VLADIVOSTOK, Russia – Russian President Vladimir Putin has arrived in Vladivostok for a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Thursday’s summit reflects Russia’s effort to position itself as an essential player in the North Korean nuclear standoff.
Kim’s first trip to Russia comes about two months after his second summit with U.S. President Donald Trump, which failed because of disputes over U.S.-led sanctions on the North.
Putin and Kim are set to have one-on-one meeting at the Far Eastern State University on the Russky Island across a bridge from Vladivostok. The meeting will be followed by broader talks involving officials from both sides.
Kim arrived Wednesday in Vladivostok on his armored train, saying upon arrival that he’s hoping for a “successful and useful” visit.
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SEOUL, South Korea – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin gives an intriguing twist to the global diplomatic push to resolve the nuclear standoff with North Korea, which appeared to hit a wall after a summit between Kim and President Donald Trump collapsed in February.
It also adds a chapter to the storied but often-strained friendship between Pyongyang and Moscow, which was forged in the blood of war and weathered by the Soviet collapse and tensions surrounding the North’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.
A look at relations between the two sides since the 1950-53 Korean War:
The old Soviet Union was directly involved in the founding of North Korea after the end of World War II, which ended Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula but resulted in a division between the Soviet-backed North and U.S.-controlled South.
Soviet officers installed ambitious young nationalist Kim Il Sung, the grandfather of North Korea’s current ruler and an ex-guerrilla commander who fought Japanese forces from Manchuria in the 1930s, as the Korean leader of the emerging state on the northern half the peninsula. By early 1950, Kim Il Sung successfully persuaded an initially reluctant Joseph Stalin to allow him to unify the Koreas by force, guaranteeing a swift victory.
Kim Il Sung’s forces launched a surprise attack on the South in June, triggering a devastating war that drew massive interventions by the United States and China and left millions killed or injured before stopping with an armistice in 1953.
The Soviets supported North Korea during the war with weapons, military advisers and pilots but stayed out of land warfare, a decision that shaped Kim Il Sung’s postwar efforts to strengthen his personal power and autonomy. Moscow’s support became less important for Kim’s internal control when he could count on China to counter the influence of the Soviets, especially after the late 1950s when relations between the two major communist powers grew increasingly hostile.
While playing Moscow and Beijing against each other to win more political independence and aid, Kim Il Sung consolidated his domestic power by violently purging his pro-Soviet and pro-Chinese opponents.
Despite the ups and downs in bilateral relations, Soviet military, energy and food aid were crucial in keeping North Korea’s struggling economy afloat for decades. That all changed in 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union, which instantly deprived Pyongyang of its main economic and security benefactor.
The post-communist government in Moscow led by President Boris Yeltsin saw Russia as a partner of the U.S.-led West and had no enthusiasm to continue supporting North Korea with aid and subsidized trade. Moscow established formal diplomatic ties with Seoul in hopes of drawing massive South Korean investment and allowed its Soviet-era military alliance with North Korea to expire. There were widespread predictions that a collapse of the North Korean government was imminent.
Facing an existential crisis, North Korea reacted by accepting more help from China, which despite a level of mutual distrust remains Pyongyang’s only major ally and considers preventing a North Korean collapse critical to its security interests. The North also became more vocal in its pursuit of a nuclear deterrent, which forced the United States to the negotiation table.
In 1994, shortly after the death of Kim Il Sung, North Korea reached a major agreement with the United States to halt plutonium production in exchange for energy and food aid and security assurances. The deal broke down in 2002 after U.S. officials confronted Pyongyang over a clandestine nuclear program using enriched uranium.
PUTIN IN PYONGYANG
Russia began to reconsider its Koreas policies in the late 1990s over what it saw as disappointing business activity with South Korea and concerns that Moscow’s heavy tilt toward Seoul diminished its influence in international efforts to deal with Pyongyang. The divergence between Moscow and the West over key security issues was also becoming clear.
