Daily Archives: December 19, 2015

Assad makes surprise Christmas visit to Damascus church


Syrian President Bashar Assad (C-L) and his wife Asma al-Assad (C-R) posing for a picture with a Syrian man as they attend a Christmas choral presentation at the Lady of Damascus Catholic Church in the Syrian capital on December 18, 2015.

A Christmas choir had a surprise visitor overnight after Bashar Assad made an appearance at a church in the Syrian capital of Damascus where rehearsals were taking place.

The Syrian president and his wife, Asma, visited the Notre Dame de Damas Church, an ancient cathedral located just 2 kilometers from the rebel-held neighborhood of Jobar in the eastern suburb of Ghouta in Damascus.

Assad and his wife chatted with the men and women of the “Joy Choir,” who were practicing ahead of a performance on Christmas Eve, state media said Saturday.

The couple were seen smiling and posing for pictures with the group and also listened to the recital of Christmas poems at the church, which was hit by mortar fire on Friday.

Syrian President Bashar Assad (R) and his wife Asma al-Assad (3rd-R) attending a Christmas choral presentation at the Lady of Damascus Catholic Church in the Syrian capital on December 18, 2015.

Syrian President Bashar Assad (R) and his wife Asma al-Assad (3rd-R) attending a Christmas choral presentation at the Lady of Damascus Catholic Church in the Syrian capital on December 18, 2015.

The visit coincided with the adoption of Friday’s UN Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire and political settlement in Syria, which was unanimously adopted. The resolution refrained from mentioning the Syrian leader.


Beijing rebukes Washington after B-52 bomber strays over artificial island in South China Sea


Beijing has described as a “provocation” the flight of a US nuclear-capable B-52 bomber over a man-made island in the South China Sea that China claims sovereignty over. The warplane reportedly did so by mistake rather than to challenge China, as was the case with other missions.

China filed a complaint with the Pentagon over the incident, the US DoD reported Friday, adding that the flight was not part of the so-called Freedom of Navigation effort to undermine China’s territorial claims in the sea.

“The Chinese have raised concerns with us about the flight path of a recent training mission,” Navy Commander Bill Urban said. “We are looking into the matter.”

Beijing called the flight “a provocation” in a statement released by the Defense Ministry on Saturday. It urged the United States “to immediately adopt measures to put an end to such kind of dangerous actions, in order not to impact the two countries’ military relations.”

According to the Wall Street Journal, the incident happened last week near the Cuarteron Reef in the Spratly Islands, an archipelago contested by China and several other regional nations. The newspaper cited a US military official as saying that the bomber had mistakenly come within a 12 nautical mile zone of the island – as close as 2 miles, according to the Chinese complaint.

Over the past years China has reclaimed several islands in the area and built infrastructure on them capable of supporting combat missions of the Chinese Air Force. Beijing insists that the effort is primarily civilian and is meant to make South China Sea, the region with one of the heaviest maritime traffic in the world, most of it China-bound, a safer place.

The US rejects Beijing’s claim and occasionally sends its warplanes and warships through the 12 nautical mile area around the artificial islands, which China sees as its exclusive zone. In late October the US guided missile destroyer USS Lassen sailed close to Subi Reef with one such mission, provoking an angry rebuke from China.

Washington insists that the missions are fully legitimate as they pass through international space, but Beijing warned that the standoff may lead to a minor incident escalating into a major confrontation.


Vladimir Putin attended gala reception to mark Security Agency Worker’s Day

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, comrades, friends, veterans. I would like to congratulate you on Security Agency Worker’s Day.

This is a holiday of strong and courageous people, true professionals who are reliably protecting Russia’s sovereignty and national integrity and the lives of our citizens, who are ready to perform the most complicated, responsible and dangerous assignments.

These have always been the qualities that distinguished employees of Russia’s security services. On this day, we invariably remember the many generations of our predecessors who served our Motherland with honour.

This year, as we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Great Victory, we would like to express our deepest gratitude to our veterans. Both in the difficult war years and later you remained true to your oath and your duty and did everything within your power to develop the potential of the special services. Your heroism and courage will always serve as an example for us.

Comrades. Today the security services possess great operational, combat and analytical capabilities. We are counting on you, your competence, expertise and, wherever necessary – on your courage and valour.

The current situation in the world is complicated. Tension is growing in the Middle East and other regions of the world; terrorists have declared war on civilisation, on the entire global community – their actions pose a direct threat to this country as well. The Russian Armed Forces are fighting militants at the forward defence lines, destroying their infrastructure, their camps and bases in Syria.

I would like to stress that these decisive measures should be coordinated with equally rigorous efforts of all our special services. I am referring to exposing the terrorists’ plans and to foiling attempts on the part of terrorist and extremist groups to step up their subversive activities on the territory of the Russian Federation.

I would like to note that this year through the efforts of the Federal Security Service we managed to prevent more than 30 crimes of a terrorist nature. I expect you to retain this high level of concentration and mobilisation and to perfect all aspects of your anti-terrorist efforts.

We should give special attention to the neutralisation of all sorts of recruiters and terrorist emissaries who are trying to involve Russian citizens in militant groups. First of all, we should definitely focus on young people.

Our counterintelligence service bears a great responsibility. This year they have exposed 320 foreign special services employees, agents and accessories. We can see that the intelligence services of a number of countries are building up their ‘work on Russia”, as we say. I am certain that our security service officers are prepared to meet this challenge.

I am also counting on your efficient work in such areas as the defence of the national borders, combatting corruption and economic crime, ensuring reliable work of national security and military control agencies. You need to coordinate your efforts to enhance the capabilities of our Armed Forces.

I have already mentioned Syria. We can see the efficient work of our pilots and intelligence officers, good coordination even between different forces – the Army, the Navy and aviation, and the use of the most up-to-date armaments. I would like to note that our capabilities are not limited to this. We are not using everything we have there. We have additional means and we will use them if necessary.

In view of this, the Foreign Intelligence Service, which is marking its 95th anniversary tomorrow, is facing complicated tasks. Early detection of any external threat to Russia is of great importance, as well as providing exhaustive analytical data and making timely reports on the state and possible development of regional conflicts.

The service of the State Guard deserves a high assessment, particularly their work during the celebrations of the 70th anniversary of the Great Victory, as well during the SCO and BRICS summits in Ufa and other large-scale international forums and meetings.

Friends. I am certain that you will do your utmost to resolve the tasks facing you and will reliably defend Russia and its people. Whatever the difficulties, whatever challenges we may be facing — we will definitely overcome them and will continue moving forward with confidence towards success.

I congratulate you once again on your professional holiday. I wish you and your families happiness.

Thank you.