Documentary ‘Gift’ Looks Into the History of Sharing

The more you give, the richer you become that’s the philosophical idea behine the gift economy.  It’s an idea that’s catching on. At the famous Burning Man festival in Nevada for instance money has no worth. In his book “The Gift”, Lewis Hyde described this model in detail. Misha Gutkin looked into the whole idea.

North Korea Leader Vows to Unveil New Weapon Soon

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has accused the Trump administration of dragging its feet in nuclear negotiations and warned that his country will soon show a new strategic weapon to the world as its bolsters its nuclear deterrent in the face of “gangster-like” U.S. sanctions and pressure.
The North’s state media said Wednesday that Kim made the comments during a four-day ruling party conference held through Tuesday in the capital Pyongyang, where he declared that the North will never give up its security for economic benefits in the face of what he described as increasing U.S. hostility and nuclear threats.
Kim’s comments came after a monthslong standoff between Washington and Pyongyang over disagreements involving disarmament steps and the removal of sanctions imposed on the North.
“He said that we will never allow the impudent U.S. to abuse the DPRK-U.S. dialogue for meeting its sordid aim but will shift to a shocking actual action to make it pay for the pains sustained by our people so far and for the development so far restrained,” the Korean Central News Agency said, referring to the North by its formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

FILE – People watch a TV screen showing a file image of a ground test of North Korea’s rocket engine during a news program at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Dec. 9, 2019.Kim added that “if the U.S. persists in its hostile policy toward the DPRK, there will never be the denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula and the DPRK will steadily develop necessary and prerequisite strategic weapons for the security of the state until the U.S. rolls back its hostile policy,” according to the agency.
However, Kim showed no clear indication of abandoning negotiations with the United States entirely or lifting a self-imposed moratorium on tests of nuclear bombs and intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Some experts say North Korea, which has always been sensitive about electoral changes in U.S. government, will avoid engaging in serious negotiations for a deal with Washington in coming months as it watches how Trump’s impending impeachment trial over his dealings with Ukraine affects U.S. presidential elections in November.
Kim and President Donald Trump have met three times since June 2018, but negotiations have faltered since the collapse of their second summit last February in Vietnam.
Recent ‘crucial’ tests
Kim’s speech followed months of intensified testing activity and belligerent statements issued by various North Korean officials, raising concerns that he was reverting to confrontation and preparing to do something provocative if Washington doesn’t back down and relieve sanctions.
The North announced in December that it performed two “crucial” tests at its long-range rocket launch site that would further strengthen its nuclear deterrent, prompting speculation that it was developing an ICBM or planning a satellite launch that would provide an opportunity to advance its missile technologies.
North Korea also last year ended a 17-month pause in ballistic activity by testing a slew of solid-fuel weapons that potentially expanded its capabilities to strike targets in South Korea and Japan, including U.S. military bases there. It also threatened to lift a self-imposed moratorium on the testing of nuclear bombs and ICBMs.

Burundi Seeks 15-Year Jail Term for Journalists

Burundi prosecutors Monday sought 15-year jail terms for four reporters and their driver who were detained covering an incursion of rebels from Democratic Republic of Congo and charged with endangering state security.
The journalists were working for Iwacu, one of Burundi’s few independent media outlets, when they were arrested on Oct. 22.
A witness in the northwestern province of Bubanza, where they were arrested, told AFP on condition of anonymity the long jail terms were sought after two hours of deliberations.
The source said the prosecution based the hefty sentencing demand largely on a WhatsApp exchange of messages between one of the reporters and a colleague based abroad in which the former wrote: “We are heading for Bubanza … to help the rebels.”
A further demand was for the detained to be denied their civic rights for 20 years.
Judgment was stayed for one month.
“We had the time to assure our clients’ defense. We hope they will be acquitted purely and simply,” defense counsel Clement Retirakiza told reporters.
Police say at least 14 rebels from the Burundian RED-Tabara group, based across the border in eastern DR Congo, were killed in an attack the day the journalists were arrested.
The rebels say they killed a dozen security personnel.
Rights groups
The Reporters Without Borders NGO, which places Burundi a lowly 159th on its global list of press freedom, says those detained were simply doing their job. Human Rights Watch has called for their release.
Observers see the case against the four as a signal of toughness by the Burundi government just five months ahead of elections.
The country is currently mired in violent unrest sparked by President Pierre Nkurunziza announcing in April 2015 he was controversially standing for a third term. He won re-election in July.

What Repatriation of French General Might Do for Franco-Russian Ties

French President Emmanuel Macron hopes the repatriation of the body of General Charles-Etienne Gudin, who was killed in Russia more than two centuries ago, could play a symbolic role in his diplomatic courting of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Gudin, one of French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte’s favorite generals, succumbed to gangrene three days after a cannonball destroyed his leg in an 1812 battle 20 kilometers east of the Russian city of Smolensk. Bonaparte reportedly sat at Gudin’s side as he died.
If all goes according to French officials’ plan, Gudin’s remains will be returned to Paris in 2020 and reburied with great fanfare in a ceremony Macron hopes Putin will attend.
Gudin’s heart is already in the French capital, having been transported there by his loyal troops. In July, a one-legged skeleton was discovered in a wooden coffin in a park in Smolensk. Subsequent DNA tests established it was Gudin’s.
If the Kremlin agrees to France’s request, Gudin, who was 44 when he was killed, will be reburied in Les Invalides where the tombs of Napoleon and other military war heroes are located.
Russian specialist Hélène Carrère d’Encausse told Le Figaro newspaper that Macron “has a sense of symbols” and sees a reburial ceremony as possibly helpful in his four-month diplomatic campaign to coax Russia into the Western fold.
“President Macron is trying to put Franco-Russian relations back on track,” she said.

