Ukraine Bans Gerard Depardieu Over Support for Crimea's Annexation


KIEV — Ukraine has banned French actor Gerard Depardieu from entering the country for five years, its state security service said on Wednesday, apparently for making comments that suggested he supported Russia's annexation of Crimea last year.

Government spokeswoman Olena Hitlyanska said the 66-year-old, known for films such as Cyrano de Bergerac and Green Card, had been on a blacklist of public figures deemed to be unsympathetic towards Ukraine's in its conflict with Russia.

She did not cite any specific comments from Depardieu.

This month Culture Minister Ivan Kirilenko said that Depardieu was on a list of 117 prominent figures in the arts and entertainment world "who have spoken out in support of the violation of Ukraine's territorial integrity and sovereignty."

Depardieu, who is notorious for riotous antics off-screen and scrapes with the law over drink-driving, motorbike accidents and his outspoken criticism of high taxes in France, was granted Russian citizenship by Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2013.

He has since defended Russia's international policies in interviews with French and other media.

Russia annexed Crimea in March 2014 after pro-Europe street protests in Ukraine chased a Moscow-backed leader from power, and has supported separatists in Ukraine's east in a conflict in which more than 6,500 people have been killed.

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by via The Moscow Times News
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Putin states inexpediency of establishing international tribunal on MH17 crash


MOSCOW, July 29. /TASS/. Russian President Vladimir Putin has stated in a telephone conversation with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte on Wednesday that establishing an international tribunal on Flight MH17 crash in Ukraine is inexpedient.

"The Russian president confirmed that Moscow’s position on inexpediency of establishing an international tribunal remains unchanged," the Kremlin press service said. "It was also stressed that many questions still remain to the investigation, including to collected evidence and to denying Russia access to significant part in the process [of the investigation]. The Russian side stressed readiness for close cooperation with the aim of finding causes and circumstances of this tragedy," the press service added.

Putin also stressed that it is necessary to fully implement UN Security Council Resolution 2166 adopted on 21 July 2014 and put forward by Russia that calls for ensuring comprehensive, thorough and independent investigation of MH17 crash. "The sides exchanged opinions on experts’ work in the framework of preparing a new UN Security Council resolution on this matter," the press service continued. "Putin noted that the draft resolution put forward by Russia is aimed at coordinating with the tasks outlined in Resolution 2166. Regret was expressed in connection with the fact that countries calling for establishing an international tribunal on Malaysia Airlines plane crash, did not support this compromise draft [resolution]," the Kremlin added.

Draft resolution on MH17 international tribunal

UN Security Council will vote on the resolution on establishing an international tribunal for Flight MH17 crash in Ukraine in July 2014 on Wednesday.

The draft resolution was proposed by Malaysia on behalf of five countries investigating the tragedy, including Australia, Belgium, the Netherlands and Ukraine. The tribunal will rely on the results of technical and criminal investigation.

Russia, as one of UN Security Council permanent members with a veto right, has repeatedly stated that it will not support the resolution. "We will vote against it. I have no doubt in that. If the [draft] resolution gets nine or more votes, it will be a veto [from Russia]," Russia’s Ambassador to UN Vitaly Churkin said. "If it gets less than nine votes, then it will be a negative voting by Russia possibly together with some other members of [UN] Security Council," he added.

Moscow thinks that it is wrong to classify the MH17 crash as a "threat to international peace and security." "No international tribunals have been established before in accordance with UN Charter Chapter VII on civilian plane crashes," Churkin noted.

Russia earlier submitted an alternative draft resolution to UN Security Council that supports international investigation. The document envisages appointing UN secretary general’s special representative for investigation. The draft resolution does not mention establishing an international tribunal but instead calls "to bring to justice all those guilty in the air crash" and for all countries "to cooperate in this direction until the international investigation is completed."

MH17 crash in east Ukraine

On 17 July 2014, a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 passenger airliner on flight MH17 from the Dutch city of Amsterdam to the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur crashed in the Donetsk Region in eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board. Most passengers - 193 people - were Dutch nationals. The suspected cause of the crash is that the plane was hit by a surface-to-air missile. The Dutch Safety Board is conducting the investigation.

