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German Ex-chancellor Suggests Way to End Ukraine Conflict

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The “success” of the Istanbul grain deal between Russia and Ukraine can be used to reach a ceasefire, Gerhard Schroeder believes

A ceasefire between Russia and Ukraine is possible, Germany’s former chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, told several German media outlets following his visit to Moscow last week. The Kremlin wants to resolve the conflict through talks, the politician added in an interview published on Wednesday.

A recent “initial success” achieved at the negotiations in Istanbul on grain exports can be exploited to gradually reach a ceasefire, Schroeder told Germany’s Stern magazine and the RTL/ntv broadcaster. In July, Russia and Ukraine signed a package of documents aimed at unblocking Ukrainian agricultural shipments stuck at Black Sea ports amid Russia’s military operation, following negotiations that also involved Turkey and the UN. In addition, Moscow and the UN signed a separate memorandum aimed at easing sanctions on Russian agricultural produce.

“The good news is that the Kremlin wants a negotiated solution,” Schroeder said. At the same time, the former chancellor warned against “denigration of possible concessions by Ukraine as a Russian ‘dictated peace’ in advance,” calling it a “big mistake.”

The former chancellor also believes that a compromise can still be reached on the fate of Donbass and Ukraine’s neutral status. He called it a “wise decision” by then-chancellor, Angela Merkel, and former Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, not to agree to Ukraine’s accession to NATO back in 2008. Kiev could use an “alternative” that would not involve NATO membership, as Austria has done.

Schroeder acknowledged that the issue of Donbass is a complicated one, and that instead of guaranteeing greater autonomy to the region, Kiev continued to crack down on the rights of the local population. “A solution based on the Swiss cantonal model will have to be found,” Schroeder believes. The former chancellor, however, expressed doubt as to whether Russia will agree to return to the “contact line” drawn before February 24.

Schroeder went on to sharply criticize Kiev’s plans to take back Crimea by force, saying: “an idea that Ukrainian President [Volodymyr] Zelensky will militarily reconquer Crimea is absurd.” Instead, tensions around the peninsula that re-joined Russia following a referendum back in 2014 could be “solved over time,” he suggested, expressing his hope that it would not require “over 99 years like in Hong Kong” but would take place during the life of “the next generation.”

The former German leader also highly praised the mediating role of Turkish officials, saying they are “currently very helpful in negotiations about grain shipments.” However, no talks can be successful without a positive contribution from the US, Schroeder believes.

“It won’t work without a ‘Yes’ from Washington,” he explained.

In the same interview, Schroeder also suggested launching Russia’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline as a way to overcome the energy crisis. The “simplest solution” is right there, he said, adding that Germany would have to “bear the consequences” if it abandons this option.

The former German chancellor, who has been heavily criticized at home over his close ties to Moscow, defended his friendship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. “Would [my] personal distancing from Vladimir Putin really do anyone any good?” he asked rhetorically. “I made decisions, and I stand by them, and I made it clear: maybe I can be useful again. So why should I apologize?”

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US Officials ‘obsessed’ With Wagner Group – Media

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The CIA and State Department have reportedly tried to pressure African governments into kicking out the Russian contractors

The Biden administration has attempted to pressure African nations into expelling the Wagner private military company, with the firm’s presence in Sudan and Libya “at the top of every meeting” between American and Egyptian officials, the Associated Press reported.

CIA Director William Burns focused on the group during recent trips to Egypt and Libya, while Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed Wagner with Egyptian President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi during a jaunt to Cairo last month, the news agency reported on Saturday.

“Wagner obsesses [the American officials],” said an Egyptian senior government official. “It is at the top of every meeting.”

Egypt is a key conduit for American policy, with the Biden administration going as far as using Cairo to pass messages to Moscow, rather than communicating through direct channels. According to the report, the Egyptians reached out to their Sudanese and Libyan counterparts to relay Washington’s displeasure with Wagner.

Abbas Kamel, the director of Egypt’s Intelligence Directorate Agency, urged the head of Sudan’s ruling sovereign council, General Abdel-Fattah Burhan to address Wagner’s “use of Sudan as a base” for operations in Central Africa, a Sudanese official said. Burns himself visited Libya to speak to the country’s competing governments, discussing Wagner with Libyan National Army (LNA) commander Khalifa Haftar, the report claimed.

Egypt reportedly asked that Haftar not station Wagner soldiers near its borders, while the US demanded that Wagner fighters be removed from their posts safeguarding Libyan oil facilities.

Founded in 2014, Wagner has mainly operated as a security contractor in Africa and the Middle East. The precise details of its deployments are not made public, although Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin has confirmed that his forces fought in Libya. He denied involvement in Sudan when asked by American journalists last year, saying at the time that he was “not aware of any evidence that the Wagner Group exists,” and that he had personally donated humanitarian aid to the conflict-stricken country.

