Possible Russian military deployment to Cuba, Venezuela warns Russia its up to U.S.

Mark 13:8 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.

Important Takeaways:

  • Russia won’t rule out military deployment to Cuba, Venezuela
  • Russia on Thursday sharply raised the stakes in its dispute with the West over Ukraine, with a top diplomat refusing to rule out a Russian military deployment to Cuba and Venezuela if tensions with the United States mount.
  • NATO-Russia meeting in Vienna failed to narrow the gap on Moscow’s security demands amid a buildup of Russian troops near Ukraine.
  • While voicing concern that NATO could potentially use Ukrainian territory for the deployment of missiles capable of reaching Moscow in just five minutes, Putin noted that Russian warships armed with the latest Zircon hypersonic cruise missile would give Russia a similar capability if deployed in neutral waters.

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Can NATO and Russia come to an agreement over Ukraine?

Matthew 24:6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.

Important Takeaways:

  • NATO, Russia meet for first time in 2 years for ‘serious and direct exchange’ over Ukraine
  • The talks are an effort to reach a diplomatic solution to de-escalate tensions over the Ukraine question.
  • The United States met directly with Russia for seven hours on Monday in Geneva over Ukraine.
  • Russia wants what it calls security guarantees from Washington and NATO, including a legally binding agreement that NATO won’t continue to expand further east — something the United States and NATO are unwilling to do.

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Ukraine prepares for War, while U.S. and Russia hold discussion

Ezekiel 38:1-3 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, set your face against Gog, of the land of Magog, the chief prince of[a] Meshek and Tubal; prophesy against him 3 and say: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am against you, Gog, chief prince of[b] Meshek and Tubal

Important Takeaways:

  • As the U.S. and Russia talk, Ukrainian troops brace for war, and they’re “ready for battle”
  • Ukraine is an American ally that has been fighting a bloody, Russian-backed rebellion since 2014. More than 14,000 people have reportedly been killed in those seven years.
  • This winter, Russia has massed as many as 100,000 troops along Ukraine’s border. It has also tested its new hypersonic missiles, which may be capable of evading American air defense systems.
  • Some analysts believe a full Russian ground invasion, with tanks, artillery and armored vehicles rolling over the border, would only be possible after the ground here freezes solid, but in the trenches, troops told CBS News they believe it could happen any time.

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Iran Threatens Violence, US Warns of ‘Severe Consequences’

Matthew 24:6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.

Important Takeaways:

  • Iran Threatens Violence Against Trump Officials, US Warns of ‘Severe Consequences’ if Americans Attacked
  • On Saturday, Iran sanctioned 51 Americans over the 2020 killing of top Iranian military leader Qassem Soleimani. The sanctions will allow Iran to seize any assets those individuals may have in Iran, but as Reuters noted, the move is largely symbolic.
  • But the Iranian regime is now indicating that it’s seeking violent revenge against members of the Trump administration, and it is essentially calling on assassins within the U.S. to carry out its wishes.
  • Commander Esmail Qaani of the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps said, “We provide the ground for revenge against the Americans from inside their homes…We deal with the enemies and the crime of Commander Soleimani’s assassination with our own tactics… They did what they did, it’s far less expensive for the United States than for the children of the Resistance Front, who know no borders, to go and take revenge on themselves. This revenge has begun.”
  • The White House warned that America would work with its allies in the Middle East to “deter and respond to any attacks carried out by Iran.”

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China warns US over Taiwan

Matthew 24:6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.

Important Takeaways:

  • China warns US will ‘face unbearable price’ on Taiwan
  • China claims the democratic island of Taiwan as its own territory, and has vowed to seize it one day by force if necessary.
  • Foreign Minister Wang Yi warned. “The US violated the promises made when China and the US established diplomatic relations, condoned and encouraged ‘Taiwan independence’ forces, and tried to distort and hollow out the one-China principle”
  • Under the Taiwan Act, the United States does not recognize Taiwan’s independence, yet commits to helping the island defend itself.

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U.S., Russia set for Jan 10 security talks amid Ukraine tensions

By Trevor Hunnicutt and Andrew Osborn

WASHINGTON/MOSCOW (Reuters) -U.S. and Russian officials will hold security talks on Jan. 10 to discuss concerns about their respective military activity and confront rising tensions over Ukraine, the two countries said.

