The ‘Russian Submarine’ in Swedish Waters Isn’t the Only Unwelcome Visitor in the Baltic Sea By Elisabeth Braw / October 21, 2014 11:04 AM EDTSwedish minesweeper HMS Kullen patrols the Stockholm Archipelago October 19 2014, searching for what the military says is a foreign threat in the waters. Reuters Filed Under: World, Sweden, Russia, Baltics Last week Sweden received a decidedly unwelcome visitor. Following a Russian-language phone call between the Stockholm archipelago and the Russian city of Kaliningrad, intercepted by Sweden’s FRA signals intelligence agency, the Swedish military discovered what it believes was a Russian submarine just outside Stockholm. Though Russia denied any submarine presence in the Stockholm archipelago, this time the Swedish military reacted swiftly, quickly dispatching a large naval vessel and several helicopters.Sweden has learnt from experience: on Good Friday last year, six Russian military planes – including four heavy bombers – carried out a simulated missile attack on Stockholm and southern Sweden. The incident, which became known as the Russian Easter, took the Swedish military by such surprise that its Gripen fighter jets didn’t manage to take off. “What’s happening in the Stockholm archipelago is a serious matter,” says Karin Enström, who was Sweden’s defence minister until the elections this autumn.“Russia is modernising its military equipment and testing it, but there are also more military exercises. It’s a sign of Russia increasing its -military capabilities, both when it comes to equipment and fighting abilities. These developments in combination with the war in Ukraine are very serious and alarming. Ukraine is impacting on our part of the world very negatively.”Newsweek Magazine is Back In Print While the world is watching Ukraine, Russia is engaging in a much more important power game here in the Baltic Sea region. The figures are startling. In 2010, only one Russian military vessel was spotted close to Latvian waters. This year, the figure has already exceeded 40, Latvia’s ministry of defence says. During the same period, the number of Russian military approaches to Latvian airspace resulting in scrambles by Nato’s Baltic air policing mission has skyrocketed from around five to more than 180. Neighbouring Lithuania has already seen 132 scrambles this year, up from four in 2010. Estonia, meanwhile, is seeing not just unwelcome approaches to its airspace and waters but also the abduction of one of its intelligence officers to Russia.Follow Newsweek Get top stories emailed to you each day.Then there is the smaller number of violations of neighbours’ airspace and waters. In 2010, there were no Russian violations of Finnish airspace. This year, the Finnish ministry of defence figures show, there have already been five. “What are intentions of [these activities]?” asks Major General Jonas Vytautas Zukas, Lithuania’s Chief of Defence. “We can only speculate. From my point of view, it can be a show of military power as part of an information operation or the test of preparedness of the Nato air force.”At the same time, Russia is engaging in information warfare against its small neighbours to the West. According to Latvia’s foreign ministry, Russian-affiliated outlets assert that Latvia’s integration into the Western hemisphere was a geopolitical mistake; that the country has always been a part of Russia; that the country discriminates against ethnic minorities including its 26% share of Russians; and that Latvia supports Nazism.Indeed, the consensus among Russia’s small neighbours in the wealthy and crucial trading region around the Baltic Sea is that the mighty former superpower in the East is either trying to bully them, or to test their defence, or both.“It’s partly big-power arrogance,” says Colonel Jan Mörtberg of the Swedish Defence College. “Or it can be contingency planning for a conflict in the Baltic Sea, or they’re trying to make us spend more money on preparedness. Military preparedness is expensive, but you have to respond to provocations. That means we’ll have less money to spend on other military matters.”Last week’s submarine discovery forms an ominous sequel to the infamous “whisky on the rocks” incident in 1981, when a Soviet submarine went aground in Swedish waters. Indeed, notes Mörtberg, during the Cold War the Soviet Union gave Sweden and Finland plenty of ominous attention as well. “But in those days it didn’t have to restore its superpower -status. That status was clear. That is what is different now.”The Russia now apparently sending a submarine to Stockholm is a country that’s rapidly growing its defence budget and upgrading its military equipment. “Russia is trying to position itself as a -dominant centre of power on the global stage”, notes a high-ranking Latvian official. “Its ambitions are not limited to Ukraine.”Though enrolment in the Lithuanian -Riflemen’s Union – a civil defence organisation – has skyrocketed in recent months and Lithuanian MEP Gabrielius Landsbergis reports that his countrymen would willingly take action if green men materialised in their streets, nobody believes that Russia plans Ukraine-style military actions in the Baltic states, Sweden or Finland. Its more likely objective, especially with the US preoccupied elsewhere, is instead local -decision-making based on fear of Vladimir Putin.“Today Russian provocations are on the minds of decision-makers in the region when they make their decisions,” notes Pauli Järvenpää, a Finnish security expert and former ambassador now based in Tallinn.“In Finland, 60% of people now consider Russia a threat, compared to 30% at the beginning of the year.” Putin’s goal, argues Mörtberg, may be to ensure that neither Sweden nor Finland joins Nato. Indeed, three distinguished Swedish diplomats recently argued that Swedish membership of Nato would needlessly provoke -Russia. “If things get worse we’ll ask for more Nato involvement,” vows Landsbergis. Nato is, of course, already conducting air policing missions in the Baltic states.Subjugated neighbours or neighbours turning to Nato for help: both scenarios are alarming. After year of dismantling its military, Sweden has woken up to the threat. “We [Sweden] need to strengthen our defence and be more present in the air, on water and underneath the water and we have to be prepared to use our military capabilities,” says Enström.Lithuania is already taking action. “In view of the current security situation in the region the Lithuanian armed forces are looking to summon up certain capabilities and form a very high national readiness response force that can react within two–24 hours and have sufficient combat capacity to prevent hostile actions within the territory of Lithuania in peacetime,” reports Zukas. The force will consist of ground troops, air force and special forces.Tiny Lithuania, in other words, is planning to fight back. And Sweden? It’s vowing not to let the intruder get away this time.