After his first election in 2000, Putin actively sought to restore Russia’s ties with North Korea, visiting Pyongyang in July that year for a meeting with Kim Jong Il, the second-generation North Korean leader, where they issued criticism of U.S. missile defense plans. The trip was seen as Putin’s message to the West that Russia would seek to restore its traditional domains of influence. Putin hosted two return visits by Kim Jong Il in 2001 and 2002.
Russia was also a participant in the so-called six-party talks with North Korea that were aimed at persuading the North to abandon its nuclear program in exchange for security and economic benefits. The talks, which also involved the United States, China, South Korea and Japan, have stalled since December 2008.
KIM’S NEW WAY
Kim Jong Un’s meeting with Putin is the first summit between the countries since his father traveled to eastern Siberia for a meeting with then-Russian President Dimitry Medvedev in August 2011.
Kim Jong Il died in December that year. Under Kim Jong Un, North Korea accelerated its weapons tests to turn a crude nuclear program into a viable arsenal that includes purported thermonuclear weapons and long-range missiles potentially capable of reaching the U.S. mainland.
The Trump-Kim meeting in Vietnam in February broke down after the North demanded the removal of most of the U.S.-led sanctions against the country in exchange for a partial surrender of its nuclear program. Kim had said he would seek a “new way” if the United States continued to test his patience with sanctions.
Kim’s outreach to Putin could be part of his plans to expand his options and secure allies who would apply pressure on Washington to ease its stance on sanctions. Russia currently seems better positioned to endorse Kim’s stance than China, which is locked in high-stakes trade negotiations with the U.S.
The summit with Kim could also serve Putin’s desire to increase Russia’s regional clout. Although Moscow has never supported a nuclear-armed North Korea, it may share a view with Pyongyang that a weakened U.S. influence in the region would benefit both.
Following three-way talks in Moscow last October, the deputy foreign ministers of North Korea, Russia and China called on the U.N. Security Council to “adjust” its sanctions regime on Pyongyang to facilitate progress in the nuclear negotiations. While Moscow and Beijing can’t lift the sanctions on their own, they can give Pyongyang more breathing room if Kim persuades them to loosen their enforcement of the measures.
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WELLINGTON, New Zealand – Britain’s Prince William has arrived in New Zealand for a two-day visit to commemorate wartime soldiers and visit survivors of last month’s mosque attacks.
The Duke of Cambridge attended an Anzac Day service in Auckland on Thursday morning. Anzac Day is a national holiday similar to Memorial Day in the U.S. It marks the anniversary of New Zealand and Australian soldiers, known as Anzacs, landing on the Gallipoli Peninsula in 1915. More than 10,000 soldiers from the two countries were killed during that WWI campaign in what’s now Turkey.
William is scheduled to fly to Christchurch on Thursday afternoon. On Friday, he will visit the two mosques where a gunman killed 50 people on March 15. He plans to meet with first responders, Muslim leaders and survivors of the attacks.
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SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Puerto Rico’s governor is pledging to lift the U.S. territory from a deep recession by creating more jobs, reversing a migration exodus and implementing a range of incentives as the island struggles to recover from Hurricane Maria.
Gov. Ricardo Rossello spoke Wednesday during a nearly two-hour state of the commonwealth address that followed a brief power outage. He also said he plans to hold a yes-or-no referendum on statehood as he criticized President Donald Trump’s response to the Category 4 storm that hit September 2017.
Rossello also called on the U.S. Congress to review the way a federal control board overseeing the island’s finances has been operating as Puerto Rico’s government tries to restructure a portion of a public debt that exceeds $70 billion.
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GUATEMALA CITY – Guatemala’s electoral court has annulled the candidacy of a presidential hopeful arrested in the U.S. last week and accused of ties to Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel.
The tribunal says its decision is due to “the notorious deeds that were revealed” in the case of Mario Amilcar Estrada Orellana. It’s applying a constitutional article concerning the suitability of candidates for elected office.
