Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Russia plans biggest missile test for 24 years - within the Arctic circle

Russia is to carry out live fire exercises with all of its cruise missiles for the first time since 1984, the country's air force has announced.
The operations will take place in the far north of the country - within the Arctic circle - and last until October 12 [2008].

With Russia and the West suffering poor relations recently, the tests might be seen as a way for the Kremlin to flex its muscles.

Western countries angrily rebuked Russia when it invaded Georgia in August, while Moscow has been enraged by attempts to expand Nato to Russian borders and place a missile defence shield in Eastern Europe.

The exercises are part of the Stability-2008 strategic manoeuvres in Russia and Belarus aimed at practising defences against any threats near the Russian border.

"During these exercises, for the first time in many years, the crews of Tu-160 Blackjack and Tu-95MS Bear-H strategic bombers will fly missions carrying the maximum combat payload and fire all the cruise missiles on board," said Lt Col Vladimir Drik said.

The Blackjack aircraft can carry six 12 Kh-55 long-range cruise missiles, while the Bear-H aircraft can carry 12 of the bombs.

"The number and variety of aircraft involved in the drills shows the wide range of tasks that will be accomplished during the week-long exercise," Lt Col Drik said.

Source: telegraph.co.uk Tuesday 07 Oct 2008 - Russia plans biggest missile test for 24 years

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Full combat load for Russian bombers during exercise

For the first time in over two decades, Russian Air Force bombers will conduct training flights with full combat payloads and live fire all cruise missiles on board.

"During these exercises, for the first time in many years, the crews of Tu-160 Blackjack and Tu-95MS Bear-H strategic bombers will fly missions carrying the maximum combat payload and fire all the cruise missiles on board," Lt. Col. Vladimir Drik said.

Source: Alert 5 - Military Aviation News October 03, 2008

Russian Air Force to accept Algerian MiG-29s

The 34 MiG-29 SMT fighters that were rejected by Algeria will be inducted into the Russian Air Force.

33 jets will be delivered in 2009 and one in 2010.

Russia's United Aircraft Corporation meanwhile added that Russia has not officially terminated the MiG-29 contract.

"We have not officially terminated the contract with Algeria. We are hoping that Russia's Defense Ministry will make a final decision on this matter," said Alexey Fyodorov, the UAC president.

Source: Alert 5 - Military Aviation News October 03, 2008

Russia hopes to deploy new nuclear missile next year

Colonel-General Vladimir Popovkin, head of armaments for the Russian armed forces, said he hopes to see the new Bulava submarine-launched nuclear missile enter service next year.

Source: Alert 5 - Military Aviation News October 02, 2008

Friday, 3 October 2008

Russia "aims to prevent pirates from causing mayhem" - Russia: Will work with US, EU to stop pirates

Friday, October 03, 2008 (Fox/AP)
Russia: Will work with US, EU to stop pirates
MOSCOW —  Russia's foreign minister says Moscow will work with the U.S. and European Union to fight pirates.

Somali pirates are holding a Ukrainian ship with a cargo of battle tanks and two Russian crew members off the nation's coast.

On Friday, six U.S. warships circled the vessel with clearance from the Somali government to attack it, and a Russian frigate headed toward the standoff.

The state-run RIA-Novosti news agency quotes Sergey Lavrov as saying that Russia "aims to prevent pirates from causing mayhem."

Lavrov said Russia and other nations will act on the basis of a U.N. resolution that authorized countries to enter Somalia's territorial waters and use "all necessary means" to stop piracy.

AP's earlier story is below.

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) _ Pirates holding a hijacked ship off Somalia gave no indication they planned to surrender, as six U.S. warships circled the vessel Friday with clearance from the Somali government to attack it, and a Russian frigate headed toward the standoff.

Meanwhile, activists condemned Kenya's arrest of a Kenyan maritime official on Wednesday night who had been the first to tip off media that the weapons aboard the ship hijacked nine days ago were heading to Southern Sudan. His account was later confirmed by the U.S. Navy and Western intelligence sources.

Kenya has vehemently denied statements by the official, Andrew Mwangura, that the 33 Soviet-designed tanks and weapons onboard the MV Faina were destined for neighboring Southern Sudan. The Kenyan government insists Kenya is the final destination.

The allegation is highly embarrassing to Kenya, which brokered Sudan's north-south peace deal in 2005. Southern Sudan is due to have a referendum on independence in 2011. Many analysts believe the north will be reluctant to let the oil-rich south break away, risking a return to the civil war that has already claimed 2 million lives.

The Somali government has given foreign powers the freedom to use force against the pirates holding the Faina and its 20 crew members. It is anchored near the central Somali town of Hobyo, with six American warships within 10 miles of it.

Russia, whose warship is not expected for several days, has used commando tactics to end several hostage situations on its own soil, but dozens of hostages have died in those efforts.

On Thursday, pirate spokesman Sugule Ali told The Associated Press via satellite telephone that the pirates were prepared to defend the ship and would not take less than their stated ransom of $20 million. It was not immediately possible to reach Ali on Friday morning.

The American Navy warships have been tracking Faina amid fears that its weapons might fall into the hands of al-Qaida-linked Islamic insurgents in Somalia, and this week, eight European countries have offered to form a combined anti-piracy force at the invitation of the Somali government. Some 26 ships have been hijacked off the notorious Somali coast this year already.

In Kenya, government spokesman Alfred Mutua refused to comment on Friday about the arrest of Mwagura, who was charged with making "inflammatory statements."

Leonard Vincent, a spokesman for Paris-based watchdog Reporters Without Borders, said the charges against Mwangura might stop other officials coming forward with information in a country rated as one of the most corrupt in the world.

"We think it is a dangerous precedent and a signal sent to those who have information contradicting the Kenyan government," he said. "We are not used to seeing this in Kenya, that is why we are outraged and surprised."

Hassan Omar Hassan, a commissioner of the Kenya National Commission of Human Rights, said Mwangura told Hassan he had been warned by intelligence officials, police and local officials not to comment publicly on the weapons' destination.

"He has caused a public relations nightmare for the government," Hassan said. "If its a matter of public interest, the public has a right to information."

Mwangura also was charged with possessing four joints of marijuana on Thursday. A judge ruled he should be held for five days in prison while further investigations were made. Mutua, the Kenyan government spokesman, accused Mwangura at a televised news conference of being a go-between for the pirates.

Those charges were not brought before a court.
Associated Press writers Katharine Houreld and Tom Odula in Nairobi, Kenya contributed to this report.

Russia probes killing of three pilots in South Darfur clash

September 30, 2008 (PARIS) — Moscow said probing the circumstances of the death of three Russian pilots in a helicopter crash in Sudan’s South Darfur state, the Foreign Ministry said today.

On September 29, a Mi-8 helicopter contracted to carry food aid for the UN African Union mission in Darfur crashed near Kalma Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp shortly after its takeoff from Nyala. It was owned by a Sudanese airliner and hired by UNAMID.

“As a result all crewmembers, including three Russians, died. The Russian foreign ministry keeps close contacts with the embassy in Khartoum that is investigating the accident,” said a spokesperson of f the Russian foreign ministry.

Yesterday Khartoum accused the rebel movements in Darfur of shooting the helicopter but Darfur IDPs and rebels dismissed the claim and said Khartoum was behind the attack.

The hybrid mission announced that it was investigating the causes of the incident without elaborating.

The chopper crashed in an area between Kalma camp and Nyala airport. Two of the crew members died at the scene while two other died of their wounds at the hospital later. (ST)

Source: Sudan Tribune Wednesday 1 October 2008: Russia probes killing of three pilots in South Darfur clash.

Why Russia's Oligarchs Saved BP, But Georgia Will Not Join NATO (Steve LeVine)

About a week and a half ago, four Russian oligarchs abruptly called off a months-long seige that had BP on the ropes, and gave the British company a settlement that it could have only dreamed of just a day earlier. The company was allowed to keep its 50% holding in the Russian oil company TNK-BP in exchange for concessions that were relatively minor compared with the worst-case scenario -- that, with a loss of much of its Russian holdings, BP might have to merge with Shell or some other Big Oil rival.

Source: oilandglory.com - Why Russia's Oligarchs Saved BP, But Georgia Will Not Join NATO By Steve LeVine, 16 September 2008. Rest of the report:
Why did take-no-prisoners oligarchs like Viktor Vekselberg and Mikhail Fridman throw BP the lifeline? And why should this not be seen as a case study into how vulnerable Russia is to market forces?