NATO intercepts Russian jets over Baltic Sea By MATTI HUUHTANEN8 hours agol HELSINKI (AP) — NATO scrambled fighter jets twice in two days to intercept Russian military aircraft over the Baltic Sea, it said Tuesday amid reports that Russian military activity in the region is increasing.Related Stories
Lt. Col. Robert Gericke said the Russian aircraft were flying in international airspace and had not violated the territory of alliance members.Two Canadian F-18 Hornet jets were scrambled from the Siauliai Air Base in Lithuania on Monday to intercept a Russian Ilyushin-20 surveillance aircraft, which they shadowed for some 15 minutes, NATO said.”Once identification was successful, the intercept mission was completed and the two Hornets returned to their base,” a NATO statement said.Earlier, the Latvian military tweeted that NATO F-16 jets were dispatched on Tuesday to intercept a Russian Ilyushin-20 surveillance aircraft over the Baltic Sea. Gericke confirmed that NATO jets had also intercepted a Russian aircraft that day, but could not immediately provide more details.NATO, which has 16 fighter jets in the region monitoring Baltic airspace, said it regularly launches jets to identify „unknown or potentially hostile aircraft” in the proximity of national airspace.There were two similar incidents in the region on Oct. 7 and Sept. 11, but on neither occasion did the Russian aircraft constitute a threat to NATO forces, the alliance said.In the past five days, the Swedish Navy has been combing the Stockholm archipelago for signs of a foreign submarine that officials suspect entered its territorial waters illegally. It hasn’t officially linked Russia to the suspected intrusion.The Finnish military says that Russian military aircraft have violated the small Nordic country’s airspace five times this year, and the Environment Institute said Russian military ships had twice intercepted one of its research vessels in international waters.On Sept. 5 an Estonian security service officer was detained on the Russian border — Estonia and Russia disagree on which side of it — and is still in custody in Moscow.
Ukraine vows to probe banned ‘cluster bomb’ charges By Dmitry Zaks12 hours ago Kiev (AFP) – Ukraine’s Western-backed leadership vowed on Tuesday to conduct a full inquiry into allegations the army used banned „cluster bombs” in its push against pro-Russian insurgents in the separatist east.Related Stories
Human Rights Watch has published an investigation conducted jointly with The New York Times identifying 12 incidents in which the highly-imprecise munitions killed six people — including a Swiss aid worker — in and around the rebel-held city of Donetsk earlier this month.The global rights group said there appeared to be „widespread” use of one of the deadliest and most controversial conventional weapons of the past century.The report supported claims made throughout the conflict by Russia that Ukraine was abusing the goodwill of its US and European allies by violating human rights and killing hundreds and possibly thousands of civilians.”It is shocking to see a weapon that most countries have banned used so extensively in eastern Ukraine,” said Human Rights Watch researcher Mark Hiznay.The report said one of the attacks killed a Swiss International Committee of the Red Cross worker in Donetsk on October 2.Human Rights Watch urged Ukrainian forces to „immediately make a commitment not to use cluster munitions” and for the government to „accede to the treaty banning their use”.Ukrainian soldiers with an artillery field gun maneuver on the coastline near the eastern city of Ma …The 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions banning their use has been signed by 113 parties but not Ukraine or the United States.But Russia’s similar refusal to sign on to the treaty has not kept the Kremlin-controlled media from playing up rebel claims of these weapons being one of the main culprits of the entire six-month war.- Military denials -Cluster munitions contain dozens or even hundreds of smaller explosives that are carried by bombs or rockets.Human Rights Watch said these smaller explosives „are spread indiscriminately over a wide area, often the size of a football field.”Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s deputy chief of staff expressed surprise and suggested that the use of cluster bombs — if confirmed — had never been authorised by the political leaders in Kiev.A Ukrainian serviceman prepares to load a shell into an artillery field gun as soldiers maneuver nea …”I am not ready to answer this question because we still have to conduct our own internal investigation,” Valeriy Chaly told reporters.”We have taken note of the report,” Chaly added.Two senior Ukrainian military officials denied using such weapons when contacted by AFP.Military analysts had warned throughout the crisis that some Ukrainian units — underfunded and lacking the modern equipment the rebels were allegedly receiving from Russia — were operating according to their own rules.”These charges are groundless,” said Ukrainian defence ministry spokesman Bogdan Senyk.Eastern campaign spokesman Vladyslav Seleznyov rejected what the rights group said was evidence of shelling by government forces of neighbourhoods in industrial cities such as Donetsk — home to nearly a million people before the war.”We do not shell civilian neighbourhoods because this endangers lives. But our opponents constantly attack these neighbourhoods,” Seleznyov said by telephone.AFP reporters across the eastern industrial war zone have witnessed repeated shelling attacks on city districts that have contributed to a total death toll the United Nations estimates at 3,700.Yet its is usually impossible to say with certainty whether these shells and rockets were fired by the insurgents or Ukrainian forces.Most attacks are conducted from a distance of a few dozen kilometres and both sides accuse the other of responsibility.Human Rights Watch said that „while not conclusive, circumstances indicate that anti-government forces might have been responsible for the use of cluster munitions.”Separatist leaders issued no immediate comment
