international defense officials and organizations, as well as non-governmental experts and journalists to address key security issues.

“As in the previous years, we’re ready to provide a tribune for our partners for the free expression of views and an exchange of opinions on various aspects of global and regional security in the presence of more than 200 Russian and foreign journalists,” Fomin is cited as saying by TASS.

“If someone holds a different point of view, let him outline it and we’ll take it into account in our further work. In a word, we count on open and interested discussions,” he added.

READ MORE: ‘From predictable position of force?’ NATO’s chief tells Russia’s FM there’s ‘room for dialogue’

This year’s conference is scheduled to take place on April 26-27, with Russia’s Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Security Council secretary Nikolay Patrushev and Chief of Russia’s General Staff Valery Gerasimov expected to address the forum.

One of the main goals of the upcoming event, according to Fomin, is to try and “unite the efforts of the defense ministries in the search for more effective measures to counter common challenges and threats.”

Apart from NATO and the EU representatives, defense ministers and military delegations from 84 countries have been invited, as well as the heads of nine international organizations and over 130 foreign security experts, Fomin announced.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the International Committee of the Red Cross, the United Nations, CIS, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and the Arab League have already confirmed their participation for the Moscow meeting.

NATO opted to put cooperation with Russia on hold in 2014 following a coup in Kiev that triggered an armed backlash in the east of Ukraine and a referendum in Crimea to join Russia. The military alliance accuses Russia of direct involvement in the Ukrainian conflict, while Moscow denies this perceived “aggression.”

After almost three years of no practical cooperation, NATO Military Committee General Petr Pavel held a phone conversation with Chief of Russia’s General Staff, Valery Gerasimov. During the call, Gerasimov reiterated Russia’s concerns over NATO’s “significantly increased military activity near Russian borders.” The sides also discussed the prospects of restoring military communications between Russia and the bloc as well as devising mutual steps to “decrease tensions” in Europe.

Earlier this week, General Sir Gordon Kenneth Messenger, UK’s Vice Chief of the Defence Staff discussed NATO-Russian relations with General Alexander Zhuravlev, deputy chief of Russia’s General Staff.

Russian President Vladimir Putin believes that NATO’s “newly-declared official mission to deter Russia” and constant attempts to “drag” Moscow into a confrontation contributes to global security degradation. NATO continues to insist that there is “room for dialogue and for engagement with Russia” even if practical cooperation is suspended, while Moscow believes that idle talks with the military alliance make little sense without joint work in the defense sphere.

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‘We’re scared both of ISIS & liberators’: RT meets refugees who escaped Mosul crossfire (EXCLUSIVE)

Civilians are fleeing the horrors of besieged Mosul in increasing numbers since the Iraqi army restarted its anti-ISIS operation. RT’s Murad Gazdiev met inhabitants of a refugee camp, who shared chilling stories of their survival and perilous escape from the war-torn city.

Camp Khazir, visited by RT crew, is located in Iraqi Kurdistan. The facility houses some 37 thousand refugees – Sunnis, Shias, Yazidis and Christians living together for several months already. Many others, however, have arrived there over the past few days as a result of the Iraqi army’s massive offensive to recapture the terrorist-held western part of the city.

“Hunger forced us to run – to get away from the horror there. They – Daesh – made us eat animal feces,” one refugee woman told RT.

People said that although Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) jihadists hide among civilians and organize their positions inside their homes, it doesn’t stop coalition forces from bombing.

“It was hard. Everything I had built over 70 years I lost in there. ISIS was amongst us – among the civilians. Nobody made any distinction when bombing us. There were so many casualties,” a man said.

The refugees believe terrorists do it on purpose, not to hide, but rather to cause as many casualties among the civilians and destruction as possible.

“When ISIS knew the jets were going to start bombing – they would mingle with civilians. We were killed together,” another woman said.

Intense bombing obliterated entire houses, burning entire families inside them. One refugee woman told Murad Gazdiev that a coalition airstrike killed an entire family of seven right before her eyes.

“It was terrible, and the children were terrified. A house just twenty meters from us was destroyed by an airstrike – and we ran,” she said.

“The bombing was so intense. Entire families were killed together. And ISIS hid amongst us. When they died – we died,” another one said.

Civilians fled from the cruelty and depravities of IS, thirst, and hunger – but also the coalition airstrikes, they told RT. There’s no safe passage from the besieged city and people risk their lives to get out when staying at their homes is no longer an option. When asked what they were scared of more, ISIS or the coalition, some replied: “Both. Both Daesh and the liberation.”

“ISIS were among us. Nobody made any distinction when bombing us. There were so many casualties,” the man said.

The battle for Mosul has killed and wounded several thousand people since the Iraqi government started the operation to liberate the city on October 17. After 100 days of fighting the US-supported coalition managed to capture the eastern side of the city and paused before launching an offensive on February 19 against the districts to the west of the Tigris river.

As the battle rages on, an increasing number of civilians desperately attempt to leave the besieged city, with an estimated 750,000 residents still trapped in the IS stronghold at the start of the latest phase of the battle.

“We have noted a significant increase in displacement in last week, 30,000 in west Mosul, 4,000 a day or so,” Matthew Saltmarsh, a spokesman for the UN’s refugee agency, told a news briefing in Geneva on Friday.

Some 15,000 children fled the western part of Mosul over roughly a week, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported on Friday. In total, some 100,000 children have been “displaced” from the city since October, according to Bastien Vigneau, UNICEF’s emergency director for Mosul operations.

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Le Pen summoned over allegations of misuse of EU funds

Le Pen summoned over allegations of misuse of EU funds
French right-wing leader and a presidential candidate, Marine Le Pen, has been summoned by judges over the alleged misuse of EU funds, according to her lawyer. It is suspected that Le Pen’s staff were fictitiously employed at the European Parliament as assistants.

The National Front leader’s lawyer said Le Pen will not attend proceedings before the end of the current election campaign.

Of course she won’t go,” Le Pen’s lawyer, Marcel Ceccaldi said, Reuters reported.

It comes just one day after Le Pen lost her parliamentary immunity for posting graphic photos of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) victims on Twitter in December 2015.

The pictures were accompanied with text which read “Daesh (Arabic term for IS) is THIS!” The tweets were in response to journalist Jean-Jacques Bourdin, who compared Le Pen’s nationalist rhetoric to that of the terrorist group.

Le Pen is one of the leading candidates in France’s presidential election campaign, which will be held in two phases in April and May.

It is alleged that Le Pen’s bodyguard and chief of staff were paid with EU funds while not doing actual work as parliamentary assistants.

Chief of staff Catherine Griset was charged with breach of trust last month, while bodyguard Thierry Legier was detained and interrogated. He was later released without any charges pressed against him.

Le Pen has slammed the probe as a “political plot” against her, stressing that voters will not fall for the tactic.

The French can tell the difference between genuine scandals and political dirty tricks,” she said last month, as quoted by Reuters.

The National Front’t headquarters was raided as part of the probe in February, while Le Pen was on a trip abroad.

The European Parliament previously ordered Le Pen to pay back a total of 336,146 euros (US$353,000) to compensate for improper payments. She refused to return the funds, appealing the decision and claiming that the jobs of her staff were legitimate.

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