Estrada and an alleged accomplice were detained April 17 in Miami on drugs and weapons charges, accused of plotting to assassinate political rivals and let traffickers use Guatemalan ports and airports.
Estrada’s party has sought to distance itself from the allegations while asking for his presumption of innocence to be respected. Yoni Avila of the Union of National Change party said Wednesday that it would not appeal the ruling.
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The climate activist group that has disrupted travel recently in the London area announced Wednesday that its members — including the ones who apparently have been sitting in trees for days — are packing up and heading home.
Extinction Rebellion and its self-described “rebels” made headlines last week after snarling traffic and public transit in the U.K.’s capital through a series of blockades and demonstrations. The group, which is trying to force the British Parliament into accepting their climate action-related demands, now says its members will leave protest sites at the Marble Arch and Parliament Square tomorrow.
“We will leave the physical locations but a space for truth-telling has been opened up in the world,” Extinction Rebellion said in a statement. “We know we have disrupted your lives. We do not do this lightly. We only do this because this is an emergency.”
The group’s statement also thanked its supporters for putting their “bodies on the line”.
Since the demonstrations began last Monday, police have arrested more than 1,000 of the protesters, but only about 70 are currently facing charges, the Associated Press reports.
At the height of the protests, London’s busy Waterloo Bridge was closed for days and rail travel was temporarily delayed after demonstrators glued themselves to the sides of train cars.
But the protesters’ momentum appeared to hit a major snag Friday when a hyped-up claim to “shut down” London’s Heathrow Airport turned out to be a flop.
Extinction Rebellion also has faced criticism for their protest tactics. Some have pointed out that despite wanting to save the Earth, the climate protesters have actually doing harm to it by snarling more environmentally-friendly public transit systems and forcing cars and buses to idle in gridlock traffic – and therefore belch exhaust into the atmosphere – as a result of their disruptions and roadblocks.
Oscar-winning actress Emma Thompson faced similar criticism after she flew from Los Angeles to London to join in on the demonstrations last week.
Speaking to a crowd in Oxford Circus, Thompson, according to the Associated Press, remarked that “it makes me so happy to be able to join you all and to add my voice to the young people here who have inspired a whole new movement.”
Then, while in conversation with reporters, she admitted that “unfortunately sometimes I have to fly but I don’t fly nearly as much as I did, because of my carbon footprint and I plant a lot of trees.”
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MADRID – Spain’s Civil Guard says the bodies of a German woman and her 10-year-old son have been found in a cave in the Canary island of Tenerife and that the boy’s father, who was also German, has been arrested.
The search began Tuesday, when residents found a 5-year-old boy near the town of Adeje. The Europa Press news agency reported that, speaking through a translator, the boy said his father had taken the family to a cave and attacked them but he had escaped.
Police arrested the father in his apartment in Adeje but he refused to say where the rest of his family was.
The Civil Guards say the missing mother and son were found Wednesday afternoon.
The volcanic Tenerife island in the Atlantic Ocean is a popular holiday destination.
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Days after Ukrainians took to the polls to elect a comedian and actor as its new president, the Russian bear is already roaring.
Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree on Wednesday that would make it easier for people living in parts of Ukraine held by Russia-backed separatists to fast-track passport applications, drawing a swift rebuke from the president-elect.
The decree, which was published on the Kremlin’s website, states that some residents in the parts of Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions that are under separatist control will have their passport applications considered in less than three months. Those granted Russian citizenship would have to swear allegiance to Russia.
Putin claimed the new law was “purely a humanitarian issue,” claiming people in Donetsk and Luhansk are suffering and “have no civil rights left.” He told lawmakers in St. Petersburg he had “no desire to create problems for the new Ukrainian leadership.”
Only holders of ID cards issued by separatist authorities will be eligible for the expedited procedure offered by Putin. Separatist authorities said Wednesday that they had issued about 300,000 such ID cards in the area with an estimated population of 3.7 million.
Ukrainian officials urged residents in the separatist regions to not apply for Russian passports and asked the European Union to take “prompt and decisive” action, according to Reuters.