How to Salvage France’s Mistral Shipwreck Selling warships to Russia doesn’t seem like a great idea right now. But there’s someone else that could buy them — and make it a win-win for European security. BY JAMES STAVRIDIS , LEO MICHEL OCTOBER 21, 2014185 SHARES Here’s the problem: Selling weapons systems to a country that might one day turn them against your allies, partners, or even your own forces is a risky proposition. In the 1982 Falklands War, an Argentine pilot sunk a British destroyer, HMS Sheffield, with an Exocet missile launched from his Mirage fighter-bomber. Both were made in France. (To be fair, the Argentines also flew American-built Skyhawks and British-built Canberras against the United Kingdom’s forces.) And in the 1986 American raid (Operation El Dorado Canyon) to punish Muammar al-Qaddafi’s regime for mounting terrorist attacks in Europe, Libyan forces reportedly used a French-built Crotale surface-to-air missile to down a U.S. F-111 bomber. Needless to say, these incidents did not help the climate in London or Washington for defense-related cooperation with Paris.French President François Hollande may have considered such examples when he announced, just before September’s NATO summit in Wales, that in view of Russian actions in Ukraine, he was suspending the delivery — planned for this fall — of the first of two Mistrals, named Vladivostok, to the Russian navy. According to the contract signed in 2011 under then President Nicolas Sarkozy and valued at 1.2 billion euros ($1.7 billion), France would deliver the second ship, the Sevastopol, by the end of 2016. Sarkozy justified the deal as a way to turn the page on Cold War antagonisms.Sarkozy justified the deal as a way to turn the page on Cold War antagonisms. Reacting to criticism of the sale from American and European officials, he stated in 2010: „One cannot expect Russia to behave as a partner if we don’t treat them as one.”Hollande has indicated that his next step on the Mistrals will be tied to Russia’s behavior regarding the shaky cease-fire in Ukraine. According to French media, he might unveil his decision at the large Euronaval exposition taking place outside Paris at the end of this month.The French political class is divided on the subject. Some politicians and defense industrialists warn that notwithstanding Moscow’s bad behavior, France’s credibility as an arms supplier — it is currently the world’s fifth largest — would be irreparably damaged by canceling the Mistral contract. Indeed, despite the overall gloomy state of France’s economy, its arms-export industry is thriving. In September, Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian announced that foreign orders for French arms totaled 6.87 billion euros ($8.7 billion) in 2013, a whopping 43 percent increase over the 2012 figure. He also underscored that arms exports generate some 50,000 jobs and support cutting-edge technologies in the civilian sector.But several respected French security experts and commentators want Hollande to cancel the Mistral sale. They cite past examples when France has reneged on arms contracts to comply with international embargoes. They worry that in the eyes of several NATO allies — notably Poland and the Baltic countries — l’affaire des Mistral will overshadow French contributions to the reassurance and deterrence measures agreed at Wales. And some voice concern regarding the extent of French technology transfer, notably in combat information and communications systems, to the Russian military. As Le Mondecommentator Sylvie Kauffmann wrote two days before Hollande suspended delivery of the Vladivostok: „At a time when a debate has opened on whether or not to arm the Ukrainians, how can one justify that a NATO country is arming the aggressor?… Signing the [Mistral] contract was a grave error. Maintaining it under current circumstances would be totally counterproductive.”Here, then, is the solution: France should propose a „lease to buy” agreement that would bring the two Mistral ships under EU control and, eventually, common ownership.France should propose a „lease to buy” agreement that would bring the two Mistral ships under EU control and, eventually, common ownership.The strategic rationale for such a bold initiative is compelling. Since 1999, the European Union — with strong encouragement from successive French governments — has worked to develop the European political will and capabilities necessary to execute the so-called Petersberg tasks, ranging from humanitarian and rescue missions to post-conflict stabilization. Although the EU’s performance to date has disappointed many, European leaders remain committed, by and large, to playing a global role in promoting security commensurate with the EU’s economic and diplomatic weight. The Mistrals would provide the EU with a formidable and flexible tool to do just that.With a range of 11,000 nautical miles (at a speed of 15 knots), the Mistral can carry up to 16 heavy (or 30 light) helicopters, four landing craft, and more than 60 vehicles. It is equipped with a 69-bed hospital and can accommodate more than 700 personnel. Since some 44 percent of the global population lives within 150 kilometers of the sea — a percentage that will grow dramatically in coming decades with rising sea levels — the EU could become a leading provider and coordinator of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps have regularly performed such roles, and the Royal New Zealand Navy’s Canterbury was specifically designed to provide tactical sealift for humanitarian and disaster operations.Moreover, the EU would gain an organic capability to conduct noncombatant evacuation operations in contingencies such as the 2011 Libyan conflict. (A French Navy Mistral performed this role in 2006, evacuating several thousand civilians from Lebanon over a two-week period during the Israel-Hezbollah war.) The EU could also use the ships to reinforce maritime surveillance, rescue, anti-trafficking, and counter-piracy missions in the Mediterranean and off the coasts of Africa. With careful scheduling of maintenance and overhauls, the EU likely could keep at least one of the ships available for deployment at all times.A leasing arrangement between the French government and the European Defense Agency, with France providing the initial 160-person crew, makes sense in the near term. The SALIS partnership, under which 13 EU member states can charter strategic air transport from Ukraine, could be a useful model for cost sharing related to a Mistral lease. Over time, the EU could assume legal ownership of the ships from the French and man them with multinational crews, much the way NATO organizes, funds, and employs its multinational fleet of airborne warning and control system (AWACS) planes. And once the 28 EU member states see their Mistral, flying the EU flag, arrive on the scene of the next humanitarian crisis, it might just inspire them to make good on their repeated pledges to develop sorely needed civilian and military capabilities.The French government would need to work hard to convince the EU to take up the Mistral question. And its Finance Ministry could not realistically expect the EU to cover every euro of French penalties reportedly associated with canceling the existing contract. Still, Russian actions in Ukraine have led the EU to respond with sanctions that would have been unthinkable not long ago. And in the long run, Mistrals owned and operated by the EU will be a better advertisement for the French defense industry than placing them in Russian hands. Hence, if this French president were to propose an elegant but pragmatic EU solution to correct his predecessor’s „grave error,” he just might succeed in steering the Mistral to a safer home port.Photo by JEAN-SEBASTIEN EVRARD/AFP/Getty Images