FILE – Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with French President Emmanuel Macron at Fort Bregancon near the village of Bormes-les-Mimosas, France, Aug. 19, 2019.Ahead of last August’s G-7 summit in Biarritz, Macron showed how adept he is at using symbols and history when he hosted Putin at his summer residence on the French Riviera. Macron hailed the impact Russian artists and writers had on France, saying they served as a reminder of how Russia is essentially a European nation.
It was a far cry from 2017, when fresh from an election victory in which he beat two pro-Kremlin challengers, Macron berated Putin at a joint press conference at the Palace of Versailles. Standing beside the uneasy-looking Russian leader, Macron blasted Russia for seeking to meddle in Western elections by spreading fake news, disinformation and falsehoods. He condemned brutal tactics, including the use of chemical weapons, allegedly employed by the Moscow-partnered Syrian government to regain control over the war-torn Middle East country.
Macron’s about-face has made some of France’s allies nervous, especially Russia’s neighbors in Central Europe and the Baltic States. They fear that in his determination to move from hostility to rapprochement with the Kremlin, he risks falling into a trap of rewarding bad behavior for little in return.
But Macron has countered that “Europe would disappear” if it does not rethink strategy toward Russia, and that prolonging hostility will push the Kremlin into the arms of an assertive China, which also is courting Russia.
Russia reaction
Earlier in December, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that the Kremlin will look favorably on a request for the return of Gudin’s remains.

FILE – Archaeologists work at a site of the supposed burial place of French General Charles-Etienne Gudin in Smolensk, Russia, July 7, 2019.“We know that French and Russian archaeologists indeed made such a discovery and performed a DNA analysis that proved 100% correct,” Peskov said. “So, those are indeed the remains of General Gudin. We know that it is big news for France, and we also know that the agenda has the topic of returning these remains.”
He added, “If France sends an official request, Russia will respond positively to returning these remains.”
French officials have confirmed that Macron raised the issue in December with Putin during the Ukraine peace talks in Paris. Le Figaro said the reburial “could become a symbol of Franco-Russian fraternity.”
Before considering an official tribute to Gudin, Elysée Palace advisers researched Gudin’s life to ensure he was safe from reproach or possible historical embarrassment, French magazine Le Point reported. The advisers were mindful of the political controversy in 2018 surrounding Macron’s praise of General Philippe Pétain as a “great soldier” during commemorations of the centenary of World War I.
Jewish leaders and Macron’s political foes argued that Macron’s praise was ill-deserved, as Petain became a Nazi collaborator. Macron was forced to justify the homage.
Gudin appears to have passed the “honor” test. He is seen as a valiant warrior, above politics. He served the monarchy before the French Revolution and loyally commanded the armies of the French Republic.

Crimean-Based Blogger Deported to Ukraine After Critical Social-Media Posts

A Yalta-based blogger who initially supported Russia’s annexation of Crimea but then later wrote critical posts about officials has been deported to Ukraine.
Yevhen Gayvoronskiy was taken by officers of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) and Migration Service to Ukraine’s border in the Luhansk region, said Refat Chubarov, the chairman of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people, in a Facebook post on Dec. 31.
He was due to arrive in Kyiv later that day, Chubarov said.
A Yalta court earlier this month ruled that Gayvoronskiy should be deported after earlier concluding that he was improperly given a Russian passport.
Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in March 2014 and later gave residents Russian passports.
Gayvoronskiy was detained on Oct. 22 for avoiding drug treatment, two weeks after he posted on his Facebook page critical comments about Russian President Vladimir Putin.
A court found him guilty of an administrative violation for the post.
The blogger was also arrested in March for 12 days on charges of taking drugs without a doctor’s prescription and required to undergo treatment. Gayvoronskiy called the accusation “nonsense.”
Shortly after the March arrest, he began to post “pro-Ukrainian” comments on social media, resulting in his termination at a pro-Russian outlet in Crimea.

Navalny ‘Completely Pessimistic’ About Western Curbs on Russian Corruption

After one suspected chemical poisoning, two arrests, 40 days in jail and multiple police raids on his Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) offices nationwide, it’s safe to say Russia’s most prominent opposition figure has had a rough year.  
But for Alexei Navalny, 2019 wasn’t without at least one small victory. His calls for mass demonstrations over the exclusion of opposition candidates from local Moscow elections sparked the largest sustained protest movement in years, prompting state investigators to launch a money-laundering probe and label his group a “foreign agent,” a move that he and others call part of a Kremlin-orchestrated campaign to stifle growing dissent.
Despite house-to-house searches for FBK staffers, asset seizures and frozen bank accounts, the well-known blogger and activist says he also maintained a regular jogging routine while preparing new investigative exposes on alleged corruption that fuels the excessively lavish lifestyles at the highest echelons of Russian officialdom.

