Russia, China veto U.N. resolution telling Assad to quit

Russia, China veto U.N. resolution telling Assad to quit

 

By Louis Charbonneau

UNITED NATIONS | Sat Feb 4, 2012 12:45pm EST

(Reuters) – Russia and China vetoed on Saturday an Arab- and Western-backed resolution at the U.N. Security Council calling for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down over his bloody crackdown on a popular uprising.

The setback in diplomatic efforts to defuse the revolt peacefully came after world leaders and Syrian opposition activists accused Assad’s forces of killing hundreds of people in a bombardment of the city of Homs, the bloodiest night in 11 months of upheaval in the pivotal Arab country.

Shortly before the Security Council voted, President Barack Obama denounced the “unspeakable assault” on Homs, demanded that Assad leave power immediately and called for U.N. action against Assad’s “relentless brutality.”

“Yesterday the Syrian government murdered hundreds of Syrian citizens, including women and children, in Homs through shelling and other indiscriminate violence, and Syrian forces continue to prevent hundreds of injured civilians from seeking medical help,” Obama said in a statement. “Any government that brutalizes and massacres its people does not deserve to govern.”

He and other Western and Arab leaders put unprecedented pressure on Assad’s veto-wielding ally Russia to allow the Security Council to pass a resolution backing an Arab League call for Assad to transfer powers to a deputy.

Apart from Russia and China, the other 13 Security Council members voted in favor of the resolution, which would have said that the council “fully supports” the Arab League plan.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Saturday it had not been possible to work constructively with Russia ahead of the vote, even though military intervention in Syria - fiercely opposed by Moscow – had been absolutely ruled out.

“I thought that there might be some ways to bridge, even at this last moment, a few of the concerns that the Russians had. I offered to work in a constructive manner to do so. That has not been possible,” she told reporters at the Munich Security Conference.

After what U.S. officials called “vigorous” talks between Clinton and Lavrov, Moscow announced that its foreign minister would fly to Syria in three days to meet Assad.

Mohammed Loulichki, the U.N. ambassador of Morocco, the sole Arab member of the 15-nation council, voiced his “great regret and disappointment” that Moscow and Beijing joined forces to strike down the resolution.

French Ambassador Gerard Araud told the council, “It is a sad day for this council, a sad day for all Syrians, and a sad day for democracy.”

Diplomats said that China had been expected to follow Russia’s lead. Russia’s decision to vote against the resolution came after U.S. and European officials rejected a series of Russian amendments to the draft resolution.

Moscow said before the vote that the resolution was not “hopeless,” but its wording needed to be altered to avoid “taking sides in a civil war.” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said it was still possible to reach consensus.

But U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said amendments that Russia had proposed were “unacceptable.”

France called the Homs assault a “massacre” and a “crime against humanity.” Turkey said hundreds had been killed and the United Nations must act. Tunisia expelled the Syrian ambassador, and the flag above its embassy was brought down.

Analysis: Politics drives exit from Afghanistan

Associated Press

By DEB RIECHMANN,

Associated Press

(page 1 of 2) Single pageSINGLE PAGE



KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) –

The Taliban are not beaten, the peace process is bogged down in internal squabbles and Afghan security forces aren’t ready to take control of the nation. Yet the U.S. and its partners are talking about speeding up — rather than slowing down — their exit from the war.

It’s becoming dramatically clear that politics is driving NATO’s war exit strategy as much or more than conditions on the battlefield.

Political calendars in the West were never supposed to influence the decision about when Afghan forces take the lead and allow international troops step back into support roles or leave altogether. The U.S., Afghan and other international leaders have said repeatedly that transition decisions would not be held hostage to international political agendas.

Then, after an Afghan soldier gunned down four French troops, President Nicolas Sarkozy suddenly announced last week that he was pulling French forces out of Afghanistan early. Sarkozy is facing an opponent in the coming presidential election who wants French forces withdrawn even faster.