View photoNew Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Robert J. Papp, Jr. arrives for a Change of Command ceremony …By Andrea Shalal and Ayesha Rascoe WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States needs billions of dollars of new equipment including ice-breaking ships, better satellite service and fiber-optic networks as it prepares for climate change and melting ice in the Arctic, a top U.S. official said on Tuesday.The total cost will not be clear until the U.S. government inventories its investment needs, former Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Robert Papp, who became the first U.S. special representative for the Arctic Region in July, told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday.Papp said the United States should also explore other possible models for funding, including asking companies that want to mine minerals and oil in the Arctic contribute to the infrastructure needed to ensure their safety.”We haven’t put a lot of resources into taking care of the basics of maritime transportation through the waters of the Arctic,” Papp said, adding that he hoped U.S. leadership of the eight-nation Arctic Council from 2015 would attract attention to the challenges created by the shrinking of the Arctic ice cap.The Arctic is drawing interest from energy, mining, shipping and other companies keen to benefit from development of a new frontier, although the austere climate and brief season for human activity will likely keep those efforts at a slower pace.”At some point in time, particularly if there is year-round activity, you’re going to have to invest in the resources,” said Papp, who has been pressing U.S. lawmakers for years to fund a new heavy ice-breaking ship valued at about $1 billion.Budget pressures have slowed investment in new programs, particularly since the U.S. military does not anticipate defense challenges in the Arctic for another decade, but Papp said greater access and traffic in the Arctic were already increasing national security risks in a broader sense.”You need assured access,” he said, noting that it had been sheer luck that the Coast Guard had had an ice-breaker nearby when a fuel tanker got stuck in the ice near Nome, Alaska about three years ago. At that point, it was the only such U.S. vessel, while Russia had more than 40 ice-breaker ships, Papp said.Papp said it cost the Coast Guard over $120 million to fix the Polar Star ice-breaker so it could remain in service through 2025, but it would cost more to upgrade the Polar Sea, moored in Seattle, since the Coast Guard had raided the ship for parts.New U.S. navigation and communications satellites were also needed since the current systems are optimized for middle latitudes and are unreliable and inaccurate at higher latitudes.Alaska would also need new fiber-optic networks to transfer data as more and more companies ventured north, a deep water port to handle any future crises and potentially additional hangars for servicing Coast Guard and military aircraft.As oil companies prepared to drill in the Arctic, it was critical for oil companies like Royal Dutch Shell and the Coast Guard to test and train for potential oil spills, Papp said, citing the lack of knowledge about how to deal with such an event in the freezing cold Arctic waters.(Additional reporting by Timothy Gardner and Valerie Volcovici)
BRATISLAVA (Reuters) – Approval of Russia’s South Stream pipeline would send a message to Ukraine that the European Union is not ready to support its ambitions to lean toward the West and does not see it as a reliable gas transporter, the head of Slovakia’s pipeline operator said.The roughly $40 billion South Stream project is designed to carry over 60 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas each year across the Black Sea into southern Europe, bypassing Ukraine, which now collects fees for transporting gas through massive pipelines from its Russian border to Europe.The European Union has so far blocked the project, citing competition rules. But Russia is working with several EU member states, such as Bulgaria and Austria, to comply with the EU rule that the pipeline provide access to other gas producers.”Potential support of South Stream, especially in its full scale, is not a positive support of our Russian partner, but in fact a completely hostile action against Ukraine,” Eustream Chairman Tomas Marecek told Reuters.”I do not understand how the EU could support this, especially now in the context of the current Ukrainian ambitions, needs and hopes.”South Stream would deprive Ukraine of revenue from Gazprom that helps it cover its gas bill from Russia’s state-controlled gas exporter.”This would first greatly harm Ukraine. It would incur enormous financial losses, destroy the value of their gas assets, which are one of the backbones of their economy, and heavily undermine their ambition to be supplied also from the West,” Marecek said.Slovakia’s Eustream carries gas from Ukraine to various regional EU pipelines. If South Stream is built, Eustream would lose some gas volume and some revenue after the expiration of a long-term contract with Gazprom in 2028.The new route entering the European Union in Bulgaria and ending in Austria would also sap revenue, but under such a scenario Eustream’s underutilized pipelines would probably send large amounts of gas eastward, especially to Ukraine.South Stream would give Russia full control of the three main routes that would feed gas into Europe, via the northern route of the Nord Stream and Yamal pipelines, the central route via Ukraine and into Slovakia as well as the southern route through South Stream.”It would effectively reduce the energy security of Europe as the huge Ukrainian system, with capacity to transmit to Europe 140 bcm, would be replaced by the much smaller system of South Stream,” Marecek said.Marecek said Russia has long been a reliable supplier to Europe and would remain so in coming years.”I stress I am a great defender of supplies of Russian gas to Europe, and I am convinced that Gazprom is and will be a reliable supplier as it has been for last more than 40 years,” he said.No objection to South Stream would be needed if the project represented an additional transit route that didn’t replace the Ukrainian system and was justified by demand for new gas in Europe, he added.SUPPLYING UKRAINE Russia has strengthened its resolve to build South Stream, despite Europe’s falling gas demand, after price disputes with Ukraine have sparked three shutdowns since 2006.The latest dispute over pricing and money owed has led it to halt deliveries to Ukraine since mid-June.In this latest shutdown, Eustream has played a major role in helping Ukraine make up for the gas supplies ahead of winter.Slovakia opened an unused pipeline in September with 10 bcm of annual capacity to send gas from the European Union to Ukraine.”We are running this capacity close to 100 percent, and we don’t expect reductions this winter like in Poland or Hungary as the volumes of gas in our systems are clearly exceeding the reverse flow capacity,” Marecek said.”Also we are analyzing suggestions of (Ukraine pipeline operator) Ukrtransgas to increase the capacity of Vojany reverse to a higher volume,” he added.Poland interrupted supplies to Ukraine in September after receiving less than the amount it requested from Russia, while Hungary halted eastward deliveries a day after securing a new deal with Gazprom last month.Meanwhile, Russia’s and Ukraine’s energy ministers are meeting on Tuesday in Brussels. The two sides have reached a tentative agreement in the gas row, which includes the supply of 5 bcm of Russian gas to Ukraine by end-March.That supply plus Ukraine’s other sources including from Eustream should give it enough to get through the winter.(Editing by Henning Gloystein and Jane Baird)