A glance at Russia's current straits is a fairly clear answer to the first question: Russia's stock markets are in free fall. Dollars are pulling out of the country -- some $35 billion since last month's fighting in Georgia. Russia's billionaire oligarchs are in a panic.

The parties claim that they had reached a tentative agreement in July. The Russians claimed that the Kremlin played no role. These strain credulity, particularly the latter. Not to put too fine a point on it, the oligarchs' public announcement of the deal included remarks by First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin and Kremlin economic aide Arkady Dvorkovich.

The likeliest scenario is that the oligarchs got spooked by their exposure to the already-plunging Russian market, that the Kremlin was blind-sided by the magnitude of Western dismay over Georgia, and that both groups decided that they could do with one less scandal on their hands.

But this does not mean that Russia is going to bend -- certainly any time soon -- on Georgia. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has effectively acknowledged that he overplayed his hand by seizing Georgian territory. But by pulling troops back from Georgia proper and occupying just the breakaway Georgian republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, he is merely obtaining what he wanted in the first place.

What is that? When I visited Kazakhstan over the last couple of weeks, I was told that Western oilmen see Russia now holding "psychological control" over the oil-and-natural-gas pipeline corridor through Georgia. It doesn't mean that Russia will attack the lines -- the re-use of force is unlikely, I think, though that threat isn't dismissed by Azerbaijan or Georgia. But it does mean that Russia holds an effective veto over any expansion of them. And, given Russia's influence over Germany, France and Italy, Moscow also holds an effective veto over NATO accession for both Georgia and Ukraine.

And that is an immense Russian achievement -- an erosion in the corridor's previous western-protected status.
See links in Steve LeVine's original blog post, Why Russia's Oligarchs Saved BP, But Georgia Will Not Join NATO.

Note, Steve LeVine covers foreign affairs for BusinessWeek. He previously was correspondent for Central Asia and the Caucasus for The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times for 11 years. His first book, The Oil and the Glory, a history of the former Soviet Union through the lens of oil, was published in October 2007. Putin’s Labyrinth, his new book, recently published, profiles Russia through the lives and deaths of six Russians.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Ingushetia abuses 'may spark war' (BBC)

Russia's southern republic of Ingushetia is verging on civil war, a human rights group says, accusing officials of state-sponsored terror.

The Moscow Helsinki Group says the federal authorities in the Caucasus republic are engaged in kidnappings, torture and extra-judicial killings.

The authorities say they are fighting a war against terrorism.

Attacks against security forces - often carried out by Islamist militants - have intensified in Ingushetia.

Violence in the predominantly Muslim republic started during the war in neighbouring Chechnya in the late 1990s, when armed separatists began attacking government targets.

Full story by BBC - Ingushetia abuses 'may spark war' - 23 September 2008

Russia, Georgia and the EU (Lord Soley)

Copy of blog post from LORD OF THE BLOG by Lord Soley of Hammersmith:
Monday, September 01, 2008
Russia, Georgia and the EU

The EU summit on Russia and Georgia will be a very important one. I'm sure Russia feels resentment about the way the EU and NATO are encroaching on what they see as their sphere of influence. It is also possible to understand Russian resentment about their loss of power and influence since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

It also seems likely that Georgia made a critical error in resorting to force against the Russian minority even if they had been provoked by Russian encouragement of the minority. None of this should detract from the criticism of Russia. Its response was designed as a warning to the EU and NATO. The implications however go well beyond that. If countries like the Ukraine and Georgia are not going to be allowed by Russia to elect to join NATO and the EU then they become buffer states between the EU and Russia. Hardly desirable by them and not good for future relations between Russia and Europe.

Russian nationalism has always been strong. Based on the anger about past failures it is particularly strong now. With the use of Polonium 210 to poison Litvinenko, the treatment of the British Council and BP and the attacks on journalism not to mention the dependence of Europe on Russian energy you have to be worried!

The EU is an emerging super power. Russia is a collapsed super power trying to restore its position in the world. This is a recipe for confrontation that we need to resolve sooner rather than later.

Monday, 22 September 2008

Financial crisis in Russia raises stakes for Putin - Fiscal test is nation's gravest since '98

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's success, driven by soaring oil prices and consolidation over government and media, has been diminished in the wake of a market failure that has plummeted further and faster than any other troubled market in the world. Putin, Russia's former president who is given credit for delivering the nation from economic standstill in 1998, faces the present financial crisis with no debt, a massive surplus, and vast holdings in foreign currencies.

Full report by Philip P. Pan, Washington Post Foreign Service, Sunday, September 21, 2008 (hat tip UN Wire - Russian financial crisis tests Putin's rule)

Pakistani militant group, Fidayeen-e-Islam, says it carried out attack on Islamabad Marriott - Possibly an assassination attempt - (Update 1)

A little known Pakistani militant group, Fidayeen-e-Islam, says it carried out Saturday's attack on the Islamabad Marriott.

Source: BBC report September 22, 2008 Militants claim Marriott attack
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From Channel 4 Snowmai 22 September 2008 - report by Alex T:

Pakistan continues to dominate the agenda with an official from the country’s interior ministry now saying that the prime minister, president and many of the country’s leaders were due at the Marriott hotel around the time that it was bombed yesterday. They made a late switch to another venue, he says.

So it rather begins to look as if the bomb were some kind of assassination attempt and if so, that the news of that meeting leaked out. In the end the plans changed at the last moment, either by coincidence or as a security ploy.

And the violence, of course, has not stopped at the door of the Marriott. It was never going to. An Afghan diplomat is reported as kidnapped this morning in Peshawar, not so far from Islamabad itself.

There are reports of gun battles there. British Airways continues to suspend flights to Islamabad. Equally the Pakistani army has fired on US helicopters attempting to enter Pakistan in hot pursuit of Washington’s “war on terror”.

Islamabad as ever is caught on the horns of the familiar dilemma: the need to stand up to Uncle Sam wanting to attack Pakistan as he sees fit and the imperative to try to do something about the Pakistani Taliban. Thus far Pakistan is failing to resolve this war, as surely as the USA is struggling to make headway in Afghanistan.

Once more Pakistan itself gives the impression of somehow teetering on the edge. But however much she teeters in these crises, she does not fall. And I doubt she will this time either.

At the time of sending the FTSE-100 index was: 5281.47
The US Dollar to Sterling was: 1.84615
The Euro to Sterling was: 1.25955

Online: Watch Channel 4 News video reports - subscribe to RSS feeds, podcasts and mobile phone bulletins
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From The Scotsman
Pakistan's leaders 'had been due to dine in bomb hotel'
Published Date: 23 September 2008
Report by Nahal Toosi in Islamabad
PAKISTAN'S leaders had been due to dine at the luxury hotel devastated by a truck bomb but changed the venue at the last minute, a government official said yesterday.
Asif Ali Zardari, the president, and Yousuf Raza Gilani, the prime minister, were among those who switched their Saturday night meal from the Marriott Hotel to the premier's residence, according to Rehman Malik, of the interior ministry.

He said the reason for their decision was kept secret.

"Perhaps, the terrorists knew that the Marriott was the venue of the dinner for all the leadership where the president, prime minister, speaker and all entire leadership would be present," Mr Malik said.

"At the 11th hour, the president and prime minister decided that the venue would be the prime minister's house. It saved the entire leadership."

However, a spokesman for the hotel owner said it had had no plans to host a dinner for government leaders. "We didn't have any reservation for such a dinner that the government official is talking about," Jamil Khawar said.

Saturday's blast at the Marriott in Islamabad killed at least 53 people and underscored the extremist challenge facing Pakistan, where Taleban and al-Qaeda militants are operating out of tribal regions close to Afghanistan.

The attack prompted foreign diplomatic missions and aid groups to review their security status, and British Airways said yesterday it was temporarily suspending its six flights a week to the country as a precautionary measure – it stressed it had faced no direct security threat.

After the blast, suspicion fell on al-Qaeda or the Pakistani Taleban. But Amir Mohammad, an aide to Baitullah Mehsud, a Pakistani Taleban leader, said he had not been involved and shared the nation's grief.

And last night, Arabiya television reported that a little-known Islamist group had claimed responsibility.

The group, which called itself Fedayeen Islam (Partisans of Islam), contacted Arabiya's correspondent in Islamabad and issued several demands, including for Pakistan to stop its co-operation with the United States, the TV station said.