“Who arranged wars and revolutions in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Mozambique, Central Africa, and so on?” he told RT last month. “Some of these countries later turned to the Wagner PMC, which put an end to these wars with an iron fist.”

The US declared the Wagner Group a “transnational criminal organization” last month, after Wagner forces notched up a series of victories against the Ukrainian military in Donbass.

Despite Washington’s apparent “obsession” with the group, “there is no evidence yet that the Biden administration’s pressure has yielded results in either Sudan or Libya,” the AP report noted.

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Serbia Names ‘greatest’ Mistake by West

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The decision to supply Kiev with battle tanks has only further united Russians, Aleksandar Vucic has said

The West’s recent announcement that it would be supplying Ukraine with main battle tanks marks a major miscalculation, Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic said on Friday. That’s as Moscow has threatened to burn any Western equipment that enters Ukraine and has vowed to retaliate “far beyond the scope of armored vehicles.”

Vucic noted that the decision to supply Ukraine with tanks, especially with the “terrifying” German Leopard 2s, is the West’s “biggest” political mistake because it effectively manages to “unite the Russians like never before.”

Last month, Germany and the US agreed to provide a number of heavy tanks to Kiev. Washington has promised between 30 and 50 of its M1 Abrams tanks, while Berlin pledged 14 Leopard 2A6s from the Bunderswehr’s own stocks. An additional 51 of the same model and 88 of the older Leopard 1 model may also come from Rheinmetall as they get refurbished, Germany said.

Berlin also gave the green light to countries that have expressed a desire to export their own Leopards to Ukraine. Those include Poland, Finland, Spain, Norway and the Netherlands. The UK and Canada have also said they would be sending their heavy equipment to Kiev.

The decision has been heavily criticized by Russia, which has called it an “extremely dangerous” move that threatens to escalate the conflict in Ukraine. On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin likened the new threat of “German Leopard tanks with crosses on their hulls” to the Soviet Union’s struggle against Hitler’s forces and warned that Moscow’s response would not be limited to weapons.

Other countries have also voiced their concerns about the West’s move. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that the delivery of NATO tanks to Ukraine was a “high-risk endeavor” that would fail to help end the conflict and only “line the pockets of gun barons.”

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban also slammed Germany’s decision, noting that these Western countries are “drifting” towards becoming active participants in the conflict. Orban has insisted that instead of arming Kiev, the West should be pursuing “a ceasefire and peace talks” in Ukraine.

Moscow has repeatedly objected to Western weapon deliveries to Ukraine, arguing that non-stop arms shipments only serve to prolong the conflict and risk direct confrontation with NATO. The Kremlin has also insisted that no amount of military aid will prevent Moscow from reaching its objectives and warned that the tanks would “burn like the rest of Western weapons” supplied to Kiev.

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Germany Approves Retired Tanks for Ukraine

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Berlin has given German defense industry companies permission to export older Leopard 1 tanks to Ukraine, the German media reported on Friday, citing government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit.

The official confirmed to journalists that a relevant export license was granted, without providing any further details.

“I do not want to say much more at the moment,” Hebestreit told journalists during a government press conference on Friday, according to Der Spiegel weekly. The official also said that further clarifications on the issue would be provided “within the coming days or weeks.”

Rheinmetall, one of Germany’s top arms manufacturers, suggested sending Leopard 1 tanks from its stocks to Ukraine as early as April 2022. At the time, the company stated it could supply up to 50 tanks to Ukraine within just six weeks if granted the government’s approval. The company also added that it was still checking on the condition of the tanks at the moment.

In mid-January, Rheinmetall CEO Armin Papperger told the tabloid Bild that it would take a long time to prepare the Leopard 1 tanks for potential export to Ukraine even if the company got a relevant license “tomorrow.” The tanks were “completely disassembled and built anew,” he said. According to Papperger, the delivery might take up to a year.

Der Spiegel reported on Friday that there were 29 Leopard 1 tanks largely ready for delivery, which were being stored by another defense manufacturer – the Flensburger Fahrzeugbau Gesellschaft (FFG). However, both Der Spiegel and SZ newspapers cited a lack of ammunition for the tanks in connection with the potential delivery.

Both Rheinmetall and FFG said they could potentially supply dozens of Leopard 1 battle tanks to Ukraine, but only if Kiev was willing to buy them, SZ reported. Earlier, Rheinmetall said that overhauling the heavy equipment would cost hundreds of millions of euros – a cost it could not cover on its own.

Earlier, Berlin also vowed to send 14 modern Leopard 2 main battle tanks out of the army’s stockpiles to Ukraine. Moscow has repeatedly criticized the West for supplying weapons to Ukraine, arguing that they only served to prolong the conflict and human suffering.

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