Assad pursues withering campaign against rebels By ZEINA KARAM6 hours ago BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian President Bashar Assad is taking advantage of the U.S.-led coalition’s war against the Islamic State group to pursue a withering air and ground campaign against more mainstream rebels elsewhere in the country, trying to recapture areas considered more crucial to the survival of his government.Related Stories
As U.S. and allied jets swoop freely over towns and cities under control of extremists in northern Syria, the Syrian army has scaled back its air activity over areas of IS control, doing as little as possible there to avoid confrontation. Instead, Assad’s troops are now focusing their energies on the country’s two largest cities, Damascus and Aleppo.”Whereas previously the Syrian regime had some interest or some level of obligation to take direct action against ISIS, to the extent that the American military is now doing this, the Syrians don’t have to do it,” said Christopher Harmer, senior naval analyst at the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War.While few people think the American and Syrian militaries are actively cooperating or coordinating their operations, there appears to be a tacit alliance, ensuring at the very least that Syrian military operations would not come into conflict or friction with any American or allied aircraft.The overall strategic picture of the war has hardly changed since the coalition strikes began in Syria and neighboring Iraq. Syrian rebels have intensified their operations in some areas, particularly south of Damascus, making noteworthy advances in Daraa and Quneitra provinces. But at least for now, Assad is successfully hanging on to areas where it counts for his survival, and rebels fighting to topple him are increasingly demoralized and mistrustful of U.S. pledges of support.The U.S. on Monday airdropped weapons and other assistance over the Kurdish Syrian town of Kobani — something it hasn’t done for other Syrian rebels, some of whom are fighting Assad and IS at the same time.This Sunday July 6, 2014 file photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows weapons …Activists say the Syrian military has meanwhile escalated its attacks against more mainstream rebels — a mix of moderate and more Islamic factions.On Tuesday, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it had documented more than 200 government airstrikes — including deadly barrel bombings — in the past 36 hours, most of them targeting rebel-held areas of Aleppo, the Damascus suburbs and southern Syria.”Every day there is a massacre in eastern Ghouta,” said activist Hassan Taqieldeen, referring to the sprawling eastern suburb of Damascus that includes Douma. „The regime carries out at least 20 air raids on any given day,” said Taqieldeen, who is based in the town of Douma.Harmer said there is no doubt the Syrian government is trying to exploit the international focus on the Islamic State group to energize its fight elsewhere.”If ever there was a time when the Syrian regime had everything lined up for them to do so, this is it,” he said. „It is in a very favorable position and it’s got the opportunity to execute major offensives around Damascus and Aleppo. I just don’t think they have the resources to do it successfully.”In this Wednesday, July 16, 2014 file photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syria& …On the ground, the army has made some progress, but its successes have been incremental and are subject to the constant ebb and flow of battle lines.Last month, with all eyes on Kobani, Syrian government troops victoriously entered the northeastern Damascus suburb of Adra, days after they captured the nearby Adra industrial zone. Troops also broke into part of the capital’s district of Jobar on the edge of the city after pummeling it to bits, but the rebels are so entrenched there that entire neighborhoods are connected by underground tunnels reaching into the heart of the capital.Earlier this month, government forces advanced in northern Aleppo province, laying claim to a cluster of villages, including the strategic region of Handarat. The capture tightens government control of areas linking the contested city of Aleppo with other parts of the province.”The Assad regime has intensified its campaign of airstrikes on mostly residential areas across Syria, and particularly in Aleppo,” said Hadi Bahra, head of the Western-backed main Syrian opposition group in exile.In a statement Tuesday, he said more than 300,000 people in rebel-controlled areas in Aleppo could be subjected to a „protracted starvation campaign” by Assad’s forces, a tactic the Syrian government has previously used to force rebels to surrender in the suburbs of Damascus and Homs. More than 190,000 people have been killed in Syria’s conflict, which began in March 2011 with largely peaceful protests against Assad and turned into civil war after a brutal military crackdown.This Sunday July 6, 2014 photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows weapons that …U.S. officials dismiss the premise that the American-led military campaign may be helping Assad. They insist that while Assad has lost legitimacy in Syria and should go, the administration’s first priority is to go after what poses a threat to Americans.”Our present military action in Syria is focused on threats presented by ISIL and other extremists,” Alistair Baskey, a spokesman for the White House’s National Security Council, told The Associated Press.Last month, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said attacking Assad’s regime „is not the focus of our international coalition and not the focus of our efforts.”Such statements are bound to be gratifying to Assad, who has long contended that he is fighting terrorists and extremists in Syria.In an interview with the AP on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly meetings in New York last month, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem insisted Syria was pleased with the U.S. targeting of IS militants in his country, even suggesting the air campaign should be widened to include all extremists.Taqieldeen, the activist, said he couldn’t understand the international fixation on Kobani when there are millions of other Syrians threatened with death from the skies every day.”The joke around here is that we should change the town’s name from Douma to Doumani. Maybe if it rhymes with Kobani it will resonate with the Americans and they will notice us, too,” Taqieldeen said._Associated Press writer Josh Lederman in Washington contributed to this report.