Navalny recently sat down with VOA’s Russian Service to reflect on 2019, the state of the American and Russian political systems, and accusations that he’s been needlessly hard on Moscow banker Andrei Kostin, one of Russia’s most powerful civilians.
Just hours after this interview was conducted, Russian officials again raided FBK’s Moscow headquarters using power tools to gain entry before dragging Navalny out by force and confiscating computer equipment. The latest raid came one day after police broke into Ruslan Shaveddinov’s Moscow flat, forcibly conscripting the 23-year-old FBK project manager to serve at a remote military base in the Arctic, a move Navalny has since called tantamount to kidnapping.
The following has been edited for brevity.
QUESTION: How serious are FBK’s financial losses as a result of these raids, and in what other ways did Russian authorities try to interfere with your work this year?
ALEXEI NAVALNY: In order to impede, complicate, and paralyze the foundation’s work, a wide range of tools are used. First, it’s just non-stop “searches,” which are in fact planned confiscations of computers, phones, flash drives — any data-processing electronics of FBK employees, staff, their relatives, neighbors, sometimes even random people. Second, it’s the freezing of accounts, such that people can’t, for example, pay or receive a salary. All accounts and cards are blocked, even for child care and survivor benefits. And then there’s the recently launched criminal case, which allows [officials] to call in anyone in for questioning at any time, along with unending efforts to nightmare and harass people through ostensibly legal actions. And while our people are quite resilient, the pressure strongly affects their relatives.
As for finances, we now have several million rubles on the account blocked. The question is not even what the financial losses are, but that we’re prevented from receiving cash inflows. … After the last [election] campaign for the Moscow City Duma, there were quite a lot of [donations], so the authorities are simply trying to block this cash flow, and the campaign to designate us as “foreign agents” means all of FBK’s monetary assets were declared “criminal.”
Q: Which events of 2019 were most significant to you?
NAVALNY: Undoubtedly the Moscow City Duma elections. Initially, we didn’t think it would have any great national political significance, but the actions of the authorities, which were extraordinary in their stupidity, severity and senselessness, caused these events to resonate nationally. We received, on the one hand, new independent [Moscow City Duma] deputies, and, on the other hand, a huge number of people [were blocked from voting, which only made more people sympathetic to our cause]. So we got new political prisoners, new political stars. … In this sense, the Moscow City Duma elections were the main event.
Q: You do what many would call the kind of high-quality investigative journalism, which, in the West, might topple an entire government. Yet your exposes of government corruption aren’t compelling most Russians to protest. Why?
NAVALNY: This is indeed a cause of frustration on our part. We grasp perfectly well the quality our investigations, and we see many examples where exposes of less impact trigger government resignations and parliamentary crises in other countries. But in Russia this doesn’t have major consequences due to the general political situation. And it’s not a purely Russian phenomenon — we see similar things in Belarus, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, any number of other authoritarian countries with staggering levels of corruption. That’s where we also see this unfortunate, conditioned familiarity with corruption: the population already understands the elite stole everything, and the whole country exists only for the enrichment of this elite. And then of course there’s censorship and intimidation. Therefore, we don’t believe that the population is indifferent to our investigations — they know about them, but they’re afraid of the state aggression toward those who choose to protest.
Q: You don’t suppose that since quite a lot of people are now connected with state structures in Russia, and because they have families to feed, that corruption schemes have now become the new normal for a significant part of the populace? That the fight against corruption is a threat to a broad class of people?
NAVALNY: That’s a good question. Does, say, the deputy head of the consumer market department of the city of Kostroma feel himself a direct part of Putin’s “power vertical”? In fact, the vast majority of officials are not corrupt, if only because corruption isn’t as lucrative in lower-level bureaucracies, [whereas theft of natural resource commodities such as oil and gas] is basically limited to maybe a thousand or so families with direct ties to Vladimir Putin at the highest level of his administration. But yes, in a certain sense, the system is built in such a way — and the belief systems of individuals within the system are built in such a way — that you live a very poor but stable life within the system. And of course you receive some informal privileges by being inside of it, such that your rational choice is to defend it rather than try to change it for the better.
Q: Your recent expose showed that Andrei Kostin, president and chairman of Russia’s state-owned VTB bank, gave millions of dollars in gifts, including property, a private jet and a yacht, to his purported romantic partner, Russian state TV presenter Nailya Asker-Zade. Some commentators then accused you of prying into the personal affairs of private citizens as opposed to state officials. How do you feel about such accusations?
NAVALNY: Personal life is peoples’ relationships. We are not interested in the relationships, love, passions and dramas that occur in the families of Kostin, Asker-Zade or anyone, not even Putin. However, when it comes to colossal spending from a state bank, it’s already about corruption, not about personal relationships. And if a state banker spends literally tens of millions of dollars on his mistress, providing her with a standard of living on par with Arab sheikhs, that’s already far, far beyond the limits of a private, personal affair. We try, as far as possible, not to condemn or evaluate Kostin from the point of view of public morality or “family values,” but we certainly reserve the right to discuss his morals from the point of view of corruption, from the point of view of lifestyle, from the point of view of expenditures.

Q: There’s the impression that you now regularly visit the United States, where your daughter studies. What’s your impression of American political life?
NAVALNY: Unfortunately, I don’t visit so often. I took my daughter to the university and went to shoot a story about Nailya Asker-Zade’s plaque on a bench in New York City’s Central Park, [which she had engraved with a declaration of her love for Kostin]. My feelings are unambiguous and probably align with those of many people, including most Americans: the country is split, the political class is split. Everyone on the left is [feeling] a kind of frustration, demoralization and rage, while those on the right are probably also furious, frustrated and demoralized, because it’s not clear what to do about it or where it’s all headed. It’s still not very clear, for example, why the newspapers consistently reported [that Hillary Clinton had a commanding lead in the race, and then Trump won]. This is a very interesting but difficult time for Americans. But overall, even though I see a lot of exasperated people, I do think checks-and-balances generally works. Nothing so terrible is happening to America. Democracy works.
Q: Can Western countries somehow influence Russia’s behavior in terms of corruption and human rights? What mechanisms are effective?
NAVALNY: I think we already understand empirically that, unfortunately, they can’t influence anything, and they don’t really want to. There’s always some fictitious geostrategic interests or, perhaps, short-term political interests, some ideas about “peacekeeping missions,” etc … that simply prevent us from taking steps that are long overdue. Western countries need to protect not Russian citizens but themselves from the secondary effects Russian corruption by implementing their own laws. But this isn’t happening. We repeatedly see that, despite the sanctions, despite the fact that there is a lot of talk on this subject, the entire Putin elite feels completely at ease. We haven’t seen any real examples of asset freezes or seizures. On the contrary, we see people under sanctions traveling quite freely and continuing to buy up properties and assets only to register them to their children. And regulators, including American ones, pretend not to notice. … I am completely pessimistic about the role of the West in the fight against corruption in Russia.
Q: What are your political plans? The much discussed 2024 [presidential election] is still more than 4 years away; what are you going to do?
NAVALNY: It’s still a long time until 2024, but we don’t plan our activities from election to election. Elections take place constantly, and we’re actively engaged in them. We also have the anti-corruption foundation, so we’re engaged in the investigations, and we’ll continue to build a nationwide system combating censorship through YouTube channels and blogs. We have a system of more than 40 headquarters, which now face the main task of learning how to survive under new conditions, in which [the state] is trying to paralyze our entire structure and funding with constant raids. We’ll continue what we are doing, and we’ll reinvent ourselves so that we can do it even more effectively in the new environment. And we’ll try to expand. We have a lot of work to do.
Q: Are you going to continue trying to register a political party? You’ve been doing this for a long time, but you keep getting rejected.
NAVALNY: As we’ve stated many times, this is our right. Court cases on this issue have been going on for many years, and we are constantly making new attempts to register. We’ll always do it. At the same time, of course, we’re well aware that the Kremlin simply can’t afford to register our party, because then it’s unclear what they will do with it in the elections. But it’s our right, and we’ll continue to defend it.