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Russia’s Northern Fleet holds live-firing exercises in Arctic


ARKHANGELSK, July 29. /TASS/. The Russian destroyer Admiral Ushakov has practised gun fire in the Barents Sea against coastal targets, acting spokesman for the Northern Fleet, Capitan 2nd Rank Andrei Luzik said on Wednesday.

"The crew practised the tasks of maneuvering while delivering artillery fire against a visible coastal target. The coastal target positions were successfully destroyed," the spokesman said.

The destroyer conducted gun fire from its two onboard AK-130 paired artillery systems, which can hit targets at a distance of over 23 km (14 miles) with a fire rate of 90 rounds per minute, the spokesman said.

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Kremlin: ban on National Endowment for Democracy doesn't restrict democratic freedoms


MOSCOW, July 29. /TASS/. A ban on the activities of this or that non-governmental organization that has become undesirable does not mean the restriction of democratic freedoms of Russians, Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said. "It would be utterly wrong to say that banning the activities of this or that organization means that Russians are deprived of something," he told reporters. "A ban on the activities of one or several organizations will, of course, not mean restricted access to the democratic [values] for Russian citizens."

The presidential spokesman noted that there was a large number of public and non-governmental organizations of various kinds in the country.

When asked to comment on the fact that the National Endowment for Democracy has been placed on the register of undesirable organizations, Peskov said, "All this conforms with our legislation."

On Tuesday, The Russian Prosecutor-General’s Office reported it had qualified the activities of the US National Endowment for Democracy as undesirable on the territory of Russia. "Considering the focus of the endowment’s activities, the prosecutor’s office concluded that it posed a threat to the foundations of Russia’s constitutional system, the country’s defence capacity and security," the Prosecutor-General’s Office said.

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Vulture funds demand brutal austerity measures from bankrupt Puerto Rico


The demand was stated in a report written by three economists with strong links to the International Monetary Fund and was commissioned by the Ad Hoc Group of Puerto Rico, which comprises 34 hedge funds. The financial organizations specialize in buying “distressed debt” – finances owed by borrowers who have no capacity to pay – for pennies on the dollar, and then attempting to extract at least some of the money. Known by the derogatory monicker “vulture funds,” many of the 34 funds were involved in prominent bankruptcies during the 2008 financial crisis, and previous national defaults.

Together they are owed $5.2 billion in bonds issued by the Caribbean island, which belongs to the US, but is not considered a part of it. Last month, Alejandro Garcia Padilla said the island’s $72 billion overall debt was “unpayable.”

But the authors of the report say Puerto Rico “can avoid a costly default” and “generate a growing surplus” through revenue increases that can bring in $3 billion a year by 2020, and expense cuts that can lop off $2 billion from the budget by the same date.

The authors accused the island, where an estimated 56 percent of children live in poverty, of spending too much on education, while the government has already closed down almost 100 schools so far this year.

Among the suggested measures are “reducing the number of teachers to fit the size of the student population” and cutting “subsidy to University of Puerto Rico” as well as “excess Medicaid benefits.”

Puerto Rico spends about 80 percent of the US average on education, despite having a median household income at one-third of that in the mainland. Meanwhile, it suffers from some of the lowest graduation rates, and performance scores of all the US states and territories.

“The real expense per student has increased enormously without increasing the quality of education. It’s for the government to decide how much to cut spending by, but you don’t want to waste government resources. There has to be efficiencies. It is more important to establish a position for growth,” Jose Fajgenbaum, one of the authors of the report, told The Guardian.

The authors also advocate an increase in one of the lowest income tax rates in the world – 4 percent – and bigger property taxes.

Local officials, who are pushing for a bailout from Washington, or renegotiated terms with creditors, dismissed the report.

“The simple fact remains that extreme austerity is not a viable solution for an economy already on its knees,” Víctor Suárez, chief of staff to the governor, said in a statement.

Luis Gallardo, majority municipal legislator for Aguas Buenas, a rural city on the island, told the Guardian it was a “typically IMF recipe” that ignores the problems of the local population.

The island suffers from a brain drain – with the seventh-fastest speed of population decline of any territory in the world last year, and one of the highest violent crime rates in the region.

A decision on the financial future of Puerto Rico is expected to be announced in the coming days.

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