Sarkozy boldly suggested that his NATO allies hand over security to the Afghan police and army in 2013 instead of by the close of 2014 — an end date they had all agreed upon at a meeting in Lisbon more than a year ago.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta dropped another verbal bombshell this week at a NATO meeting in Brussels. He said the NATO allies had largely agreed to step back from the lead combat role in Afghanistan and let local forces take their place as early as 2013.

U.S. officials downplayed Panetta’s statement, saying it was not a policy change but an optimistic look at the established 2014 end date.

Either way, it shows how badly the Obama administration wants out of the war.

Panetta’s comment sounded different from what his predecessor told NATO allies just six months ago. “Resist the urge to do what is politically expedient and have the courage of patience,” former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said then.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said no final decision has been made but he noted the issue would be prominent in May, when President Barack Obama hosts the next NATO summit.

That meeting, in Obama’s hometown of Chicago, will come less than six months before the U.S. presidential election. There has been speculation that Obama might announce some kind of accelerated pullout or simply underscore how America’s involvement in Afghanistan is winding down.

“I definitely think there is a desire to say something appealing by Chicago,” said Mark Jacobson, former deputy NATO civilian representative in Afghanistan and senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Washington.

He said Sarkozy’s decision to fast-track France’s exit clearly reflects his need to address pressing domestic pressure to bring forces home as his presidential re-election campaign begins. Politics, “however undesirable,” always accompanies any coalition mission, he said.

Announcing that the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan will wrap up earlier than expected would give Obama more good news to report about his foreign policy. Already, the U.S. military has officially declared the end of its mission in Iraq in December 2011 when the last American troops left. Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden was killed in May 2011 during a U.S. raid in Pakistan. And reviled Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi fell under a NATO onslaught without a single American casualty.

Lisa Curtis, senior research fellow at The Heritage Foundation in Washington, said U.S. commanders in Afghanistan realize that American public support for the war is evaporating but they don’t want to squander military gains of the past 18 months.

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Drugs trump Afghanistan military concerns

Joel Brinkley

Joel Saget / AFP/Getty Images

Two years ago, French soldiers took part in a patrol near Tagab in Kapisa Province. French troops might be leaving Afghanistan soon.

France can’t seem to decide how quickly it will withdraw its troops from Afghanistan after a rogue Afghan soldier opened fire on unarmed French soldiers, killing four and wounding 15.

Over the past week, French officials have offered conflicting reports of their intentions, but it doesn’t really matter whether the French stay or they go. Despite the gung-ho statements we are hearing from the NATO training program, most Afghan soldiers are simply unfit for duty.

In every nation, the army is a reflection of its country. How could it be any other way? Recruits are drawn from a cross-section of society – though most come from poorly educated, less well-off families. Well, in Afghanistan, virtually everyone is poor; the average annual income is about $400, and NATO says 80 percent of army recruits are illiterate. Most don’t know even how to drive a car.

In most areas of Afghanistan, the government has no presence whatsoever – but the Taliban do. So it’s no wonder that so many army recruits are actually Taliban plants who open fire on their supposed allies – a problem that “may be unprecedented” in “modern military history,” said a classified U.S. military report quoted in the New York Times last month.

What’s more, the army’s desertion rate remains staggering. All of that is generally known. But add a corollary, less-known quandary to the mix, and you just want to throw up your hands. Most Afghan soldiers are regular drug users, even addicts. Why not, if soldiers are products of their national culture? Visit Kabul, as I have, and you’ll see scores of half-conscious heroin addicts.

Afghanistan is the world’s largest producer of opium, the raw ingredient of heroin. And a new United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime report shows “a clear relationship between growing poppy and growing cannabis.” Almost two-thirds of the state’s opium-poppy farmers also grow marijuana.

As a result, a favored line in Afghan and Pakistani news reports of late is that, among Afghan soldiers, “opium and hashish are their favorite foods.”

Random drug tests in army and police units have found that drug use is rampant, pervasive. A Government Accountability Office report in 2010 found that up to 40 percent were users. The Special Investigator for Afghan Reconstruction said the number was “at least 50 percent,” and an Afghan journalist told me of one drug test that 70 percent failed.