Some 270 people were injured in the hotel attack, while the dead included the Czech ambassador to Pakistan and two employees of the US department of defence.

Most of the victims were Pakistanis, a fact that is likely to increase the pressure on the government to stem the rising violence in the Muslim nation that many blame on the country's partnership with the US in the "war on terror".

In a further sign of the deteriorating security situation in Pakistan, gunmen kidnapped Afghanistan's ambassador-designate and killed his driver in the main north-western city of Peshawar yesterday.

A spokesman for the Afghan mission in the city said Abdul Khaliq Farahi had been abducted as he travelled towards his home in the city. He gave no more details, but the kidnapping and killing were confirmed by the Afghan charge d'affaires in Islamabad, Majnoon Gulab.
Pakistan's leaders 'had been due to dine in bomb hotel'

Photo: This aerial photograph shows the extent of the devastation caused by the suicide truck bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad (The Scotsman)

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Dozens killed in suicide bombing of Islamabad hotel

Excerpt from Snowmail's Tomomail service courtesy of UK Channel 4 News, Saturday 20 September 2008 18:00 GMT:
A large bomb - looks like a suicide job but it’s not clear just now – has detonated outside the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad.

Looks like the hotel's going up in flames as I write. Already around 20 people confirmed killed but there will, I fear, be more by the time we are on air.

All this so soon after the new leader of the country pledges to crack down on Islamic militants (as all such leaders do) and crack down equally on America's new policy of bringing its war in Afghanistan into Pakistani sovereign territory in pursuit of its "war on terror".

What a position to be in. This hotel very much a prestige target in the country's seat of government. I've stayed there many times and I can tell from the area of blast damage that this was a very big blast indeed.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Four missiles fired by suspected US drones in Pakistan village

On Thursday, September 18, 2008, Aljazeera.net reported that suspected US drones have fired missiles at a village in Pakistan's South Waziristan province near the Afghan border, killing five people, officials said. Excerpt:
"Four missiles were fired by suspected US drones in Baghar Cheena area in the restive South Waziristan on Wednesday [September 17, 2008] evening," a senior security official said.

AFP news agency quoted an unidentified security official as saying that five people including foreigners were killed when the missiles hit a compound.

Baghar, a village in the mountains 55km west of Wana, the main town in the region, is close to Angor Adda, the border village that was raided by US commandos on September 3 [2008].

Another Pakistani official told Reuters that the strikes were the result of intelligence sharing between Pakistan and the US.

"It shows improving intelligence co-ordination on the ground," the official said.

US-Pakistan talks

The attacks came as Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, met General Ashfaq Kayani, Pakistan’s most senior army officer, and Yousuf Raza Gilani, the country's prime minister, in Islamabad on Wednesday [September 17, 2008] to pledge his "commitment to respect Pakistan's sovereignty".

A US embassy statement also said Mullen wants to "develop further US-Pakistani co-operation and co-ordination on these critical issues that challenge the security and well-being of the people of both countries".

Four missiles were fired by suspected US drones in Baghar Cheena, Pakistan

Photo: US Admiral Michael Mullen held talks with Pakistani PM and the army chief (EPA/Al Jazeera)

"The conversations were extremely frank, positive, and constructive," the US embassy said.

Mullen "appreciated the positive role that Pakistan is playing in the war on terror and pledged continued US support to Pakistan," the embassy statement said.

Sources say Pakistani officials told Mullen that unilateral cross-border raids by US ground forces based in Afghanistan would not deal a blow to al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

"Such raids will be a setback to our efforts against the militants' network," the official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP news agency.

Border protection

Kayani had previously said that Pakistani armed forces would protect the country's sovereignty and territorial integrity "at all cost".

Major General Athar Abbas, a Pakistani military spokesman, said that Pakistan would seek to guard its borders.

"We have repeatedly said we will defend our territory and we reserve the right to retaliate in case of any aggression," Abbas said on Wednesday.

Robert Gates, the US defence minister, said in the Afghan capital Kabul that the US will co-operate with Pakistan in an attempt to crack down on Taliban and al-Qaeda bases in the border areas.

He said that recent Pakistani military operations against fighters in the tribal areas were encouraging.
Source: Aljazeera Thursday, September 18, 2008 - 'US missiles' hit Pakistan village

Sunday, 14 September 2008

US launches overt attacks on Pakistani territory

US President George W Bush gave secret order approving Pakistan ground raids. US forces told to conduct clandestine ground assaults in Pakistan.

Source: The Daily Telegraph September 12, 2008 08:47 afghanistan
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Pakistani fury as suspected US drone attack kills 12

Pakistan threatens to withdraw from Bush's 'war on terror' as a missile from a suspected US drone kills 12.

Source: The Daily Telegraph September 12, 2008 22:50 Mirans
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US takes big gamble in launching attacks on Pakistani territory

Copy of report from The Sunday Times September 14, 2008:
Playing with firepower
By Christina Lamb

The Americans picked an inauspicious day to open a new front in the war on terror. It was 4am on the third day of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan and the villagers of Angoor Adda, a small Pakistani mountain town near the Afghan border, were lighting their stoves for breakfast before a long day of fasting.

Two US helicopters supported by a AC130 Spectre gunship landed close to the shrine of a local saint. Out jumped about three dozen heavily armed marines and Navy Seals from a crack unit called Detachment One. As they emerged from the churning dust onto the rock-strewn hills, they made for a terrifying sight in their night-vision goggles.

Within minutes the commandos had surrounded the mudwalled compound of Payo Jan Wazir, a 50-year-old woodcutter and cattle-herd. They believed an Al-Qaeda leader was hiding inside.

According to villagers, the troops burst in, guns blazing, killing Payo Jan, six children, two women and a male relation. Among the dead were a three-year-old girl and a two-year-old boy, they said.

The gunfire brought neighbours running out of their homes. As people headed towards Payo Jan’s house to see what had caused the commotion, the commandos opened fire, killing 10 more villagers.

The Americans fanned out, conducting house-to-house searches, before jumping back into the gunships and off into the sky. Stunned villagers were left to carry away the bodies left in the street.

The first known American ground assault inside Pakistan had left 20 people dead. US officials claimed they were suspected Al-Qaeda fighters; the Pakistan government said they were innocent civilians.

What is not in doubt is that the attack provoked outrage in a country supposed to be America’s ally, which eight days ago completed its transition to democracy with the election as president of Asif Ali Zardari, widower of the assassinated Benazir Bhutto.

After the long and deadly distraction of Iraq, the Pentagon has advanced into a new battlefield against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Beset by militant groups and possessed of the Islamic world’s only nuclear bomb, Pakistan is believed by many to be potentially even more dangerous. Others fear that putting soldiers’ boots on the ground in such a devastating fashion could only add to the problem.

THOSE involved in the war in Afghanistan have long been familiar with the name of Angoor Adda. The small town is in South Waziristan, one of seven federally administered tribal areas (known as Fata) that run in a strip along Pakistan’s 1,500-mile border with Afghanistan.

Originally created by the British to serve as a buffer between India and Afghanistan and stop the Russians reaching the warm water ports of the south, they are all inhabited by Pashtun tribes, the same ethnicity as the Taliban.

Because the British-drawn Durand line split tribes either side of the border, they have always been able to cross back and forth at will. Angoor Adda is one of the crossing points.

Militants have used this freedom of movement as a springboard for attacks on coalition troops in Afghanistan and have found the tribal areas provide a safe haven. Under the Pashtun code of honour, hospitality must be given to those who seek it and it has long been believed this is where Osama Bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, have found refuge.

Fata is now almost entirely controlled by the Pakistani Taliban militias who in turn provide protection to the Afghan Taliban and to Al-Qaeda. The area is fast becoming the principal global launching pad for terrorists.

“It’s like a terrorism super-market,” said one British military officer stationed in Pakistan. “It’s where you go to learn to make an IED [improvised explosive device] or be a suicide bomber.”

Under pressure from Washington to deal with these areas, in 2004 Pakistan sent in its own troops. Far from subjugating the tribes, the military lost more than 700 of its own men.

“We’re a conventional army set up and trained to fight one enemy – India,” said a retired general. “We are neither equipped nor skilled to fight an insurgency.”

Coalition soldiers across the border are also being killed in greater numbers. The US has lost 113 men in Afghanistan this year, the highest number since the invasion began in 2001 and already more than it lost last year.