The office of new Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the ultimate goal remains to achieve peace, but the latest action by Russia showed “another evident confirmation for the world community of Russia’s true role as an aggressor state, which is waging a war against Ukraine.”
Outgoing President Petro Poroshenko called Putin’s decree “yet another unprecedented act of Russian interference in Ukrainian affairs” and accused Moscow of undermining the peace process.
Poroshenko lost Sunday’s runoff election by huge margins to comedian-actor Zelenskiy, who is set to be sworn in next month. Zelenskiy, who played his country’s president on television, has said his priority as president is ending the war in the east.
Putin’s decision could trigger a major escalation of the war that started in eastern Ukraine in 2014 and shatter hopes for peace in the area.
Oleksandr Turchynov, secretary of the Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council, said on Wednesday that “Putin is laying the legal groundwork” for an overt offensive in the east, where clandestine Russian troops led rebel offensives in 2014 to 2015. Turchynov referred to a Russian law which allows the use of force to protect Russian nationals abroad.
After annexing Crimea in a hastily called 2014 referendum, Russia threw its weight behind separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine but stopped short of recognizing their independence vote. Ukraine and almost all the world views Russia’s annexation of Crimea as illegal.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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BRASILIA, Brazil – More than 1,000 indigenous Brazilians gathered outside Congress Wednesday for an annual three-day campout to protest what they see as rollbacks of indigenous rights under President Jair Bolsonaro.
Tents dotted the lawn in front of the National Congress, where indigenous leaders sang, danced and sold crafts while wearing traditional feathered headdresses with their faces painted red and black.
The event, known as the Free Land Encampment, began its 15th edition with a sense of animosity toward Bolsonaro, whose policies indigenous leaders are calling the biggest setbacks to their peoples’ rights in recent history.
“This government came in immediately attacking us and our rights in a way we haven’t seen before,” said Paulo Tupiniquim, executive coordinator of the Articulation of Indigenous People of Brazil, which organized the event. “We are here to show that we will resist and will not accept our rights being taken away.”
The government has called in National Guard forces for security at the encampment as a “preventative measure.”
At the same event in 2017, police shot tear gas at the indigenous protesters who retaliated by shooting at them with bows and arrows.
“We are not violent. Violent are those who attack the sacred right to free demonstration with armed troops,” the organizers wrote in a statement protesting the National Guard presence. “They’re trying to take the right to come and go from Brazilians who have walked these lands since long before 1500” the statement read, referencing when European colonizers first came to Brazil.
Before becoming president, Bolsonaro promised that if he were elected, “not one more centimeter” of land would be given to indigenous groups and likened indigenous people living in reserves to caged animals in zoos.
On his first day as president, Bolsonaro transferred the authority to designate indigenous land and to grant environmental licenses for businesses on indigenous reserves from the government’s indigenous affairs agency to the agriculture ministry. Activists say the move will practically paralyze land allocations and facilitate operations for agribusiness and mining.
Bolsonaro’s health minister sparked protests across the country last month when he proposed eliminating the federal indigenous health care program and putting indigenous health care needs in the hands of municipalities. Indigenous groups say that the current program is designed to attend to their specific needs in indigenous languages.
“The government is completely anti-indigenous,” Joenia Wapichana, an indigenous congresswoman, told The Associated Press at the protest. “The government is not open to us. He is open to those who defend mining and land grabbing, which is his intention.”
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Earlier this month, Islamist militants massacred 17 Christians and injured eight in an attack on a church in Nasarawa state. The attack occurred during an infant dedication when armed militants opened fire in the church, killing the baby’s mother and several children.
These tragic events come just as the terrorist attack in Sri Lanka highlights the dangers that remain from asymmetric terrorism and violence against Christians in ethnically and religiously divided societies.
“There are some similarities between violence in Sri Lanka and Nigeria,” Professor Max Abrahms, a terrorism expert at Northeastern University, told Fox News. “Both have experienced substantial political violence which has traditionally been nationalist but has increasingly been infused with more narrowly religious-motivated extremist attacks.”