Arab League Opposes ‘Interference in Libya’ After Turkey Accords

The Arab League called Tuesday for efforts to “prevent foreign interference” in Libya in the wake of military and maritime agreements signed by Turkey with the U.N.-recognized government in Tripoli.
Permanent representatives of the pan-Arab organization, in a meeting at its Cairo headquarters requested by Egypt, passed a resolution “stressing the necessity to prevent interference that could contribute to facilitating the arrival of foreign extremists in Libya.”
They also expressed “serious concern over the military escalation further aggravating the situation in Libya and which threatens the security and stability of neighboring countries and the entire region.”
On Monday, the U.N.’s Libya envoy, Ghassan Salame, said the deals signed by Turkey and the Tripoli government represented an “escalation” of the conflict wracking the North African country.
Libya has been mired in conflict since a NATO-backed uprising in 2011 toppled and killed dictator Moamer Kadhafi, with rival administrations in the east and the west vying for power.
In November, Ankara signed a security and military cooperation deal and also inked a maritime jurisdiction agreement with the Government of National Accord (GNA) based in the capital.
In addition, Turkey is preparing to hold a vote in parliament on deploying troops in support of the GNA which is battling forces of eastern military strongman Khalifa Haftar, who is backed by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Russia.
Egypt, in a letter sent to the United Nations last week, said it considers the Ankara-Tripoli agreements “void and without legal effect,” adding that foreign military involvement in Libya amounted to a violation of a U.N. arms embargo in force since the uprising.

A Look at 2020

Plugged In with Greta Van Susteren looks back on the biggest stories of 2019 and examines how that will shape 2020. Joining Greta: Michael; O’Hanlon from the Brookings Institution, VOA White House Correspondent Patsy Widakuswara and Plugged In’s Mil Arcega. Air Date: January 1, 2020.

Man Sentenced to 15 Years for Role in Slovak Journalist Murder

A Slovak court handed a 15-year prison sentence to a man charged with facilitating the murder of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak in 2018 in a plea deal on Monday, a spokeswoman said.
The killing of Kuciak and his fiancee, both 27, at their home outside Bratislava in February 2018 sparked mass protests against corruption in the central European nation, shaking the government. The case will play a role in a parliamentary election due in February.

FILE – Suspects in the 2018 slaying of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancee Martina Kusnirova are escorted by armed police officers from a courtroom in Pezinok, Slovakia, Dec. 19, 2019.Zoltan Andrusko, 42, was one of five charged in the case but the only to confess and seek a plea deal to act as a witness.
The trial of the other four, including entrepreneur Marian Kocner who was a subject of Kuciak’s reporting on fraud cases involving politically connected businessmen, started on Dec. 19 and will continue in January.
Andrusko had agreed a 10-year sentence with prosecutors but a court on Monday rejected that deal and proposed a longer sentence, which the defendant accepted, the court said.
“This court considers the extraordinary reduced sentence as justified, as well as logical, but the court, by its decision, should seek justice not only for the accused but for all sides of the case, for society, for justice in the law,” newspaper Dennik N cited judge Pamela Zaleska as saying.
Prosecutors say Kocner had ordered Kuciak’s killing. He and his accomplices, who have all pleaded not guilty, face up to life in prison if convicted.
The case is a test of Slovak judicial independence given that the investigation exposed links between Kocner and police and public officials.
The murders stoked widespread public anger and forced Prime Minister Robert Fico to resign last year. His ruling Smer party faces a tight election on Feb. 29.

Staying in to Rock Out: Virtual Reality Concerts Bring the Show to You

What would it be like to attend a concert with thousands of other people without leaving your home? Matt Dibble dons a VR headset to find out

World Welcomes 2020

People across the world are gathering for traditional celebrations to welcome the year 2020.
Revelers in New Zealand and other Pacific islands were among the first to celebrate the new year with fireworks displays.
Events elsewhere in the world are being overshadowed by other concerns, including in Australia where the fireworks show in Sydney is going forward as other communities in the country cancel theirs due to fears of making a wildfire crisis worse.
In Hong Kong, the usual fireworks show was canceled due to what officials said were security concerns in the city that has seen months of pro-democracy protests.

Planet Fitness, in partnership with Time Square Alliance, tested the “air worthiness” of the confetti prior to Times Square’s New Year’s Eve 2020 celebration in New York City, Dec. 29, 2019 in New York.Events are scheduled to take place as the new year rolls around in major cities from Berlin to Dubai and London to New York.