“It’s becoming an increasing problem,” said Kurt Volker, the US ambassador to Nato. “The Taliban just go back to train, reboot and then they come back in across the border.”

The growing frustration among US commanders in Afghanistan coincided with what appears to be a new determination by George W Bush to find Bin Laden before his presidency ends in January.

“I know the hunt is on. They are pulling out all the stops,” said a US defence official. “They want to find Bin Laden before the president leaves office and ensure that Al-Qaeda will not attack the US during the upcoming elections.”

Both US and British special forces have been carrying out missions inside Pakistan since March this year following an agreement in January between Bush and Pervez Musharraf, then president of Pakistan.

In return, Pakistan’s military received £227m to upgrade its F-16 fighters. The deal explains why the Bush administration – and Whitehall – were so keen to keep Musharraf in office after elections in February in which the party he backed was defeated.

British troops from the Special Boat Service and the Special Reconnaissance Regiment have been working alongside the US Delta Force and the intelligence-gathering security coordination detachment.

Their missions have concentrated on surreptitious “special reconnaissance” operations designed to go undetected, a British source said. The only firepower has come from unmanned Predator spy planes.

“They are tracking the Taliban who are doing deals to get cash and weapons, looking where the opium is being traded and tracking the Taliban back looking for the leadership,” one British source said.

They have then guided the Predator to the targets so they can be tracked and attacked with Hellfire missiles.

The covert nature of the missions, with the troops staying clear of situations where they might get drawn into fire-fights, ensured they attracted little attention other than tribal villagers complaining about drones overhead.

In July all that changed. Pakistan’s new democratically elected government made its first visit to Washington. Instead of the congratulations and aid packages they expected, ministers received what they described as a “grilling” and left reeling at “the trust deficit” between Pakistan and its most significant financial backer.

Bush confronted Yousuf Raza Gilani, Pakistan’s prime minister, with evidence of involvement by its military intelligence (ISI) in the bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul.

“They were very hot on the ISI,” said Rehman Malik, Pakistan’s interior minister. “Very hot. When we asked them for more information, Bush laughed and said, ‘When we share information with your guys, the bad guys always run away.’ ”

While the talks were underway in Washington, Lieutenant-General Martin Dempsey, acting commander of US forces in southwest Asia, made an unannounced visit to Miranshah in North Waziristan and concluded the Pakistani effort was going nowhere.

Whether it was because of the worsening security situation, or in the hope of springing “an October surprise” in the form of Bin Laden’s head to boost the election chances of the Republican John McCain, Bush decided it was time to go beyond reconnaissance and tracking. In late July he issued a secret national security presidential directive authorising special forces to carry out ground operations inside Pakistan without its permission. Britain was not consulted about the directive.

“It’s a very close-hold programme with few cleared for access to the details,” said one US source. “The onus of the new presidential directive allows for ‘kinetic’ operations against targets on the HVT [high-value target] list.”

What it meant in practice was American boots on the ground. The question is whether they will bring gains or merely inflame the region.

CRITICS say “direct action” missions inside Pakistan such as that at Angoor Adda are bound to cause more damage than good.

“What have they gained out of this except animosity?” asked Wajid Shamsul Hasan, Pakistan’s high commissioner to London and one of Zardari’s closest advisers. “They have not killed or captured any prominent Al-Qaeda leader, but the collateral damage is responsible for hundreds of deaths and the reaction is being felt everywhere in the country.

“They’re playing into the hands of the people we’re supposed to be fighting.”

He insisted that Pakistan had responded to US demands for more aggressive action in the tribal areas and accused the US of jeopardising Pakistan’s hard-won new democracy.

“It seems no coincidence they do all this just as Zardari takes over. The Americans talk of wanting democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan yet here they have always supported military dictatorships. They must give us space.”

For once Pakistan’s military and civilians seem in agreement. General Ashfaq Kiyani, Pakistan’s army chief, warned that the armed forces would defend the country’s sovereignty “at all costs”.

The British voiced concerns that “killing groups of civilians and not killing high-level targets can only make the situation worse”, according to an official.

The US defended the raids. “We can hunt down and kill extremists as they cross over the border from Pakistan,” Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, told a congressional committee last week. “But until we eliminate the safe havens from which they operate, the enemy will only keep coming.”

Another US attack took place on Friday, this time a missile directed against a former school in Miranshah being used as a base for a militant organisation. The front page of Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper yesterday accused the US of “mocking talk of sovereignty”.

Pakistan has again threatened to block off supply routes to Nato troops in Afghanistan. Because Afghanistan is landlocked, about 85% of Nato supplies come in through the port of Karachi.

However, Washington appears to be gambling that Pakistan needs the US at least as much as the US needs Pakistan. Spiralling food and fuel prices have left Pakistan in its worst economic crisis in a decade and it is expected to have to resort to the International Monetary Fund. America has provided $12 billion in handouts to Islamabad over the past six years.

Sensing division between Whitehall and Washington over the new policy, Pakistan’s government has decided it will appeal to Britain.

Zardari flies to London today. It was supposed to be a private visit to take his daughter Bakhtawar to begin her degree at Edinburgh University. But because of the situation, he will hold meetings with Gordon Brown and David Miliband, the foreign secretary.

He told The Sunday Times last month that he felt Pakistan was being blamed for Nato’s failure in Afghanistan. “Okay, we’re really bad and done everything wrong this side of the border, but has Nato been able to control the situation with all its soldiers or come up with a proper Afghan army as yet?” he asked. “I’m not pointing fingers, just saying we’ve all come short of expectations.”

At the UN general assembly later this month he will call for an international conference on the issue. “Whatever medicine we’ve been using it hasn’t ended the poison, it’s made it worse,” he said.

“If the problem was two on a scale of one to 10, now it’s nine. I’m proposing to the world that we players should all get together and start a new dialogue. There needs to be trust.”

Additional reporting: Michael Smith; Sarah Baxter; Dean Nelson Editorial
Source: Timesonline.co.uk

Russia says Georgia would have been attacked even if it was in Nato

Russian president says 8/8, the day Russia invaded Georgia, had changed his country as much as 9/11 affected America.

Source: Telegraph September 12, 2008

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Russian ships in Syrian port soon

Russian Ships in Syrian Port Soon

September 13, 2008 //RPS Staff // - Three weeks after Assad visited Moscow in an attempt to bolster a new Cold war era, Itar-Tass, the Russian news agency announced yesterday that  it will station part of its Black Sea fleet in Tartous, in the Syrian coast of the Mediterranean.

Preparations at the port to welcome the ships have already started according to Itar-Tass. No mention of what types of ships will dock in Tartous or their load.

A warm water port has been a target of Russia going back to the Soviet Union. Unlike his father, who toyed with the idea as a playing card, Assad son, as he has shown he is capable with rash and impulsive decisions, has taken the plunge thus risking Syria’s future by framing its geography between two giants at odds in their foreign policy.

In an interview given to the Kommersant Russian newspaper prior to his meetings with Medevdev, Assad invited Russia to station its arsenal in Syria as a counter measure to the defense shield recently agreed upon between the United States and Poland. The US State Department was not happy by Assad’s interview and responded harshly to his lack of judgment.

Source: RPS Staff @ September 13, 2008

Friday, 12 September 2008

David Miliband subjected to 'F-word' tirade from Russian foreign minister

David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, was subjected to a tirade of four-letter abuse when he spoke to his Russian counterpart over the country's invasion of Georgia.
From The Daily Telegraph
Friday 12 September 2008
By Andrew Porter, Political Editor

The Daily Telegraph can disclose that Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, reacted with fury when Mr Miliband and he spoke on the telephone. Mr Lavrov objected to being lectured by the British.

Such was the repeated use of the "F-word" according to one insider who has seen the transcript, it was difficult to draft a readable note of the conversation.

One unconfirmed report suggested that Mr Lavrov said: "Who are you to f------ lecture me?"

He also asked Mr Miliband in equally blunt terms whether he knew anything of Russia's history.

One Whitehall insider said: "It was effing this and effing that. It was not what you would call diplomatic language. It was rather shocking."

The Foreign Secretary had been putting forward Britain and Europe's objections to the actions of Russia, which began when their tanks rolled into the breakaway region of South Ossetia last month. Mr Miliband has said that Europe should reassess its ties with Russia after its "aggressive" behaviour.

It is also understood that Mr Miliband was asked about Britain and America's invasion of Iraq, when Russian actions in Georgia were questioned, during the tense conversation that took place recently.

