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.