New US Ambassador to Russia Discusses State of Relations With Counterpart

Newly appointed U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan has met with his Russian counterpart, Anatoly Antonov, in Washington.

FILE – Anatoly Antonov, Russian ambassador to the U.S. gestures while speaking during a round-table discussion on the Trump-Putin summit in Helsinki in Moscow, July 20, 2018.“The sides exchanged views on the current status and prospective development of Russian-U.S. relations,” the Russian Embassy said in a statement following the December 30 meeting.
Sullivan, who has served in two previous administrations and is a close ally of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, was confirmed by the Senate on December 12. He was sworn in on December 23.
Sullivan, as deputy secretary of state in the administration of President Donald Trump, has been involved in developing U.S. policy on Russia, led counterterrorism talks with Moscow in July, and has been involved in restarting negotiations on a broad range of security issues.
He also briefly served as acting secretary of state following the resignation of Rex Tillerson in the spring of 2018. As ambassador, Sullivan succeeds Jon Huntsman Jr., who resigned in August.
During his confirmation hearing in December, Sullivan said that “our relationship with Russia has reached a post-Cold War ebb,” and listed a number of examples of “Russia’s malign actions” that have strained relations.
Among them he named “attempting to interfere in our and our allies’ elections, violating the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine and Georgia, employing a weapon of mass destruction in an attempt to assassinate its citizens abroad, violating the INF Treaty, and infringing on the basic human rights of its people.”
However, he added, “the need for principled engagement with Russia is as important to our national interest as ever.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has described Sullivan as “a highly professional and experienced diplomat.”

Russia, Ukraine Finalize Gas Transit Deal Just Before Deadline

Moscow and Kyiv on Monday signed a five-year agreement on the transit of Russian gas to Europe via Ukraine, finalizing months of difficult talks just ahead of a New Year deadline.
The current deal between the two ex-Soviet countries expires Tuesday and ties between them have been shredded since Moscow annexed Crimea in 2014 and supported a separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine.
Presidents Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelensky discussed the deal by phone and congratulated each other ahead of New Year’s celebrations, a sign that their relations could be on the mend.
The gas deal “creates a positive atmosphere for solving other bilateral problems,” the Kremlin said in a statement.
About 18 percent of the European Union’s annual natural gas consumption comes from Russia via Ukraine, which put pressure on EU officials to help broker the deal.
“Ukraine has signed a five-year transit contract,” Zelensky announced in a late-night post on his Facebook page, nearly two weeks after a provisional deal was reached.
A wide range of documents and contracts were involved, and together formed “a package deal which has re-established the balance of interests,” Alexei Miller, the boss of Russian gas giant Gazprom, was cited as saying in a statement.
The documents were signed after five days of non-stop talks.
Gazprom is expected to ship at least 65 billion cubic meters (2.3 trillion cubic feet) of natural gas via Ukraine next year, and at least 40 billion per year from 2021 to 2024, said Zelensky, from which Kiev would earn “more than seven billion dollars”.
‘Great news’ for Europe
The agreement should prevent a repeat of so-called gas wars that previously disrupted supplies and in some years caused real energy problems in EU member states.
EU Commission vice president in charge of energy Maros Sevcovic called the deal “great news for Europe’s energy security” on Twitter, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel thanked Russia and Ukraine.
“Continued gas transit via Ukraine… is a good and important signal for ensuring our European security of gas supply,” she said.
Last year, Gazprom supplied Europe with 200.8 billion cubic meters of natural gas, about 40 percent of which passed through Ukraine for roughly $3 billion in transit fees.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said earlier this month that Moscow wanted to keep some gas flowing through Ukraine, despite having built several pipelines to Europe since the current deal was agreed a decade ago.
The new agreement comes days after Gazprom paid $2.9 billion to Ukraine’s Naftogaz to settle a long-running dispute over transit fees that had blocked the deal.
Meanwhile, Russia is pursuing work on the Nord Stream 2 project that is to be completed by the end of next year and would double gas shipments to Germany.
The United States has long opposed the 9.5-billion-euro ($10.6-billion) project and the U.S. Senate voted last week to levy sanctions on companies working on it.
Washington believes the pipeline will give Russia too much influence over security and economic issues in western Europe.
Transit problems for Russian gas began after the fall of the Soviet Union when independent Ukraine took control of the pipeline infrastructure.
Several crises followed, with Russia using gas supplies to put pressure on Ukraine by cutting them repeatedly in 1992, 1993 and 1994.
The last gas crisis disrupted supplies to Europe in 2010.

Ghosn Goes to Lebanon to Flee ‘Injustice’ in Japan

Former Nissan Motor Company chief Carlos Ghosn said Tuesday he had traveled to Lebanon to escape what he called “injustice and political persecution” in Japan where he faces multiple charges of financial misconduct.
“I am now in Lebanon and will no longer be held hostage by a rigged Japanese justice system where guilt is presumed, discrimination is rampant, and basic human rights are denied, in flagrant disregard of Japan’s legal obligations under international law and treaties it is bound to uphold,” he said.
Ghosn has been arrested several times since first being detained in November 2018, but was free on bail. The conditions of his latest release required him to remain in Japan, and his statement Tuesday did not explain how he left.
Ghosn holds French, Brazilian and Lebanese citizenship.  His lawyer Junichiro Hironaka told reporters Tuesday that his legal team was still in possession of all Ghosn’s passports, and he said he was surprised to learn of Ghosn’s departure.
Ghosn has denied the charges against him.
Among the allegations are accusations he conspired to understate his Nissan income by about 50 percent between 2010 and 2015, and that a Nissan subsidiary diverted $2.5 million out of $5 million from an Oman dealership to a Ghosn-owned investment company for his private use.
Ghosn was credited for steering Nissan from the brink of bankruptcy to becoming one of the world top-selling automakers. He engineered a three-way alliance with one-time domestic rival Mitsubishi Motors and French-based Renault.