Sources at the Foreign Office confirmed there was swearing "but only from one side".

A spokesman for the Foreign Secretary said: "We do not discuss diplomatic conversations between foreign ministers."

Mr Lavrov, who was promoted under Vladimir Putin, has developed a reputation as the fearsome face of Russia's new aggressive foreign policy. When he held the position as Russia's man at the United Nations in New York he developed a reputation as fierce critic of other nations.

But Mr Miliband is unlikely to have experienced anything quite so bruising in his year as Foreign Secretary than being told some home truths by a grizzled veteran of the international scene. Even the slap down from MPs supporting Mr Brown after the Foreign Secretary's "leadership bid" article in July when he was accused of treachery, was not as bad.

Mr Lavrov has been highly critical of the way that the Russian move into Georgia has been portrayed by the West. He has criticised what he described as a "truly David and Goliath interpretation" of the conflict in which "the plucky republic of Georgia, with just a few million citizens, was attacked by its giant eastern neighbour".

It is not the first time Mr Miliband and his Russian counterpart have clashed. Last year, Mr Lavrov retaliated to the expulsion of Russian diplomats from London by closing British Council offices in Russia.

The Russians were ordered out of the country in the wake of the Russia's refusal to co-operate in the investigation into the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, who was poisoned in a London hotel in 2006.

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Thursday, 11 September 2008

Russian bombers land in Venezuela - Russian navy to visit Venezuela

Russian Tu-160 bombers land in Venezuela

Photo: The Tu-160s will stay for several days (BBC)

BBC report September 11, 2008 BBC:
Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez says two Russian bombers have arrived in the country to carry out training flights.

The Russian Air Force said the bombers would be based in Venezuela for several days and fly over neutral waters.

Earlier this week Russia confirmed that it would send a Navy squadron and long- range patrol planes for joint exercises with Venezuela in November.

Mr Chavez has developed close relations with Moscow, including the purchase of Russian arms and co-operation on oil.

Hugo Chavez announced that two Tu-160 bombers would carry out manoeuvres, saying that it was part of a move towards a "multi-polar world".

"I'm going to fly one of those beasts," he joked.

"The Yankee hegemony is finished," he added.

A Russian defence ministry spokesman confirmed that the planes had flown to Venezuela, adding that they were escorted by Nato fighters as they flew across the Atlantic.

The planes are capable of carrying nuclear missiles, but the spokesman did not give any information about whether they were carrying arms during this mission.

President Chavez has backed Russia's military operations in Georgia, and said that he is interested in buying Russian submarines.
- - -

Russian navy to visit Venezuela

Russian navy to visit Venezuela

Photo: Peter the Great is one of Russia's most prestigious warships (AP/BBC)

BBC report Monday, 8 September 2008:
The Russian navy has announced that some of its ships will visit Venezuela in November and may hold joint exercises in its territorial waters.

A senior Venezuelan naval official said earlier there were plans to hold exercises involving four Russian warships and 1,000 Russian troops.

Confirming a visit would be made, Russia said its ships would include the heavy cruiser Peter the Great.

Anti-submarine planes would also be sent to Venezuela temporarily, it said.

Correspondents say the move is likely to raise concern in the US, whose relations with Russia have been soured by Moscow's recent conflict in Georgia.

Washington already has rocky relations with Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez.

Mr Chavez welcomed news of the Russian naval visit in his weekly broadcast. Referring to possible US concerns, he was quoted by the Associated Press as saying: "Go ahead and squeal, Yankees."

In July, he called for a strategic alliance with Russia to protect Venezuela from the US.

Caracas and Moscow agreed to extend bilateral co-operation on energy, with three Russian energy companies to be allowed to operate in Venezuela.

'Great importance'

Confirming plans for the visit in November, Russian foreign ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said it was not aimed against any third country.

Nor, he added, had it any connection to events in Georgia.

As well as the nuclear-powered Peter the Great, the Russian ships will include the anti-submarine ship Admiral Chabanenko.

On Saturday, Venezuelan Rear Admiral Salbatore Cammarata Bastidas said Venezuelan aircraft and submarines would be involved in exercises with the Russians.

"This is of great importance because it is the first time it is being done [in the Americas]," he said in a statement quoted by the AFP news agency and local media.

President Chavez supported Russia's intervention in Georgia last month and has accused Washington of being scared of Moscow's "new world potential".

In his weekly broadcast, Mr Chavez said: "Russia's naval fleet is welcome here. If it's possible, we'll stage an exercise in our Caribbean waters."
Source: news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/7602530.stm
- - -

Russians to bring war games to Caribbean

Monday September 08, 2008
Los Angeles Times Service
BOGOTA -- The Venezuelan government confirmed Sunday that four Russian naval vessels will participate in joint exercises in the Caribbean this year, a move that could heighten already strained relations between Russia and the United States.

Venezuela's naval intelligence chief, Adm. Salbatore Cammarata Bastidas, said in a statement that a task force including four Russian naval vessels and 1,000 Russian military personnel would take part in mid-November exercises with Venezuelan frigates, patrol boats, submarines and aircraft.

The announcement came shortly after Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin warned that NATO's deployment of several warships to the Black Sea in the aftermath of Russia's invasion of Georgia last month would not go unanswered.

It was not immediately clear whether there was a connection between the two events.

The Russian agreement to send ships also could be seen as part of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez's campaign to build up his military, an effort that includes arms deals, a proposed hemispheric South American Defense Council and a recent decree that gives his armed forces a greater role in carrying out his social agenda.

Chávez, a strident critic of the United States, has said the actions are to ward off what he has described as U.S. imperialist designs on Venezuela and other Latin American countries. He has long suspected that the United States supported a failed 2002 coup against him.

Chávez particularly is unhappy with the re-formation of the U.S. Fourth Fleet, based in Mayport, Fla., which has just begun patrolling the Caribbean after having been disbanded in 1953.
Source: www.miamiherald.com/news/5min/story/676508.html
- - -

Vladimir Putin warns UK US over relations

Russia's relations with Britain will remain in deep freeze for as long as UK harbours regime opponents Vladimir Putin said.

Source: Telegraph September 11, 2008 17:58 diplomatic
- - -

Russia's foreign minister Sergei Lavrov warns Poland over US antimissile shield

Russia's foreign minister Sergei Lavrov has told his Polish counterpart that Moscow regards a US antimissile shield which Poland has agreed to host as a direct threat to Russian forces.

Source: Telegraph September 11, 2008 17:37 antimissle shield
- - -

Russia will target American missile defense sites in Europe

From Alert 5 Military Aviation News, Wednesday, 10 September 2008:
A senior Russian general said Wednesday that Moscow could target the missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic with ballistic missiles.

"I cannot exclude that if such decisions are taken by our top military-political leadership, the missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic and other such objects could be chosen as designated targets for some of our inter-continental ballistic missiles" Gen Nikolai Solovtsov said.
- - -

Russia warning over missile sites

Russia sees the US missile defence in central Europe as a threat - September 10, 2008 BBC report:
A senior Russian general has warned that Moscow could target Poland if it goes ahead with plans to host parts of a US missile defence shield.

The commander of strategic missile forces, Gen Nikolai Solovtsov, said Russia could direct nuclear missiles against strategic targets in Poland.

Poland has signed a deal with the US to build and host 10 missile interceptors.

Russian officials have repeatedly voiced anger at the move, which they see as an effort to surround Russia.

"I cannot exclude that if such decisions are taken by our top military-political leadership, the missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic and other such objects could be chosen as designated targets for some of our inter-continental ballistic missiles,"; Gen Solovtsov said.

'Dangerous game'

He said that the country was obliged to do all it could do to "prevent, under any circumstances, the devaluing of Russia's nuclear deterrent".

The US says plans to locate the interceptor missiles in a former military base near Poland's Baltic Sea coast will protect both it and much of Europe against long-range missile attacks from what it calls "rogue elements" such as Iran.

But Russia sees the Polish missile defence sites as a direct threat, and part of an effort to encircle the country.

The general's warning comes ahead of a planned visit to Poland by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

In comments published on Wednesday in the Polska newspaper, Mr Lavrov said in deciding to host the US missile defence system, Poland had become "an element of a very dangerous game" destabilising the military balance between Russia and the US.

Analysts said the deal was finally agreed after months of protracted negotiations following Russia's military intervention in neighbouring Georgia, which alarmed many former Soviet bloc countries.