A spokesperson for U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration announced the date late on Monday, and said Russia and NATO were also likely to hold talks on Jan. 12, with a broader meeting including Moscow, Washington and other European countries set for Jan. 13.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov confirmed those dates on Tuesday and said he hoped the talks with the United States in Geneva would start a process that would give Moscow new security guarantees from the West.

Such guarantees are a longstanding demand of Moscow, which alarmed the West by massing tens of thousands of troops near Ukraine in the past two months following its seizure of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in 2014 and its backing of separatists fighting Kyiv troops in eastern Ukraine.

The European Union demanded a say in any security deal.

“Any discussion about European security must happen in coordination with and participation of EU,” said EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell after talking to British foreign minister Liz Truss.

The Jan. 12 NATO meeting would be held in EU hub Brussels, Ryabkov said, while the Jan. 13 talks would involve the Vienna-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which includes the United States and its NATO allies, as well as Russia, Ukraine and other ex-Soviet states.

CONCERNS ON THE TABLE

Russia has denied plans for an assault on Ukraine but says it could take unspecified military action if its security demands are not met.

Moscow, worried by what it says is the West’s re-arming of Ukraine, has said it wants legally-binding guarantees NATO will not expand further eastwards, and that certain offensive weapons will not be deployed to Ukraine or other neighboring countries.

The U.S. administration has threatened to impose economic sanctions if Russia attacks Ukraine. It says it cannot promise a sovereign state such as Ukraine would never join NATO.

“When we sit down to talk, Russia can put its concerns on the table, and we will put our concerns on the table with Russia’s activities as well,” said the spokesperson for the U.S. National Security Council, who declined to be identified. The spokesperson said no decisions would be made about Ukraine without Ukraine.

A U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told Reuters the United States would keep the Harry Truman carrier in Europe for now rather than sending it to the Middle East.

The official said there were no plans to move it closer to Ukraine and despite the Russian troop buildup, there was still no U.S. warship in the Black Sea.

Biden on Monday signed into law a spending bill that, among other things, will provide $300 million for an initiative supporting Ukraine’s armed forces and billions more for European defense broadly.

Russia’s annexation of Crimea and support for the separatist uprising in the east of Ukraine resulted in Kyiv losing control of a swath of territory in a conflict it says killed 15,000 people.

Major combat ended with a ceasefire in 2015, but deadly clashes still take place regularly.

(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt and Andrew Osborn; Additional reporting by Maria Kiselyova, Olzhas Auyezov, Idrees Ali and Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Himani Sarkar, Michael Perry, Peter Graff and Angus MacSwan)

Iranian and Russian officials strike positive tone on nuclear talks

(Reuters) – Iran and Russia both gave upbeat views on Tuesday about talks that kicked off this week to salvage Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with global powers, although Western nations have said the negotiations are going too slowly.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said a deal was possible in the near future if other parties showed “good faith” while Russian envoy Mikhail Ulyanov said a working group was making “indisputable progress” in the eighth round of talks.

Indirect talks between Iran and the United States resumed on Monday in Vienna, with Tehran focused on getting U.S. sanctions lifted again, as they were under the original bargain, despite scant progress on reining in its atomic activities.

The seventh round of talks, the first under Iran’s new hardline President Ebrahim Raisi, ended 11 days ago after some new Iranian demands were added to a working text.

Iran insists all U.S. sanctions must be lifted before steps are taken on the nuclear side, while Western negotiators say nuclear and sanctions steps must be balanced in the agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA).

“The Vienna talks are headed in a good direction,” Iranian Minister Amirabdollahian said in comments to reporters broadcast by state media. “We believe that if other parties continue the round of talks which just started with good faith, reaching a good agreement for all parties is possible.”

France, Germany and the United Kingdom said in a statement on Tuesday that technical progress had been made in the last round and the parties now needed to fully focus on the key outstanding issues, particularly nuclear and sanctions.

They said while they were not setting an artificial deadline, there were weeks not months left to strike a deal.

“We are clear that we are nearing the point where Iran’s escalation of its nuclear program will have completely hollowed out the JCPoA,” they said.

“The negotiation is urgent – and our teams are here to work swiftly and in good faith towards getting a deal.”