Volunteers Prepare Colorful Floats for Rose Parade

Volunteers are working around the clock preparing flower-decked floats for the annual Rose Parade, a New Year’s Day tradition. Hundreds of thousands of people line the parade route in Pasadena, California, on Wednesday, and millions more will watch on television.  Mike O’Sullivan reports on the preparations.

Judge Dismisses Impeachment Lawsuit From Ex-White House Aide

A federal judge on Monday dismissed a lawsuit from a former White House official who had challenged a congressional subpoena in the impeachment inquiry involving President Donald Trump.
Charles Kupperman, a former deputy national security adviser, sued in October after being subpoenaed by House Democrats to testify in their impeachment investigation into Trump’s interactions with Ukraine. He had asked a judge to decide whether he had to comply with that subpoena from Congress or with a conflicting directive from the White House that he not testify.
Both the House of Representatives, which withdrew the subpoena, and the Justice Department, which had said it would not prosecute Kupperman for contempt of Congress for failing to appear, had asked the court to dismiss the case as moot.
U.S. District Judge Richard Leon agreed Monday in throwing out the case. He noted that the House had stated explicitly that it would not reissue a subpoena to Kupperman and had not mentioned him by name in an impeachment article this month that accused Trump of obstructing Congress and its investigation.
“This conduct is of course entirely consistent with the repeated representations that counsel for the House has made to this Court,” Leon wrote. “The House clearly has no intention of pursuing Kupperman, and his claims are thus moot.”

FILE – Former National Security Adviser John Bolton gestures while speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, Sept. 30, 2019.The lawsuit was closely watched since it was a rare challenge of a congressional subpoena in the impeachment inquiry and because of the potential implications it carried for another witness whose testimony has been highly sought by Democrats: former national security adviser John Bolton.
Kupperman and Bolton have the same lawyer. Bolton was not subpoenaed by the House but, as a senior adviser to the president on matters of national security, had similar arguments at his disposal. Senate Democrats have identified Bolton as among the current and former Trump administration officials they would like to hear from in a trial.
Charles Cooper, a lawyer for Bolton and Kupperman, did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.
Though Leon said he did not need to resolve Kupperman’s case now, he acknowledged that the conflict could potentially resurface.
“Have no doubt though, should the winds of political fortune shift and the House were to reissue a subpoena to Dr. Kupperman, he will face the same conflicting directives that precipitated this suit,” Leon wrote.
“If so, he will undoubtedly be right back before this Court seeking a solution to a Constitutional dilemma that has long-standing political consequences: balancing Congress’s well-established power to investigate with a President’s need to have a small group of national security advisors who have some form of immunity from compelled congressional testimony,” Leon wrote.

Serial Killer Phillip Jablonski Dies on California Death Row

A serial killer whose five victims included two wives has died on California’s death row, authorities said Monday.
Phillip Carl Jablonski, 73, was found unresponsive in his San Quentin State Prison cell on Friday and pronounced dead within minutes. His cause of death is awaiting an autopsy, but he had been assigned a single cell, said corrections department spokeswoman Terri Hardy.
A San Mateo County jury sentenced him to death in 1994 for the first-degree murders of his wife, Carol Spadoni, 46, and her mother, Eva Petersen, 72.
Spadoni had married him while he was in prison for murdering a previous wife in 1978.
It was the latest in what court records say was a long history of violence against multiple women, dating to his trying to kill his first wife in the 1960s. At the time he was an Army sergeant who had served two tours of duty in the Vietnam War before he was discharged in 1969 for a “schizophrenic illness.”
He pleaded guilty to the second-degree murder, assault and attempted rape of his second wife, Melinda Kimball, in 1978.
He was paroled for good behavior in 1990, despite having tried to strangle his mother with a shoelace during a prison visit in 1985.
Authorities said they recovered a cassette tape in which he then described fatally shooting, stabbing and mutilating Spadoni and her mother, and raping her mother after she was dead.
He pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, but a jury found he was sane at the time.
Jablonski was also implicated in the deaths of two other women that same year, Fathyma Vann of Indio, California, and Margie Rogers of Thompson Springs, Utah.
Vann was attending the same community college as Jablonski at the time. 
Rogers and her husband co-owned a store along Interstate 70 where she was found dead.

Woman Sues Epstein Estate, Says She Was 14 During Encounter

A woman who says she was 14 when she had a sexual encounter with financier Jeffrey Epstein at his mansion sued his estate in  Florida court on Monday  for coercion, inflicting emotional distress and battery.
The lawsuit filed in Palm Beach County asks for an undisclosed amount of money. The lawsuit doesn’t give the woman’s name, and only refers to her as “JJ Doe.”
The woman went to Epstein’s Florida mansion in 2003 when she was “a vulnerable child without adequate parental support,” the lawsuit said.
According to the lawsuit, the teenager was first approached by another teenage girl who offered her $200 to give Epstein a massage at his mansion. At the mansion, she was led to a bedroom where there was a massage table and oils. Epstein entered the room in a towel, laid on the table and instructed her to take off her clothes as she massaged him, the lawsuit said.
“Out of fear, plaintiff complied with Jeffrey Epstein’s commands,” the lawsuit said.
Epstein then pinched the teenager’s nipples, fondled her, touched her between her legs and masturbated, the lawsuit said.
“During the encounter, plaintiff resisted Jeffrey Epstein’s advances and demands, yet was assured if she complied, then he would stop and it would end soon,” the lawsuit said
Darren Indyke, an attorney for the estate, didn’t return an email inquiry for comment.
More than a dozen lawsuits are seeking millions of dollars in compensation for women who say they were sexually abused by Epstein, sometimes for years, at his homes in Manhattan, Florida, New Mexico, the Virgin Islands and Paris.
Epstein, 66, killed himself in his New York City prison cell in August after he was arrested on sex trafficking charges. The wealthy financier had pleaded not guilty to sexually abusing girls as young as 14 and young women in New York and Florida in the early 2000s. In lawsuits, women say the abuse spanned decades.