As part of the deal, the US agreed to station a battery of Patriot missiles and US servicemen on Polish soil to bolster the country's short and medium-range air defences.
Source: news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/7608106.stm
- - -

Pakistan to defend itself against US incursions

Pakistan has vowed to defend against American military incursions after Washington announced plans to extend operations to Pakistani soil.

Source: Telegraph September 11, 2008 17:43 alqaeda
- - -

Iran renews nuclear weapons development

Fresh evidence has emerged that suggests Iran has renewed work on developing nuclear weapons say security sources.

Telegraph September 11, 2008 20:24 security forces
- - -

North Korea builds secret launch site for ballistic missiles

North Korea has secretly built a launch site for ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear warheads according to new satellite imagery.

Telegraph September 11, 2008 20:13 launch site

Friday, 29 August 2008

Russian warning on Nato warships

Source: The Scotsman
Location: Edinburgh, Scotland, UK
Published Date: 29 August 2008 8:17 AM
By Gerri Peev

RUSSIA has issued a stark warning over what it says is a build-up of Nato ships in the Black Sea, as tensions rise to their highest level since the outbreak of hostilities in Georgia.

The missile destroyer USS McFaul is already off the coast, with the US Coastguard ship Dallas docked in Georgia's port of Batumi, both to show support for the Caucasus nation. Washington has now ordered the flagship of its 6th Fleet, the sophisticated command ship Mount Whitney, into the area, saying it will deliver humanitarian supplies. But the flotilla has angered the Kremlin.

Dmitry Rogozin, the Russian ambassador to Nato, warned against western interference in Georgia's two breakaway regions, saying: "If Nato takes military actions against Abkhazia and South Ossetia, acting solely in support of Tbilisi, this will mean a declaration of war on Russia."

Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin, the Russian prime minister, dragged the United States presidential candidates into the row. He suggested Georgia might have been pushed by someone in the US into using force to protect the two separatist states, saying the anti-Moscow rhetoric would help give a competitive advantage to one of the candidates.

Colonel-General Anatoly Nogovitsyn, Russia's deputy chief of the general staff, claimed up to 18 Nato vessels were in, or expected to be in, the Black Sea, and he attacked the use of warships to deliver aid to Georgia as "devilish".

Three frigates – from Spain, Germany and Poland – sailed into the Black Sea eight days ago. They were joined later by a US frigate, the Taylor, for port visits and exercises off the coasts of Romania and Bulgaria. Four warships of Nato member Turkey are also in the Black Sea.

Mr Putin's spokesman said: "The appearance of Nato battleships here in the Black Sea basin … and the decision to deliver humanitarian aid (to Georgia] using Nato battleships is something that can hardly be explained.

"Let us hope that we do not see any direct confrontation."

Russia claims the build-up is contrary to the 1936 Montreux Convention, which regulates the passage of warships there. But that charge has been denied by Carmen Romero, a Nato spokeswoman, who said the alliance had applied for transit into the Black Sea in June and stressed that the vessels would stay less than 21 days, as required by the convention.

"There is no Nato naval build-up in the Black Sea," she said. "Nato is conducting a routine and long planned exercise limited to the western part of the Black Sea. The exercise is not related to the crisis in Georgia."

Meanwhile, in an interview with CNN, Mr Putin, the former president, suggested the conflict was orchestrated to give one side in the battle for the White House an advantage. Although he did not single out John McCain, the Republican candidate has been more strident in his criticism of Russia than his Democratic rival, Barack Obama.

Mr McCain has said that Nato's failure to sign up Georgia into the military alliance had left the country vulnerable. And while Mr Obama has called for restraint on both sides, he has condemned Russian aggression.

Mr Putin said he suspected someone in the US had provoked the Georgia conflict to make the situation more tense and create "a competitive advantage for one of the candidates fighting for the post of US president".

He went on: "The fact is that US citizens were, indeed, in the area in conflict during the hostilities. It should be admitted they would do so only following direct orders from their leaders."

Mr Putin added that the US had armed and trained Georgia.

But a White House spokeswoman, Dana Perino, said: "To suggest that the United States orchestrated this on behalf of a political candidate – it sounds not rational."

Pressure on Russia will mount on Monday at an emergency summit of European Union leaders, to be attended by Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister.

Bernard Kouchner, the French foreign minister, suggested the EU would consider sanctions against Russia.

As current president of the EU, France said it would aim to get consensus among all 27 countries of the bloc if sanctions were envisaged.

While the EU is not contemplating the most stringent of sanctions, such as the travel bans and arms embargoes imposed on Iran, it could postpone talks on a new partnership and co-operation agreement with Russia scheduled for September. The EU could also scrutinise the activities of the Russian energy giant Gazprom, which obtains 70 per cent of its profits from sales to Europe.

Washington said it was considering scrapping a US-Russia civilian nuclear co-operation pact in response to the conflict.

In a related development, Moscow, which has been incensed by the proposed US anti-ballistic missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic, announced it had successfully tested a long-range Topol-M intercontinental ballistic missile.

According to the Russians, the missile has been modified to avoid detection by the anti-missile defence systems.

Meanwhile, after previous tough criticism of Russia, David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, yesterday said "there is no question of launching an all-out war with Russia".

He said: "No-one ever doubted that a Russian army of up to 800,000 people was going to defeat a Georgian army of up to 18,000 people. Indeed, that has happened over the last two weeks. The question, though, for Russia is whether it wants to suffer the isolation, the loss of respect and the loss of trust that comes from that."

A statement signed by Mr Miliband, along with the foreign ministers of the US, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan, said they "deplored" Moscow's "excessive use of military force" in Georgia.

Moscow was offered one supportive comment, however. Alexander Lukashenko, the president of Belarus, Russia's closest ex-Soviet ally, said the Kremlin "had no other moral choice" but to recognise the Georgian regions.

The crisis flared early this month when Georgian forces tried to retake South Ossetia and Russia launched an overwhelming counter-attack.

Russian forces swept the Georgian army out of the rebel region and are still occupying some areas of Georgia proper.


THE USS Mount Whitney, a Blue Ridge class command ship, is the flagship of the United States navy's 6th Fleet.

It is also the command and control ship for Nato's southern European strike force.

It is currently based out of Gaeta, Italy.

Considered by some to be the most sophisticated command, control, communications, computer and intelligence (C4I) ship ever commissioned, Mount Whitney incorporates various elements of the most advanced C4I electronic equipment and gives the embarked joint task-force commander the capability to control all other US naval sea units.

Mount Whitney can receive and transmit large amounts of secure data from anywhere through HF, UHF, VHF, SHF and EHF communications paths.

The vessel carries little in the way of armaments, other than guns for close-range defence.

Mount Whitney typically carries enough food to feed the crew of over 300 for 90 days and can transport supplies to support an emergency evacuation of 3,000 people.

Its distilling units make over 100,000 gallons of fresh water a day.

Traditional allies of Moscow denounce force

CHINA and several central Asian nations rebuffed Russia's hopes of international support for its actions in Georgia, issuing a statement yesterday denouncing the use of force and calling for respect for every country's territorial integrity.

A joint declaration from the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation, or SCO, also offered some support for Russia's "active role in promoting peace" following a ceasefire, but overall it appeared to increase Moscow's international isolation.

The Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, had appealed to the SCO alliance – whose members include Russia, China and four central Asian countries of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan – for unanimous support of Moscow's response to Georgia's "aggression".

But none of the other alliance members joined Russia in recognising the independence claims of Georgia's separatist regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Mr Medvedev's search for support in Asia had raised fears that the alliance would turn the furore over Georgia into a broader confrontation between East and West, pitting the United States and Europe against their two main Cold War foes. But China has traditionally been wary of endorsing separatists abroad, mindful of its own problems with Tibet and Muslims in the western territory of Xinjiang.

The joint statement, which was unanimously endorsed, made a point of stressing the sanctity of borders – two days after Russia sought to redraw Georgia's territory.

"The participants… underscore the need for respect of the historical and cultural traditions of each country and each people, and for efforts aimed at preserving the unity of the state and its territorial integrity," the declaration said.

Internet maps 'are wiping out' British landmarks

THE internet is wiping thousands of British landmarks off the map, a leading geographical society warned yesterday.

Churches, ancient woodlands and stately homes are in danger of being forgotten as internet maps fail to include the traditional landmarks, said Mary Spence, the president of the British Cartographic Society.