Russia sends military to protect Arctic oil region after Sweden deploys troops Use your key for the next article Next: Trade between China and Russia reaches new high as sanctions continue to hurt EU October 21, 20141:13 PM MSTPlayWith Sweden on the look-out for a suspected Russian sub, a lot of people are talking about the Cold War, but is it an apt comparison? on.aol.com As the crisis over a ‘mysterious’ and unknown Russian submarine believed to be trapped in Swedish coastal waters escalates, President Vladimir Putin is taking no chances that their Northern European neighbor will use its military to threaten discovered oil fields Russia has made claim to in the Arcticregion. And on Oct. 21, the Russian leader has decided to react with force and is deploying troops and robotic sentries to the Arctic to ensure the dispute reaches no further than its current location.Russian oil claims in the Arctic Courtesy of Ria.ru Over the weekend, Swedish news sources reported that a disabled Russian submarine had gone down in the Stockholm archipelago, and that attempts to contact the boat were met with silence. In fact, Russian authorities irrefutably denied that any ship or submarine had entered or was disabled in Swedish waters, but over the past two days tensions have risen between the two neighboring countries that Sweden has now deployed their military in an attempt to track and find this mysterious unknown vessel.On the heels of Sweden’s military deployment (following the discovery of a damaged Russian sub), it appears Russia is taking no chances with its access to Arctic resources.As Reuters reports, the Russian defense minister announced today that Russian military units will be deployed along the entire Arctic border from Murmansk to Chukotka in 2014.Interfax adds that combat robots are also being deployed to protect Russian oil and gas infrastructure in the harsh environment of the Arctic. This should be no surprise as The Guardian notes, the Arctic’s hydrocarbon resources nevertheless exert a powerful pull. It has been compared to „a second Middle East”, with oil and gas reserves thought to represent 17% and 30%, respectively, of the global total. – ZerohedgeControl over the Arctic oil reserves is of supreme importance to Russia, and any Northern latitude country that seeks economic and political power for the future as energy resources in the Middle East continue to dwindle. In fact, the past 40 years has seen the U.S., and in particular Saudi Arabia, control a large portion of economic policy around the world through their petro-dollar agreement, and OPEC’s domination of energy production. But as the world quickly moves away from the dollar, and as the Middle East begins to decline from peak production, nations who can control the next energy frontier will have the power to dictate new economic policies which will also equate to political dominance.More than at anytime since the height of the Cold War, it seems like the entire world is on the edge economically, militarily, and geo-politically. And where something as small as a foreign vessel being believed to reside in another nation’s waters seems trivial in the big picture, the consequences of small events today can quickly lead to escalating tensions, just as the assassination of the Arch-Duke Ferdinand 100 years ago set the dominoes in motion to begin World War I, and a truly global conflict.
Russia prepares militarization of Arctic The arming of the Arctic is prompted by the discovery of underground oil and gas reserves.By Ed Adamczyk | Oct. 21, 2014 at 9:21 AM Russia is preparing to establish a military command in the Arctic. (CC/ NOAA) MOSCOW, Oct. 21 (UPI) — Russia has begun a large-scale militarization of the Arctic Ocean region, with a military command structure planned by 2017.It comes after recent discoveries of oil and natural gas reserves under the ocean floor, and the possibility a potential Northern Sea Route — an alternative to the Suez Canal — could soon be established as global climate change causes melting of Arctic ice.Former Soviet bases are being reactivated, a 6,000-soldier permanent military force will be established in the northwest Russia’s Murmansk region, and radar and guidance systems are planned in the area, the Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported.Col. Oleg Salyukov said, „For the defense of national interests in the Arctic, a multiservice task force will be formed. A motorized rifle arctic brigade is now being formed in the Murmansk region. The second arctic brigade will be formed in 2016 and will be stationed in the Yamal-Nenets autonomous region,” a reference to the Arctic Circle area east of the Ural Mountains, RIA Novosti reported earlier this month.Combat missions were simulated recently during the full-scale „Vostok 2014″ military exercises.While the oil and gas reserves in Arctic are claimed by some to represent 17 percent to 30 percent of the world’s total, some are skeptical of Russia’s plans.”It is consistent with the stance of the Russian state, which only understands the word ‘force’ in military terms. But you must keep it in proportion; it is still only a symbolic battle. Take a look at the map and you will soon see that 6,000 men spread over such a huge area is not much,” said military analyst Alexander Golts of the Russian news website Yezhenedelny Zhurnal.The Arctic area is governed by international maritime treaties, and Canada, which also has extensive territory in the region, routinely conducts military exercises there. Since the start of the Ukraine conflict, relations between Russia and Ukraine have deteriorated significantly.Read more: http://www.upi.com/Top_News/World-News/2014/10/21/Russia-prepares-militarization-of-Arctic/2741413894698/#ixzz3Gq7FtAGN