Uncounted times, military officers, or journalists traveling with them, have reported watching soldiers light up joints before or during operations. The Daily Times, a Pakistani newspaper, quoted a U.S. Army trainer: “If we instituted drug testing in the Afghan army, we would lose three-quarters to 85 percent” of the troops.

One incident captured by a Wall Street Journal reporter embedded with a joint U.S.-Afghan force capsulized the broad problem. Mid-mission, as usual, several Afghan soldiers ran off, deserting. When their replacements arrived, they sat down and lit up joints.

That classified U.S. military report quoted one soldier as saying: “They’re stoned all the time, some even on patrol with us.”

Since the war began, Western forces have vacillated over whether to get into the business of drug enforcement, even though the Taliban fund themselves by levying a 10 percent tax on poppy farmers. In the first years after the 2001 invasion, the United States was fixated on military goals and paid little attention to the burgeoning opium crop.

By the mid 2000s, Western forces began eradicating the opium and trying to persuade farmers to grow alternative crops, such as wheat. But when foreign troops succeeded in one area, cultivation would thrive in another. It quickly turned into a Whac-a-Mole exercise.

Now, NATO doesn’t even try. As the offensive in southern Afghanistan began in 2010, U.S. officers repeatedly said they were not going to trample on the livelihoods of the people they were trying to bring to their side. Since then, news photos have shown soldiers tramping through poppy fields on their way to missions. U.N. officers, among others, despair.

“We cannot afford to ignore the record profits for non-farmers, such as traders and insurgents, which in turn fuel corruption, criminality and instability,” wrote Jean-Luc Lemahieu, the U.N. drug office’s representative in Afghanistan.

The opium and marijuana provide sustaining income for the enemy. They feed rampant corruption, and they turn most Afghan soldiers into drug addicts. How can anyone think there’s even the smallest chance of succeeding in Afghanistan while turning a blind eye to this problem?

© 2012 Joel Brinkley

 

Joel Brinkley, a professor of journalism at Stanford University, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning former foreign correspondent for the New York Times. To comment, go to sfgate.com/chronicle/submissions/#1.

This article appeared on page E – 5 of the San Francisco Chronicle

 

Amano tells German MPs no proof for Iranian nukes

Amano tells German MPs no proof for Iranian nukes

(source: IRNA)

Berlin, Jan 23, IRNA — Head of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Yukiya Amano has openly acknowledged to German lawmakers there was no proof whatsoever that Iran was pursuing a nuclear weapons program, said an opposition legislator of The Left party Monday.

A member of the foreign affairs committee of the German parliament, Jan van Aken

said in a statement released in Berlin that Amano had admitted there was not a

single credible piece of evidence about an ongoing Iranian nuclear arms program when he met with German MPs last week.

Van Aken warned the UN nuclear watchdog last month of making baseless allegations against Iran’s nuclear program.

Writing for the Berlin-based daily Neues Deutschland, Van Aken said the IAEA was ‘playing with fire’ by accusing Tehran of trying to acquire atomic weapons.

The MP emphasized the IAEA should solely look into the facts of Iran’s nuclear program and not rely on speculations by western intelligence agencies.

Van Aken warned of western attempts to escalate the Iran dispute along the lines of the Iraq conflict scenario in which western secret services accused the former Saddam regime of having weapons of mass destruction when in fact there were none.

An ex-UN inspector on biological weapons, the radical leftist lawmaker urged the IAEA to restore its image as a ‘neutral organization’ whose inspectors would work on the basis of facts and not speculations.

Critics of the IAEA head Yukiya Amano have accused him of being biased by serving only US interests in the Vienna-based UN nuclear watchdog.

The German newspaper junge welt referred in a recent report to revelations by the

whistleblower website WikiLeaks which disclosed talks between Amano and the

American envoy in the IAEA on October 16, 2009 whereby Amano made clear that

the US could ‘rely’ on him regarding the Iranian nuclear issue.

The Hamburg-based weekly news magazine Der Spiegel reported in January 2011 that

Amano was unapologetic for serving the US interests in the IAEA amid repeated

Iranian accusations he was biased on Tehran’s nuclear file.