In recent years, web applications such as Google Earth have become a popular way for people to search for maps and satellite images.

Speaking yesterday at a Royal Geographic Society conference, Ms Spence said: "Corporate cartographers are demolishing thousands of years of history – not to mention Britain's remarkable geography – at a stroke by not including them on maps which millions of us now use every day.

"We're in real danger of losing what makes maps so unique; giving us a feel for a place even if we've never been there."

But Ed Parsons, the geospatial technologist at Google, said the way in which people used maps was changing. He said: "Internet maps can now be personalised, allowing people to include landmarks and information that are of interest to them.

"Anyone can create their own maps, or use experiences to collaborate with others in charting their local knowledge.

"These traditional landmarks are still on the map, but people need to search for them," Mr Parsons said.

"Interactive maps will display precisely the information people want, when they want it.

"You couldn't possibly have everything already pinpointed."

1936 treaty comes under the spotlight

THE Montreux Convention cited by Nato with regard to Black Sea access may be regarded by some as an obscure treaty, but amid the current high level of tension in international politics with Russia, its terms are coming under close scrutiny.

The agreement, signed on 20 July, 1936, gives Turkey full control over the Bosphorus Straits and the Dardanelles and regulates military activity in the region.

It permits Turkey to remilitarise the straits and imposes new restrictions on the passage of combatant vessels.

The treaty also guarantees the free passage of civilian vessels in peacetime.

It severely restricts the passage of non-Turkish military vessels and prohibits some types of warships, such as aircraft carriers, from passing through the straits.

The terms of the convention have been a source of controversy over the years, most notably concerning Russia's military access to the Mediterranean.

Under the agreement, Turkey must be notified 15 days before military ships sail into the Black Sea, and warships cannot remain longer than 21 days. The convention applies limits on individual and aggregate tonnage and numbers.

These limitations effectively preclude the transit of major "capital" warships and submarines of non-Black Sea powers through the straits, unless exempted under Article 17.

That clause permits a naval force of any tonnage or composition to pay a courtesy visit of limited duration to a port in the straits, at the invitation of the Turkish government.

Source: http://news.scotsman.com/latestnews/-Russian-warning-on-Nato.4439182.jp

Monday, 25 August 2008

Russian navy says pulling out of NATO exercise

Aug 19, 2008 MOSCOW (Agencies)
Alarabiya.net English International -

Showdown over Georgia crisis escalates
Russian navy says pulling out of NATO exercise

Russia on Tuesday hit back at western powers’ attempts to punish it for invading its tiny neighbor Georgia, calling NATO statement over the conflict “biased”, as its navy said it was pulling out of a NATO exercise in the Baltic Sea and was unable to host a scheduled visit by a U.S. naval frigate.

"The (NATO) declaration above all appears unobjective and biased because there's not a word about how all this started, why it happened, who started the aggressive action and who armed Georgia," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at a press conference called in response to the NATO statement.

He referred to a statement by NATO foreign ministers in Brussels that condemned Russian military action as "disproportionate and inconsistent" with Moscow's peacekeeping role and said the alliance could not carry on "business as usual" with Moscow.

"It appears to me that NATO is trying to portray the aggressor as the victim, to whitewash a criminal regime and to save a failing regime" in Georgia, Lavrov said.

He also condemned the alliance's encouragement of Georgia's NATO membership bid.

"The policy of drawing Georgian into NATO is not about Georgia corresponding with NATO standards but is dictated exclusively by aims that are nothing other than anti-Russian, aimed at nothing other than supporting an aggressive regime," Lavrov said.

Meanwhile, a Russian naval spokesman told AFP "Minesweepers of the Baltic fleet will not participate in the Open Spirit 2008 international naval exercise in Baltic Sea waters”.

He added that it was currently "not considered possible" to host the U.S. naval frigate Ford.

Open Spirit is an international naval exercise held annually under the NATO "Partnership for Peace" program aimed at ridding Baltic waters of masses of unexploded ordnance left over from World War I, World War II and the Cold War.

The USS Ford was due to visit Russia's eastern port of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, home to Russia's Pacific fleet, on September 5-9, RIA Novosti reported.

The Open Spirit exercise was due to start later this month.

Last week the United States announced it was canceling two military exercises with Russia.

"The (NATO) declaration above all appears unobjective and biased," Lavrov said.

Source: http://www.alarabiya.net/articles/2008/08/19/55108.html

Pushing Russia’s Buttons

Newsweek Web Exclusive
Pushing Russia’s Buttons
by Michael Hirsh
Updated: 10:21 AM ET Aug 12, 2008

Putin's invasion of Georgia is unforgiveable. But let's face it: the West helped to provoke Moscow's aggression.

There is no excusing Vladimir Putin's bloody invasion of Georgia (yes, it was Putin; Dmitri Medvedev has been the president since May, but it was now-Prime Minister Putin who flew to a border staging area to confer with Russian generals). Still, we ought to try to understand what is motivating Putin and his fellow Russian revanchists. And, as the West confronts its own weakness in response—Putin well knows that NATO is bogged down in Afghanistan, America is stretched thin in Iraq and Europe depends on his energy lifeline—we should acknowledge that at least some of the blame lies, as it does so often, with our own hubris. Since the cold war ended, the United States has been pushing the buttons of Russian frustration and paranoia by moving ever further into Moscow's former sphere of influence. And we have rarely stopped to consider whether we were overreaching, even as evidence mounted that the patience of a wealthier and more assertive Russia was wearing very thin.

The proximate cause of what one U.S. official said Monday "appears to be a full invasion of Georgia"—though Medvedev announced a ceasefire today—is the long-festering dispute between that country's ambitious pro-Western president, Mikheil Saakashvili, and Moscow over two separatist regions. But the seeds of Russia's aggression lie in the sense of humiliation that Moscow's proud power elites have felt at the hands of the West going back to the Clinton administration's unceasing efforts to bring what used to be the Soviet bloc—and post-Soviet Russia itself—into the West's sphere of influence. The policy started with the high-handed (and mostly failed) economic advice we gave to Moscow on free-market economics in the early '90s—the era of "privatization" (the Russians called it "grabitization"), which led directly to the reign of the hated oligarchs.

It continued with our efforts to encourage the former Soviet satellites and republics to come and join the West's party, both as members of NATO and, prospectively, the European Union. That policy began with the former satellite states of Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary, which joined NATO in 1999, continued with the Baltic states, and then forged ahead with Washington's active support of the Orange and Rose Revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia and its feckless encouragement of their Westernized, pro-NATO presidents. Last April NATO invited in two more Eastern European members: Croatia and Albania.

With each push into the old Soviet bloc, we aggravated anew the raw nerve of Russian paranoia about Western intentions. Putin went from obligingly suggesting he would be pleased to be a "partner" with NATO to seeing it as a threat. Even Mikhail Gorbachev, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, wrote in The Washington Post today that the United States made a "serious blunder" by pressing into the Caucasus, which Russia has dominated for centuries. It is difficult to exaggerate the sense of dismemberment and existential dread that Russian elites felt especially at the loss of the Ukraine, the breadbasket nation that has always been central to their concept of a "Greater Russia." Georgia, another breadbasket and location of a critical pipeline, is the birthplace of Stalin, who's enjoying a new revisionist popularity in Russia. Putin warned repeatedly that he would never permit NATO in the Caucasus, but we kept shrugging this off as more bluff and bluster. Once you've driven a bear into a cave, it may be wise to stop poking him with a stick. We seemed to delight in it.

The Bush administration has only stepped up this policy—it is one of the few areas where there has been real continuity between Clinton and Bush—with its unwavering effort to set up missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic. We persisted even as Russia grew richer and far more self-confident, Putin planted all his old KGB pals in positions of political power and gave them giant state companies to run, and post-Soviet Russia evolved into a very different kind of political system—one that a senior U.S. official described to me two years ago as nearly "fascist" in structure. We kept pretending that while Russia was getting balky and difficult, it was fundamentally as amenable to "Westernization" as it seemed to be under Boris Yeltsin in the '90s.