In Afghanistan, Jailed Taliban Await Peace, Their Freedom

Thousands of Taliban prisoners jailed in Afghanistan as insurgents see a peace deal being hammered out between the United States and the Taliban as their ticket to freedom.
They know a prisoner release is a key pillar of any agreement that brings an end to Afghanistan’s 18-year war, Washington’s longest military engagement.
A list of about 5,000 Taliban prisoners has been given to the Americans and their release has been written into the agreement under discussion, said a Taliban official familiar with the on-again, off-again talks taking place in Qatar. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. U.S. and Afghan government officials have said a prisoner release is part of the negotiation.
But some analysts say freeing prisoners could undermine peace in Afghanistan.
“There’s a need for Afghan and U.S. officials to do their due diligence on any Taliban prisoners they’re planning to release, in order to minimize the likelihood that they’ll set free jihadists that can do destabilizing things and undercut a fledgling peace process,” warned Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Program at the U.S.-based Wilson Center.
The Associated Press interviewed more than a dozen Taliban prisoners inside the notorious Pul-e-Charkhi prison on the eastern edge of the capital, Kabul. Several of them were nostalgic for the Taliban’s Afghanistan, ruled by the mighty hand of their previous leader, the reclusive Mullah Mohammed Omar, who died several years ago.
But they also insisted that they accept it would not be the same now and that, though they still wanted what they call Islamic rule, they no longer call for some of their strict edicts, like the ban on education and on girls and women working.
“We want women to be educated, become engineers, we want women to work in every department,” said one prisoner, Maulvi Niaz Mohammed, though he said the work must be “based on Islam.” He said young Afghans should not fear the Taliban, “it is they who will build our country and develop it.”
Taliban negotiators have taken a similar tone in the talks. But there is a deep distrust on both sides of the conflict and many in the public worry what will happen if the Taliban, who ruled for five years until they were toppled in the 2001 U.S.-led invasion, regain authority.

In this Dec. 14, 2019, photo, Maulvi Niaz Mohammad, 45, speaks during an interview with The Associated Press inside the Pul-e-Charkhi jail in Kabul, Afghanistan.On Sunday, the Taliban ruling council agreed to a temporary cease-fire in Afghanistan, providing a window in which a peace agreement with the U.S. can be signed, Taliban officials said. They didn’t say when it would begin.
The Taliban have well-organized communication networks inside Afghan prisons that record the latest arrests, province by province, as well as who is sick and who has died. It all gets delivered to a prisoners’ commission, devoted to their release and headed by Mullah Nooruddin Turabi, who during the Taliban rule served as justice minister and the “virtue and vice” minister in charge of religious police.
During that time, he was widely feared. Turabi was known to personally enforce the movement’s dictates, snatching music tapes from taxi drivers disobeying a ban on music and television, and stalking offices and businesses to search for violators who trimmed their beard or missed one of the five daily calls to prayer.
Once in 1996, just days after the Taliban took control of Kabul from warring mujahedeen groups, when the AP was interviewing a Taliban fighter, Turabi slapped the hulking, 6-foot-tall fighter in the face for talking with a foreign woman journalist.
Built in the 1970s to house 5,000 prisoners, Pul-e-Charkhi now has 10,500 prisoners, according to the warden, Akhtar Noorzoi. They are packed in 11 cell blocks surrounded by turrets, guard towers and walls topped with razor wire.

In this Dec. 14, 2019, photo, cooks prepare dinner food for jailed Taliban inside the Pul-e-Charkhi jail in Kabul, Afghanistan.The around 3,000 prisoners classified as Taliban are in their own block. The caution, even fear, felt by the guards and the administrators was unmistakable as they entered the Taliban’s cell block, protected by a phalanx of guards in armored vests and helmets, carrying bulky weapons that fire tear gas shells. Behind them on the dimly lit stairs were another half dozen guards, also in vests and helmets, automatic weapons at the ready.
The prisoners had free rein in a room where they could mingle, pray and study.
The room was lined with small desks at which the Taliban sat on the carpeted floor in traditional style.
The AP interviewed the prisoners in a nearby room, unshackled and with no guards or administrators present. The prisoners decided among themselves who among them would be interviewed, without interference — at least none visible — from the administration.
 Still, they spoke in whispers as they complained of maltreatment by guards, some of whom they said wanted revenge for personal losses blamed on Taliban attacks, while others fear a Taliban return.
Maulvi Niaz Mohammad emerged as the leader among the prisoners, although no one identified him as such. He was convicted to 15 years. During the Taliban rule, he served with Qari Ahmadullah, a Taliban intelligence commander who controlled much of northern Afghanistan.
 He said barely 1,000 of the prisoners in the block are actually Taliban. The rest were accused of being sympathizers or members of the group, often to settle old scores; others were criminals.