Asked specifically by Der Spiegel whether he felt embarrassed by earlier Wikileaks

disclosures in which US diplomats termed Amano’s selection as IAEA director as

a victory and strengthening of American influence in the IAEA, Amano replied it was ‘not necessarily a disadvantage’, if the US thought that his selection was in line with its interests.

EU’s Iran Sanctions–stroke of genius from the so-called elite of Europe, or an irreversible miscalculation?

Sam’s Exchange: Who is bluffing who?

Sam Barden

The European Union (EU) has decided to ban the import of Iranian oil, but not for another six months. Iran however, looks like they are about to call the EU’s bluff and ban exports to Europe with immediate effect. The self-appointed rulers of a united Europe may be doing much more than disrupting the flow of oil to EU members who most need it; they may actually have moved the world financial system to the tipping point of change, something a democracy could never have done. Is this a stroke of genius from the so-called elite of Europe, or an irreversible miscalculation of historical proportions?

© Photo Source: Sam Barden

Sam Barden

The financial and physical sanctions on Iran, imposed largely by the U.S., EU, Israel and the UK, for Iran’s alleged ambitions to build a nuclear bomb, are in fact about economics. It is a test of the current financial system. On the one hand there is the U.S.-European banking cabal, or as we know it the Western banks, and on the other hand everyone else. When countries trade with each other, they need a financial mechanism for clearing their trades. This is what we know as the current banking system. When sanctions are applied, like with Iran, which are designed to exclude a country (Iran) from the global system of settlement, it means in theory they can no longer be part of world trade. The problem here of course is that major trading nations such as China, Russia, India and South Korea, have thumbed their noses at the sanctions and will continue to trade with Iran. So when Iran goes looking for an alternative way to settle its international trade, to find new mechanisms of clearing, they have found they are knocking on an open door.

Rather than use western banks, and settle trades in USD or EUR, Iran is being forced to set up an alternative network.  Far from having difficulty, it seems Iran and their trading partners are actively touting new methods. In fact India and Iran, and possibly China and Iran, have said they will soon start settling oil trades with gold. Neither India nor Iran nor China have said exactly how this will occur, but given gold is priced primarily against the USD, the trade will occur using the USD as a price base initially. As the USD begins to debase, presumably the gold and oil will begin to become price reference points in their own right. The gold bugs out there will be calling for a sharp increase in the price of gold, but the point is that a gold pool will be used to underwrite trade rather than letters of credit issued by western banks. The alternative network emerges.

Rather than the USD as the world reserve currency (with a move towards a global currency) what we are likely to see as a result of the emergence of an alternative to the existing banking network is a move towards a global standard. As a new network emerges, one which is multi-lateral, it is likely that national currencies will be priced against hard assets such as gold, or in my view energy. In order for this to happen as part of the new network, the way in which we price oil and gas will also change. A more likely market structure will be one which is decentralized, unlike today’s centralized market, but networked. Like a series of networked exchanges, the new system will have several pricing points for hydrocarbons, which will exist in dynamic equilibrium, similar to an eco-system, which will be the basis of an Energy standard. This system will remove the extreme price volatility we are seeing in today’s dysfunctional markets.

As we move towards this system, there will be fallout. We are already seeing it now in the form of independent oil refineries going bankrupt. Petroplus, one of the UK’s biggest oil refineries, which accounts for 10% of the UK’s fuel supply, has filed for bankruptcy. As the refinery ran out of cash, and was unable to extend its credit facilities with banks, it was forced to close and file for bankruptcy. The knock-on effect of course is panic buying of fuel in the UK adding pressure to the problem. This only serves to highlight the fact that there is no real cash in the current financial system, only credit and as the banks close the credit tap, the urgency for a new system becomes more pressing. Greece faces the same situation, the only difference is that counties cannot go bankrupt, they can only default.

The winds of change are blowing strongly in the world financial markets and fundamental change is in process. So is it genius or lunacy from which the European elite are acting in pushing oil sanctions on Iran, creating this change? It all depends on the outcome.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

Current markets are anything but global or integrated.  What if we had a paradigm shift in the way we think and transact when doing business with each other?  Balanced global trade can only occur if we have transparent, accessible and efficient markets.  We are on the cusp of achieving this, although most people cannot see it.  Sam’s Exchange aims to give its readers a clearer view and a platform for discussion.  Markets, trade and economics are in fact nothing more than the result of our thoughts and actions expressed in numbers, not the reverse.