Employing that simplistic, absurdly overused American template that dismisses everything short of firmness and confrontation as Munich-style appeasement, we did nothing to placate—not to appease, but to calm—the Russian jingoists who have taken over in Moscow. As Stephen Sestanovich, a former top Russia adviser in Democratic and Republican administrations, said to me a year ago: "There's no longer a sense that Russia is just on the other side of the divide but still within the family. The Russians are no longer the errant cousins. This is a totally different gang." It has turned into a gang that requires some practical realpolitk and, frankly, a degree of accomodation. The inevitable response to this argument that I will get from U.S. hard-liners—that Georgia, Ukraine and other former Soviet satellites and republics were all simply choosing democracy and NATO on their own—doesn't really wash. When you're dealing with great powers, you have to make adjustments. After all, the Taiwanese have wanted self-determination for years, but U.S. policy has consistently been to restrain Taipei so as not to provoke Beijing. It's not a pretty solution—there's no "moral clarity" about it—but it has helped to keep the peace, and Taiwan has been left alone to develop into the flourishing democracy it has become.

So none of what's happening this week should be much of a surprise: ever since Putin rose to the presidency in 2000, promising to crush Chechnya's separatist Muslims—a pledge he carried out with ruthless dispatch—he has sought first to halt further disintegration of the former Soviet superpower's sphere of influence, and then to reverse the process. His efforts to unseat Viktor Yushchenko in the Ukraine back in 2004, using political subterfuge (and possibly poison) rather than armed force, failed. He seems to be trying to do the same against Saakashvili—exploiting the Georgian leader's foolhardy move into South Ossetia—with more aggressive methods, gambling (perhaps rightly) that America is too weak and distracted to do anything about it and that Europe too fractious and dependent on his energy supplies. Putin also knows that this revanchist approach is perhaps the main source of his enormous popularity in Russia. As former CIA Deputy Director John McLaughlin summed it up to me succinctly at the time of the Ukraine crisis: "Mikhail Gorbachev destroyed the Soviet Union. Boris Yeltsin destroyed communism. Putin is reinventing Russia."

Some Moscow experts have also suggested that Putin thought he had a tacit deal with his pal George W. Bush: we'll cooperate in the terror war and Iran; you leave our backyard alone. But if such an understanding existed (did Bush give Putin the kind of wink that FDR gave to Stalin at Yalta?), America didn't honor it. At the summit in Sochi in April, when Bush and Putin issued a strategic framework declaration, including steps to promote security, prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction, combat terrorism and advance economic cooperation, Bush still went ahead and championed the path to NATO for Georgia and Ukraine. And he ignored Russian fears about his missile-defense plans.

So, without forgiving Putin's aggression in Georgia this week, the question we should ask ourselves is: was the bid to bring Georgia into NATO a bridge too far for the West? By aggressively pushing into the former Soviet sphere almost without pause since the early '90s, did we provoke the Russians beyond the point of endurance? It's a question that must be asked, because despite the flurry of diplomatic moves in recent days it seems pretty clear that Bush and Co. can do little to force the Russians out of Georgia. The reverse humiliation the West may now suffer, and the dispiriting signals this is going to send throughout Eastern Europe, will have a profound impact if Russian troops continue their occupation.

URL: http://www.newsweek.com/id/152087

Appeasing Russia

Newsweek Web Exclusive
The historical reasons why the West should intervene in Georgia.
By John Barry
Updated: 6:45 PM ET Aug 11, 2008

Is that "appeasement" we see sidling shyly out of the closet of history? Are we doomed to recall the infamous remark by a Western leader that it was "fantastic" to think Europe should involve itself in "a quarrel in a faraway country between people of which we know nothing"? As the United States and the Europeans feverishly debate how to respond to Russia's onslaught on Georgia, are the ghosts of Europe's bloody history rising from their shallow graves?

As those of a certain age will recall, "appeasement" encapsulated the determination of British governments of the 1930s to avoid war in Europe, even if it mean capitulating to the ever-increasing demands of Adolf Hitler. The nadir came in 1938, when British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain acceded to Hitler's demand to take over the western slice of Czechoslovakia—a dispute Chamberlain so derisively dismissed.

It is impossible to view the Russian onslaught against Georgia without these bloodstained memories rising to mind. In history, as the great French President Charles de Gaulle remarked—no doubt plagiarising someone else—the only constant is geography. And through centuries of European history the only constant has been that small countries, doomed by geography to lie between great powers, are destined to be the cockpit for their imperial ambitions. That's held true since the Low Countries' agony under Spanish power in the 1500s. And the lichen has not yet spread over the gravestones of Europe and America that mark the toll of the two European wars of the 20th century—both having their roots in struggles between rival empires to assert power over the luckless nations of central Europe.

This time, the cockpit lies further east. In the wake of the cold war, the West providentially summoned the nerve to push NATO eastward to incorporate the former Warsaw Pact vassals of the Soviet Union—presciently doing this while post-Soviet Russia was too weak to resist. But once Moscow got its breath back, anyone with historical wit could foresee a revived Russian push for influence in central Europe. Many argued against this NATO expansion, calling it "premature" and "sure to inflame Russia." The usual arguments. Those naysayers might now look at the Russian offensive in Georgia, and ponder how much greater this crisis would be had it involved, say, Poland or Hungary or the Czech Republic. At least central Europe is now under the umbrella of NATO Article 5 guarantees.

Instead, what we see are conflicts at the new margins of the West's sway: Ukraine, the Balkans, now Georgia. These conflicts have one common factor: a resurgent Russia determined to exploit local grievances to beat back Western influence—in shorthand, democracy—on its shrunken frontiers. Using, in all cases, precisely the argument (a Russian right to protect its citizens, in Serbia its co-religionists) that Hitler used in the 1930s. The Sudeten Czechs were Germans, after all. Just as the South Ossetians now are, well, sort of Russian—having at any rate been issued Russian passports.

The European urge to appease Russia will be strong. In the '30s, ghastly memories of World War I dominated the political debate. Besides, Western governments' most pressing need was to recover from the Depression. Who wanted war or the threat of war? Now, Europe relaxes after near-50 years of cold war, and struggles to avoid recession after the subprime banking crash. The more things change …

Just as their forebears in the 1930s sought refuge in the League of Nations, the United States and Europe duly take the Georgian crisis to the United Nations. But the U.N. is, by definition, as impotent now as the League of Nations was then. Russia can, and clearly will, veto any resolution of significance. And what power, other than words, could the United Nations deploy anyway? Sanctions? Against Russia, which supplies Europe with most of its energy, just as winter approaches?

Whether Russia intends to fully invade Georgia is unclear. It's plausible that Moscow has not made up its mind, and is waiting to gauge the West's response. Two things are clear. Russia's bombing campaign against Georgia is now targeting more than military targets. At the least, Russia seems determined to set back Georgia's economy for years. It also seems clear—from what Vitaly Churkin, Russia's able ambassador at the U.N., said Sunday—that Russia is demanding, presumably as part of the price of a ceasefire, the ousting of Georgia's pro-Western leader, Mikheil Saakashvili. He would be wise to remember what happened to a pro-Western leader in nearby Ukraine; Viktor Yushchenko was poisoned and nearly died.

So what can the West do? The Europeans are unlikely to do anything beyond hand-wringing. The first responses in the comment columns of Britain's leftish newspaper The Guardian show its readers closing ranks around the comforting but irrelevant thought that this is all somehow George W. Bush's fault. Besides, with post-cold-war defense budgets now barely visible to the naked eye, the Europeans lack the capacity to intervene. They don't have even the transport aircraft.

The United States, on the other hand, does have the capability to actually do something. Not to expel Russian forces from South Ossetia—that ethnic tangle is best left to negotiation—but to guarantee Georgia's sovereignty and independence. Georgia's right to self-defense is unquestionable: it needs no U.N. resolution to say that. Washington has every right to send "peace-keeping" troops into Georgia if Saakashvili requests it. The 82nd Airborne, its brigades newly returned from Iraq, could be mustered as a guarantor force. Numbers are not critical. What matters is the message: the Soviet-style attack on Georgia will not to be dismissed Chamberlain-style. President Bush racheted up the rhetoric Monday afternoon, when he blasted Russia for invading "a sovereign neighboring state … Such an action is unacceptable in the 21st century … The Russian government must respect Georgia's territorial integrity and sovereignty."

And if the West does not react forcefully to protect Georgia? Russia, and all the nations on its periphery, will draw the obvious lessons. Will Putin follow history and demand next a Russian right to move troops into Estonia, a NATO member, to "protect" its Russian population?

There are few lessons safely drawn from history—except that of George Santayana: "Those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it."

Source: URL: http://www.newsweek.com/id/152012