ISRAEL WANTS FIRMER POSITION

The original agreement lifted sanctions against Tehran in exchange for restrictions on its atomic activities but Donald Trump pulled Washington out of the deal in 2018, a year after he became U.S president. Iran later breached many of the deal’s nuclear restrictions and kept pushing well beyond them.

The parties to the deal besides the United States – Iran, Russia, China, France, Britain, Germany and the European Union – kicked off the new round of talks on Monday.

Iran refuses to meet U.S. officials directly, meaning other parties must shuttle between the two sides.

Mikhail Ulyanov, the Russian envoy, said on Tuesday that a working group was making progress. “Sanctions lifting is being actively discussed in informal settings,” he wrote on Twitter.

The 2015 deal extended the time Iran would need to obtain enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb – if it chose to – to at least a year from about two to three months. Most experts say that time is now less than before the deal, although Iran says it only wants to master nuclear technology for civil uses.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Israel would not automatically oppose a nuclear deal but world powers must take a firmer position.

Israel says it will never allow Iran to get nuclear weapons and that all options are on the table. Israeli leaders have said that a nuclear Iran would pose an existential threat to Israel.

“We are not the bear who said ‘No’,” Bennett said in an interview with Israel’s Army Radio, referring to a popular naysaying character from children’s literature.

“For sure there can be a good agreement. For sure. We know the parameters. Is that expected to happen now in the current dynamics? No. Because there needs to be a much firmer position.”

Bennett declined to comment on Israel’s military strike capabilities against Iran, saying he preferred the approach of “speak little and do a lot.”

(Reporting by Miranda Murray in Berlin, Jeffrey Heller, Dan Williams and Ari Rabinovitch in Jerusalem, and Dubai newsroom; Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by David Clarke)

U.S. helps Ukraine to strengthen its border with Russia, Belarus

KYIV (Reuters) – The United States will finance projects including surveillance and monitoring equipment to strengthen Ukraine’s borders with Russia and Belarus, amid continuing escalation with Moscow, Ukraine’s border service said on Tuesday.

Kyiv accuses Moscow of massing tens of thousands of troops near its borders in preparation for a possible offensive.

Russia denies planning any attack but accuses Ukraine and the United States of destabilizing behavior, and has sought security guarantees against NATO’s eastward expansion.

The border service said in a statement the projects worth $20 million involved the purchase of video recording systems and drones, as well as personal protective equipment for border guards.

Ukraine, which seeks to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), has since 2018 also received a series of consignments of U.S. ammunition and Javelin missiles, prompting criticism from Moscow.

(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk; Editing by Alex Richardson)

Polish president vetoes media bill, U.S. welcomes move

By Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk and Pawel Florkiewicz

WARSAW (Reuters) -Poland’s president vetoed a media bill that critics said was aimed at silencing a Discovery-owned news channel that is critical of the government, citing worries about the strain the law would put on relations with Washington.

The move allows NATO-member Poland to sidestep a potentially explosive row with the United States at a time of heightened tension in eastern Europe amid what some countries see as increased Russian assertiveness.

However, the decision means that a project voted through parliament by the ruling nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) has been blocked by a president elected as their ally.

President Andrzej Duda said in a televised statement on Monday that if the law came into force it could violate a treaty signed with the United States on economic and trade relations.

“One of the arguments considered during the analyses of this law was the issue of an international agreement that was concluded in 1990 … this treaty speaks about the protection of investments,” he said.

“There is a clause which says that media-related investments may be excluded, but it concerns future investments.”

The United States had urged Duda to use his veto. The U.S. charge d’affaires in Warsaw, Bix Aliu, thanked him on Twitter ” … for leadership and commitment to common democratic values and for protecting the investment climate in Poland.”

MEDIA FREEDOM

Unexpectedly rushed through parliament this month, the legislation would have tightened rules around foreign ownership of media, specifically affecting the ability of news channel TVN24, owned by U.S. media company Discovery Inc, to operate.

TVN24’s parent, TVN, is owned by Discovery via a firm registered in the Netherlands in order to get around a ban on non-European firms owning more than 49% of Polish media companies. The law, which drew nationwide protests, would have prevented this workaround.

“This is a victory for the Polish people,” Discovery said in a statement. “We commend the president for doing the right thing and standing up for the democratic values of a free press and the rule of law.”