Sam Barden is founding Partner of SBI Markets DMCC, a Dubai-registered commodities trading and advisory company.  Barden has worked in the global financial markets for more than 17 years in Europe, Russia and the Middle East.  He has advised and executed strategic transactions for both the government and private sector, in particular in energy and commodity markets, advising various energy producing nations on their strategic market developments and interaction.  He holds a degree in economics and finance from Victoria University, Melbourne, Australia.

The high cost of poor insulation in Ukraine

[This is why, in this devastating European winter, Russia cannot possibly increase pipeline carrying capacity, or keep Ukrainians warm, without increasing mainline pressures to destructive levels like those which caused the 2009 Turkmen pipeline blast (SEE:  Turkmenistan Gas Pipeline Explosion – The Larger Context).]

The high cost of poor insulation in Ukraine

euronews

With temperatures falling as low as -30 at night in Ukraine during the cold spell, experts claim gas vital for keeping warm is being wasted.

Poor insulation in homes and buildings makes heating inefficient. The substandard conditions are being blamed on a failure to modernise the country’s Soviet-era energy infrastructure.

During this particularly harsh weather, power is being rationed because it is so expensive.

The cost of heating is an especially bitter pill to swallow when measurements show poor insulation is causing 78 per cent of energy to be lost into the atmosphere.

Better efficiency would stop Ukraine’s need for imported gas, according to energy saving expert from the Pauce Foundation Svyatolslav Pavlyuk.

“If we cut the consumption of natural gas for heating in the public sector in half – and these figures are realistic – then Ukraine could do without gas imports at all. And we would have about 5 billion cubic meters left, which could be transferred to the needs of the economy,” he said.

Gas subsidies to the public cost the Ukrainian government billions of euros a year and are the reason the International Monetary Fund has stalled the country’s bailout of nearly 12 billion euros.

“Despite growing energy prices, the residential sector energy consumption hasn’t changed. It is exactly at the same level as it was 20 years ago. So there is huge room for savings. Savings of 50 per cent are easily achievable,” said Grzegorz Gajda, a Project Manager at the International Finance Corporation.

Earlier in the week, Russian company Gazprom accused Ukraine of taking a higher amount of gas from pipelines passing through the country than had been agreed in the contract – an accusation which Ukraine denies.

Russian Intelligence Chief, Foreign Minister to Visit Syria Feb. 7

Russian Intelligence Chief, Foreign Minister to Visit Syria Feb. 7

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Saturday he and Foreign Intelligence Service head Mikhail Fradkov will visit Syria and meet with President Bashar al-Assad on February 7.

The visit will be made on instructions from Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

Lavrov did not reveal any details of the upcoming the visit.

At least 5,400 people have been killed in the Syrian government’s 11-month crackdown on protesters, according to the UN. Syrian authorities blame the violence on armed gangs affiliated with al-Qaeda and say more than 2,000 soldiers and police have been killed.

The West has been trying to persuade Moscow to support a resolution effectively authorizing a military operation but Russia has repeatedly insisted that the Western drive for a stronger crackdown on Syria is preparation for a “Libyan scenario.”

Russia, one of President Bashar al-Assad’s firm supporters during the uprising against his regime, indicated earlier this week that it would veto the draft resolution calling on Assad to step down. Moscow has proposed its own draft, which the West criticized as being too soft.

 

Sergey Lavrov has promised the UN scandal

 

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that if the draft UN resolution condemning the violence in Syria will be put to the vote, it will end in scandal.

“If they want another scandal in the Security Council itself, then perhaps we will not be able to stop them” – said the Minister in an interview, “Russia-1.”

At the same time Lavrov expressed hope that the project “will not be put to a vote, because our amendment to the project are known.”

One of his points involves the removal from power Bashar al-Assad.

According to Lavrov, the project as such does not suit Russia.