Nigeria, often overlooked by U.S. policymakers usually more concerned with the Middle East, Russia and Europe, is home to one of the world’s most deadly Islamic terror groups.
Boko Haram is looking to transform Nigeria into an Islamic state based on Sharia law. The group also declared its allegiance to ISIS in 2015 with one branch called the Islamic State West African Province. U.S. intelligence estimates that Boko Haram commands between 4,000 and 6,000 dedicated militants who have attacked schools, burned down entire villages, and abducted hundreds of people in their brutal campaign of terror across Nigeria.
The United Nations estimates that 1.7 million people are internally displaced from Boko Haram’s insurgency and the group has killed more than 15,200 people since 2011, according to some estimates.
Although Nigerian security forces have made inroads in stemming the violence from Boko Haram, the insurgency remains a threat to Nigerians.
“The group, which has now split into two factions (one of which is recognized as a branch of the Islamic State) has been gaining momentum against Nigerian security forces — which have been hampered by corruption and low morale — and conducting increasingly deadly attacks in Northeastern states,” Thomas Abi Hanna, Global Security Analyst at Stratfor told Fox News.
Violence in Nigeria, and against Christians, has risen in recent months, with at least 280 people from Christian communities killed by Fulani militants throughout Nigeria between February and March 2019. It’s not clear to what extent the deadly violence is due to religious affiliations, but the uptick does highlight the growing concern within Nigeria’s Christian communities.
“Religion is not necessarily the primary driver of attacks on Christians though, as there are also ethnic, political, territorial disputes and other factors which contribute to these tensions,” Hanna explained. “Attacks related to any of these issues can feed into one another and exacerbate ongoing tensions across the board.”
Nigeria is divided between a Muslim majority north and a Christian majority south. Because of this religiously-based geographic separation, the country’s political parties formed an unwritten power-sharing agreement during the transition to democracy in 1999 that major offices, most notably the president and vice president, should rotate between the north and the south.
However, this arrangement can lead to heightened tensions as it did in 2009, when then-President Umaru Yar’Adua, a northern Muslim, died, allowing his southern Christian Vice President Goodluck Jonathan to become president. The north’s opportunity in power was cut short and the swap led to mass electoral violence with the death of 800 people once Jonathan was re-elected in 2011.
Nigeria is also one of Africa’s poorest countries, despite its vast natural resource wealth, making it ripe for terrorist and other insurgent groups to fill the vacuum left by a government that fails to meet the needs of its people.
Not only is Islamist terror a major concern for Nigerians, violence between herders and farmers has eclipsed the threat posed by Boko Haram and has killed more people than the Islamist insurgency while also increasing the north-south religious divide.
“Christians have been targeted in attacks related to both of these ongoing conflicts which have killed and injured thousands, displaced hundreds of thousands, and become a major political issue,” Hanna said.
The conflict is intertwined with Nigeria’s underlying ethnic, religious, political and territorial disputes, as the herders are nomadic and from the Muslim north while the farmers are mainly Christians.
Deadly clashes over land and resources killed more than 2,000 people in 2018, according to a report by Amnesty International. A massive population boom in Nigeria along with the effects of climate change dried up grazing land, forcing herders and farmers into extremely close quarters with tensions rising due to resource scarcity.
The ongoing farmer-herdsman crisis has sharpened ethnic and religious tensions and increased political polarization in Nigeria. The Nigerian government and security forces have struggled to solve political disputes over land while the security forces have been unable to contain extremist violence.
A State Department spokesperson told Fox News: “In public and private messaging, we have urged the Nigerian government, and community and religious leaders, to work together for an immediate end to violence, the swift and voluntary return of members of displaced communities, and for perpetrators to be brought to justice.
“U.S. Mission staff, including Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, have traveled to the affected states to engage with government officials, religious and traditional leaders, and civil society.”
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