Duda told private broadcaster Polsat News mass street protests in December had not influenced his decision as he had already stated his position on the issue in August.

Duda said at the time he believed any take over of media owned by foreign companies should be carried out on market terms instead of introducing compulsory solutions.

Asked whether he was disappointed that PiS lawmakers had tried to proceed with the legislation despite his previous comments he said he was “amazed”.

PiS spokeswoman Anita Czerwinska told state-run news agency PAP the party was “disappointed” by his decision.

Parliament could vote to overturn the president’s veto, but PiS does not have the required qualified majority of votes.

PiS has long argued that foreign media groups have too much power in Poland, distorting public debate.

However, critics say that moves against them seek to limit media freedom and are part of an increasingly authoritarian agenda that has put Warsaw at loggerheads with the European Union.

Duda said during his televised statement announcing his decision that he generally believed limiting foreign ownership of media was sensible, but that any regulation should concern future investments in the sector, not current owners.

(Reporting by Pawel Florkiewicz and Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk; Additional reporting: Dawn Chmielewski; Writing by Alan Charlish, Editing by Andrew Cawthorne, Emelia Sithole-Matarise and Alison Williams)

Iran nuclear talks resume with Tehran focused on sanctions relief

By Francois Murphy

VIENNA (Reuters) -Indirect talks between Iran and the United States on salvaging the 2015 Iran nuclear deal resumed on Monday with Tehran focused on one side of the original bargain, lifting sanctions against it, despite scant progress on reining in its atomic activities.

The seventh round of talks, the first under Iran’s new hardline President Ebrahim Raisi, ended 10 days ago after adding some new Iranian demands to a working text. Western powers said progress was too slow and negotiators had “weeks not months” left before the 2015 deal becomes meaningless.

Little remains of that deal, which lifted sanctions against Tehran in exchange for restrictions on its atomic activities. Then-President Donald Trump pulled Washington out of it in 2018, re-imposing U.S. sanctions, and Iran later breached many of the deal’s nuclear restrictions and kept pushing well beyond them.

“If we work hard in the days and weeks ahead we should have a positive result…. It’s going to be very difficult, it’s going to be very hard. Difficult political decisions have to be taken both in Tehran and in Washington,” the talks’ coordinator, European Union envoy Enrique Mora, told a news conference.

He was speaking shortly after a meeting of the remaining parties to the deal – Iran, Russia, China, France, Britain, Germany and the European Union – formally kicked off the round on Monday evening.

“There is a sense of urgency in all delegations that this negotiation has to be finished in a relatively reasonable period of time. Again, I wouldn’t put limits but we are talking about weeks, not about months,” Mora said.

Iran refuses to meet directly with U.S. officials, meaning that other parties must shuttle between the two sides. The United States has repeatedly expressed frustration at this format, saying it slows down the process, and Western officials still suspect Iran is simply playing for time.

The 2015 deal extended the time Iran would need to obtain enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb, if it chose to, to at least a year from around two to three months. Most experts say that time is now less than before the deal, though Iran says it only wants to master nuclear technology for civil uses.

END OF THE ROAD

“The most important issue for us is to reach a point where, firstly, Iranian oil can be sold easily and without hindrance,” Iranian media quoted Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian as saying.

Mora, however, said both the lifting of sanctions and Iran’s nuclear restrictions would be discussed.

Iran insists all U.S. sanctions must be lifted before steps are taken on the nuclear side, while Western negotiators say nuclear and sanctions steps must be balanced.

U.S. sanctions have slashed Iran’s oil exports, its main revenue source. Tehran does not disclose data, but assessments based on shipping and other sources suggest a fall from about 2.8 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2018 to as low as 200,000 bpd. One survey put exports at 600,000 bpd in June.

Mora said he decided to reconvene the talks during many officials’ holidays between Christmas and the New Year so as not to lose time, but he added that talks would stop for three days as of Friday “because the facilities will not be available”, referring to the luxury hotel hosting most meetings.

When the seventh round wrapped up, incorporating some Iranian demands, negotiators from France, Britain and Germany said in a statement: “This only takes us back nearer to where the talks stood in June”, when the previous round ended.

“We are rapidly reaching the end of the road for this negotiation,” they added.

(Additional reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Nick Macfie, David Goodman, Philippa Fletcher and Alison Williams)