In this Dec. 14, 2019, photo, jailed Taliban shopkeeper poses for photograph inside the Pul-e-Charkhi jail in Kabul, Afghanistan. One, Noorullah, 34, was sentenced to 20 years for killing his wife. He said that in prison he’d found comfort with the Taliban and sees their rule as preferable to the current government — though under the Taliban, he likely would have been sentenced to public execution at the hands of a relative of his wife.
He said that sentence would have been better, since now his family fears revenge attacks by his wife’s relatives. 
“Why is it better now? I have to pay the judge, pay to the police, just so my family is not bothered.”
One Taliban prisoner who gave his name only as Maulvi Sahab, saying he feared reprisals, said Taliban prisoners were beaten and taunted by guards. Dozens of prisoners were still in prison even after their sentences have been completed, sometimes for one week, one for a year, he said.
Medicine and medical treatment are often slow in arriving when they are for Taliban prisoners, he said. Every concession the Taliban have won has come through protests — refusing to return to cells or comply with orders until eventually some of their demands are met, including the use of mobile phones, which he and several others had in their hands as they spoke.
The prison warden, Noorzoi, rejected the Taliban litany of complaints. He said they promptly receive medical treatment, have access to literacy classes, religious schools and even a gymnasium and are served meat at least three times a week. He said a hospital is under construction.
Treatment, he insisted, was “better than some of them would get in their villages.”
Pul-e-Charkhi prison is Afghanistan’s most notorious, with a disturbing history of violence, mass executions and torture. Mass graves have been uncovered dating back to the purges carried out by Kabul’s Soviet Union-backed governments of the late 1970s and 1980s. Torture cells and underground holding areas have been unearthed.
Prison authorities said today the prison is monitored by an Interior Ministry human rights commission and the International Committee of the Red Cross makes regular visits.
“Torture, mistreatment that’s all a thing of the past” said Najeeb Nangyal, the Interior Ministry’s director of media and public affairs.
Still, violent outbreaks are not uncommon.
In November, a riot broke out after authorities tried to confiscate cell phones and narcotics. When it ended, 16 prisoners were dead, many of them Taliban. The Taliban said they were targeted.
Analysts and even the United States’ own Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John F. Sopko said neither Afghanistan nor the U.S. is ready for the Taliban prisoners’ release.
Every past attempt at re-integration has been costly and a failure.
A report released in September — one of several “Lessons Learned” treatises done by Sopko’s team during America’s 18-year and $1 trillion involvement in Afghanistan — said Afghans on both sides of the conflict need to avoid the missteps of the past.
Sopko said Congress should consider funding reintegration only if a peace deal provides a framework for reintegrating ex-combatants, there is strong monitoring of the process and violence is dramatically reduced.

US Brushes Off Iraqi Criticism of Airstrikes

The United States is defending the use of airstrikes on Sunday to target an Iranian-backed militia in Iraq and Syria, warning it could strike again, despite criticism from top Iraqi officials and renewed threats from the militia itself.
“We are not going to let Iran get away with using a proxy force to attack American interests,” a senior State Department official told reporters Monday, describing the strikes as defensive in nature.
“It has been a feature of Iran’s expansionist foreign policy to conduct deniable attacks,” the official added. “We are not giving Iran the fiction of deniability any longer.”
The U.S. airstrikes targeting Kataeb Hezbollah weapons storage facilities, and command and control locations across Iraq and eastern Syria, killed at least 25 people and injured dozens more.  
U.S. officials said the strikes were in response to a rocket attack on an Iraqi military base on Friday which killed a U.S. defense contractor. Officials said the evidence left no doubt Kataeb Hezbollah was responsible.
The strikes have sparked anger and criticism by top Iraqi officials.

FILE – Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi gives a televised speech in Baghdad, Iraq, Oct. 9, 2019.On Monday, Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi condemned the strikes, warning in a statement that the U.S. actions were unacceptable and “will have dangerous consequences.”
A statement from the Iraqi government further chastised the U.S., describing the strikes as a “flagrant violation” of Iraq’s sovereignty, as well as of the rules governing the “goals and principles” of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq to fight and defeat the Islamic State terror group.
U.S. officials brushed aside such criticism and instead placed blame on Iraq for allowing Iranian proxies to operate at will inside their country despite 11 such attacks on U.S. and coalition forces in the past two months.
“We have warned the Iraqi government many times, and we’ve shared information with them to try to work with them to try to carry out their responsibility to protect us as their invited guests,” a second senior U.S. official said. “They have not taken the appropriate steps.”
The U.S. official also criticized Iraqi officials for failing to come down harder on Kataeb Hezbollah’s activities, whether they involve sending militia forces into Syria to fight on behalf of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad or targeting Iraqi protesters.
“It’s moments like this when you see people’s true colors,” he said.
Growing threat
In the meantime, both Iraq and the U.S. are bracing for additional violence.
“Our battle with America and its mercenaries is now open to all possibilities,” the Kataeb Hezbollah militia said in a statement late Sunday.

The headquarters of Kataeb Hezbollah, or Hezbollah Brigades militia, lies in ruins in the aftermath of a U.S. airstrike in Qaim, Iraq, Dec. 30, 2019.Kataeb Hezbollah, part of the state-sanctioned militias operating in Iraq known as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), has denied responsibility for the Friday attack that killed the U.S. contractor. But it warned a response would be forthcoming.
“We have no alternative today other than confrontation, and there is nothing that will prevent us from responding to this crime,” the statement said.
Iran’s foreign minister Monday also condemned the airstrikes, calling them an “obvious case of terrorism.”
Since May, the U.S. has sent an additional 14,000 forces to the Middle East, along with air and missile defense systems and additional reconnaissance capabilities, in response to what officials see as a growing threat from Iran and its proxies.
Officials said Monday that despite the buildup, the increased threat has yet to diminish.
“We do see threat streams and threatening activities by all these (Iranian-backed) forces that are of concern to us from a force protection standpoint,” a senior State Department official said. “(Sunday’s action) shows we can respond not just in Iraq, but we can respond anywhere that we think it makes sense to us and to the interest and security of our partners and allies.”
U.S. officials also warned they planned to hit Iran with additional economic sanctions in the coming year, saying, “Iran’s economic problems and challenges are going to compound in 2020.”