Brazil’s Embraer unveils new KC-390 military transport 5 hours agoyGavião Peixoto (Brazil) (AFP) – Brazilian planemaker Embraer unveiled its new KC-390 military transport Tuesday as the country expands its foray into the global security and defense air transport market.Developing the KC-390, the biggest plane Embraer has produced, cost 4.6 billion reais ($1.9 billion), paid by the Brazilian Air Force in partnership with Argentina, the Czech Republic and Portugal.The new aircraft was presented at Embraer’s testing facility at Gaviao Peixoto in Sao Paulo state at a ceremony attended by Brazil’s defense minister, Celso Amorim.”This significant stage in the KC-390 program demonstrates Embraer’s ability to bring a complete hi-tech project to fruition,” said Jackson Schneider, the firm’s president of security and defense.Saito said the new aircraft would comprise „the backbone of the air force’s transport aviation,” as the plane can operate in a range of conditions „from the Amazon to the Antarctic.”Nelson During, analyst with specialist site Defesanet, dubbed the KC-390 the largest military vehicle developed in the Southern Hemisphere that would take Embraer „to a new business level.”Guests and media stand near Embraer’s KC-390 aircraft at its production facilities in Gaviao Pei …Embraer is targeting 728 sales of the new aircraft in 77 countries for receipts of $50 billion.Last May, the company signed a contract with the FAB to supply 28 KC-390 over ten years in a $3.2 billion deal as the FAB gradually retires the US Lockheed Hercules C-130.Amorim said co-developers Argentina, the Czech Republic and Portugal had also signaled their intention to buy airframes, as had Colombia and Chile.The KC-390 project, largely financed by the FAB, was launched in 2009.The medium-size, twin-engine jet-powered aircraft is capable of transporting up to 23 tons of cargo and boasts a maximum cruising speed of 860 kilometers (550 miles) per hour.The plane will provide logistical back-up on military, humanitarian and search-and-rescue missions.Embraer, the world’s third-largest manufacturer of commercial aircraft behind US giant Boeing and Europe’s Airbus, did not indicate the unit price of the plane, due in service by year’s end.The company is one of Brazil’s biggest exporters and boasted a record $22 billion of order book business at the end of the third quarter.Earlier Tuesday, some 7,000 Embraer personnel demanding a 10 percent pay rise began a one-day strike. The company has offered 6.6 percent.
U.S. urges Japan to be ‘bold’ in Pacific trade pact talks By Antoni Slodkowski19 hours agoU.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker (C), who led U.S. business mission members, speaks during their …By Antoni Slodkowski Related Stories
TOKYO (Reuters) – The time is „ripe” for Japan and the United States to reach a breakthrough in talks for a Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact, the U.S. commerce secretary said on Tuesday, adding that the two were „a lot closer” to a deal than in recent months.Penny Pritzker, who is in Japan with a trade mission of U.S. energy and medical companies, said both countries needed to be „bold and creative” to reach a deal, and a summit between U.S. President Barack Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was possible if the two sides got closer to agreement.The 12-nation pact is high on Abe’s economic reform agenda and central to Obama’s policy of expanding the U.S. presence in Asia. An agreement between Tokyo and Washington is crucial to securing the broader pact as other partners are reluctant to commit until they see how the two resolve their differences.”The timing is now for us to sort this out,” Pritzker told reporters after a speech in Tokyo.”President Obama is coming to the region. It’s an opportunity for our leaders to be together. This is really about recognizing the opportunity and the timing and the potential to move forward.”Obama has said he hoped to have a TPP deal by year-end, but many experts are skeptical the group’s two biggest economies can make the necessary compromises.Hopes for a resolution by the end of the year were dampened in September, when talks between the Obama administration and Japan hit a snag, with each side blaming the other for a stalemate over farm exports.The United States insists that Japan lower barriers to agricultural imports, but Japan wants to protect sensitive products, including pork, beef, dairy and sugar.The stalemate followed an April visit to Japan by Obama when the last-minute talks failed to reach agreement.”I think you’re a lot closer today to an agreement,” said Pritzker, referring to the April visit. „I think given the political landscape in Japan and in the United States it seems that the timing is ripe and shaping up for us to get this done.”The top negotiators of nations involved in the TPP talks meet in Australia later in the week, ahead of ministerial discussion, and then further talks next month at an Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Beijing.On a visit to Japan last week, Wendy Cutler, the acting deputy U.S. trade representative, said progress in the negotiations was encouraging, but difficult issues remained.The 21-nation APEC grouping includes Canada, Mexico, Russia and the United States and accounts for about 40 percent of the world’s population, 55 percent of global gross domestic product and 44 percent of world trade.(Reporting by Antoni Slodkowski; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)
GAZA/RAMALLAH West Bank (Reuters) – The first torrential downpour of an approaching winter has already soaked the Gaza Strip, compounding the misery of thousands of Palestinians who scrambled to patch homes wrecked by the summer war with Israel.While Palestinian officials rejoiced at $5.4 billion pledged at an international aid conference last week toward reconstruction and shoring up their budget, many in Gaza fear that, as was the case after past wars with Israel, not all the money will materialize.No one disputes the need is urgent: the United Nations says 18,000 dwellings were destroyed or damaged in 50 days of fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants, and 108,000 people are homeless in a long impoverished, isolated territory.The flow of building material and other aid will largely depend on whether the Western-backed Palestinian Authority (PA) that exercises limited self-rule in the Israeli-occupied West Bank extends its writ to Gaza, now run by the Hamas Islamist group shunned by many countries as a designated terrorist group.But despite a Palestinian unity deal in April, Hamas and its political rivals still bicker. Local businessmen say a mechanism agreed by the United Nations, Israel and the Palestinians for construction materials to move from the West Bank across Israeli territory to Gaza remains vague and plagued by red tape.Any help could not come soon enough for Samir Hassanein, 37. A gaping hole in his damaged home exposes his sitting room to the elements, despite desperate efforts to shield it with plastic sheeting and bricks.His neighborhood of Shejaia was shredded by Israeli artillery fire on July 20. For almost two months, Hassanein and his family have stayed on; he was eager not to stray far and miss delegations from the U.N. and charity organizations to register his house for repair funds that have yet to come.”They must build our houses for us – we can’t live like this. They should have begun building long ago. We’re not ready for winter and now we’re drowning in the rain,” he told Reuters.Israel heavily bombarded and partially invaded Gaza, a small coastal enclave with a 1.8 million population, while Hamas peppered Israeli cities with rocket fire during seven weeks of combat. It killed over 2,000 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and more than 70 Israelis, almost all of them soldiers.Densely-populated border areas like Shejaia were almost completely razed when Israel took them over and destroyed tunnels there which militants used to attack into its territory.FRAUGHT UNITY Since the aid conference in the Egyptian capital Cairo concluded on Oct. 12, only 75 truckloads of building materials have entered Gaza through Israel – on one day last week.Gaza economic analyst Maher Al-Tabbaa said the amount is under a fifth of the daily import volume required if war damage is to be repaired in three to five years.Despite the formation of a Palestinian unity government of technocrats in June, an enduring schism between Hamas, which led the Palestinian war effort, and the moderate Fatah party in the West Bank casts doubt on whether the traffic flow will improve.Hamas – which unlike Fatah rejects negotiations to achieve a Palestinian state in territories Israel captured in a 1967 war -seized Gaza from the Fatah-led PA in a brief civil war in 2007. Hamas had won a Palestinian parliamentary election in 2006, a year after Israel pulled its soldiers and settlers out of Gaza.Israel has imposed a strict blockade on Gaza since the Hamas takeover, saying it seeks to restrict goods that could be used in weapons production and underground tunnels. But this has worsened economic hardship in the dilapidated, arid territory, where more than half of the population receive U.N. food aid.An agreement last month for Hamas to hand over control of border crossings to its Western-supported Palestinian rivals might allay Israeli and donor fears that the group could siphon off or profit from reconstruction aid.”The money pledged represented a ray of hope and if … the crossings were opened and there were an honest implementation of the reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas, international donors would be encouraged to give more money because what had been pledged was not enough,” economic analyst Al-Tabbaa said.Hamas blames the West Bank-based unity government for not assuming responsibility for the two border crossings yet and ferrying in building supplies.But at the same time, Hamas’s official magazine boasted on Sunday that fighters were working „like bees in their hives” to rebuild their tunnels, a major consumer of concrete and steel.DONOR-DEPENDENT Palestinian officials have put the cost of physical rebuilding at $4 billion. But donors allotted only around $2.7 billion toward it, and the other half of its pledges for the cash-strapped PA budget.The economic picture in the West Bank is also depressed.Between 2007 and 2011, growth soared at an annual average 8 percent. But a steep drop in donor support, especially from Arab neighbors, and the devastation in Gaza will lead to a slump in 2014 to 0.5 percent in the West Bank and a contraction of 15 percent in Gaza, the World Bank forecast last month.Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah said last week that while Gaza’s need was immediate and plans were ready, work could not begin in earnest on pledges alone. „It was our previous experience in Sharm el-Sheikh in 2009 that most of the money did not come,” he said, referring to an Egyptian-led conference after a December 2008-January 2009 Gaza war.Donors have backed Palestinian efforts to build an economy capable of statehood in the West Bank despite Israeli restrictions on the free movement of goods and people there, and hope the unity pact will help buoy Gaza’s shattered fortunes.”Until now this progress has been limited more or less to the West Bank. Now I think the time has come to extend this work to Gaza. We are aware of the obstacles, including political and economic constraints, but this will not prevent us from supporting the PA,” European Union regional representative John Gatt-Rutter said last week.While the EU has remained one of the PA’s most reliable donors, Palestinians may face acute funding problems if they make good on a pledge, given the breakdown in peace talks in April, to seek full statehood at the U.N. Security Council soon.Palestinian sources say the United States, has threatened to dock the roughly $500 million it gives annually to the West Bank government’s budget and security forces.Israel would likely also withhold the $100 million in customs duties it shifts monthly to the Palestinian Authority, a sum that makes up about a third of the PA’s revenue.RED TAPE Analysts and officials have also cast doubt on the efficiency of a mechanism to monitor and license Palestinian construction companies agreed by the PA, U.N. and Israel.They say Gazans whose homes were damaged or destroyed will register with the United Nations, which will then transfer their claims to Israel for approval of the required amount of construction material. The Palestinian private sector will then apply to import the allotted building materials, which if approved, will be funded in installments.Companies must also maintain round-the-clock cameras on their storage to prove militants have no access – a tall order in Gaza, where there are only six hours of electricity per day after Israeli shells knocked out the main power plant.Ibrahim Barhum, head of the Palestinian Coordinating Council for the Private Sector, attended the Cairo conference and urged participants to cut back bureaucracy in the way of aid.”The people of Gaza are in a tragic situation and winter has begun,” he said. „We’re talking three to ten years, and this is something the people of Gaza won’t accept and can’t bear.”(Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta; Writing by Noah Browning; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Mark Heinrich)