On Saturday night, it became known that the Security Council vote could be held on Saturday.

Cold Winter In Russia the Real Culprit Behind Europe’s Gazprom Gas Shortfall

Gazprom Can’t Meet European Requests for Extra Gas, Ria Reports

Bloomberg

By Scott Rose

Feb. 4 (Bloomberg) — OAO Gazprom, Russia’s gas export monopoly, ins’t currently able to provide additional gas sought by countries in western Europe, RIA Novosti reported, citing Deputy Chief Executive Officer Alexander Krulgov.

“Gazprom isn’t currently able to meet the additional gas volumes requested by our partners in western Europe,” Kruglov was cited as saying by the state-run news service.

The state-run company reduced deliveries to Europe by 10 percent for several days because of cold weather and is now fully delivering contracted volumes, RIA reported, citing Kruglov.

To contact the reporter on this story: Scott Rose in Moscow at rrose10@bloomberg.net

Ordinary Pakistanis Can’t Get A Ride, But the Elite Ride In Luxury

[A luxury train for Pakistan's rich elite, but for ordinary working Pakistanis and the poor most of the trains are not running" less than 20% of engines are in working condition" (SEE: Pakistan Railways Special Report: A journey of neglect, incompetence and corruption ).]

Pakistan serves up first-class rail luxury

By AFP

A passenger boards newly launched Pak Business Express train prior to departure in Lahore on February 3, 2012. PHOTO: AFP

ABOARD THE BUSINESS EXPRESS: A security guard pointing a gun at your chest may not be a perk of first-class travel in the West, but it’s all part of the service on Pakistan’s gleaming Business Express.

Thirteen carriages have been lovingly restored into a sleek sleeper to ply the 1,200 kilometres between Lahore and Karachi, on an 18-hour journey that once used to take upwards of 30 hours.

Presided over Friday by Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and waved off by excited crowds it is Pakistan’s most luxurious and expensive train.

For 5,000 rupees one way ($55), or 9,000 rupees return, passengers are waited on by a bevy of attentive stewards, as they settle down to watch films on flat-screen TVs or power up laptops.

Afternoon tea and piping hot dinner – courtesy of chefs at five-star hotels are borne into cabins as uniformed guards carrying rifles in the corridors are a reminder of the security situation in the country.

Then as night falls, stewards come round with crisp bed linen to turn slightly hard green bunks into inviting beds.

It’s all part of a first private investment of millions of rupees in the ailing state railways, billed as the last hope of preventing a much-loved relic of British rule from falling into ruin.

Corruption, mismanagement and neglect have driven Pakistan Railways to the brink. Since Gilani’s government took power in 2008, the group has retired 104 of 204 trains in a country larger than Britain and Germany combined.

It relies on handouts of $2.8 million a month just to pay salaries and pensions, and faces expected losses of $390 million in the current fiscal year.

But the new train pulled away five minutes early and customers boarded from a brand-new business lounge at Lahore station. Decorated in tinsel, the engine then ground to a halt 10 minutes later to pick up more passengers.

Mariyam Imran, a young advisor for a cosmetics firm , is delighted. A frequent traveller and terrified by a recent emergency landing on increasingly precarious state airline PIA, she is an avid convert.

“It’s beautiful. It’s relaxing, compared to the trains before. I’m so happy and very comfortable. The staff are good. It’s a marvellous train,” the 22-year-old young mother told AFP.

Travelling with her businessman husband, three-year-old daughter and sister-in-law they are heading to Karachi for a short break before returning to host a Valentine’s Day party at home in Lahore on February 14.

Gilani congratulated staff on what he called a “deluxe” and “state of the art” service that would serve as a trail blazer for future private-public partnerships capable of turning around Pakistan’s depressed economy.

“It’s a big, big initiative from the private sector, which we have welcomed with open arms,” Arif Azim, the chairman of Pakistan Railways, told AFP.

Years of decline saw customers flock to airlines and luxury coaches.

Azim hopes that if the Business Express, and a similar service to be rolled out on February 20 between Lahore, the textiles centre of Faizalabad and Karachi, are a success then investors will sink millions more into saving the railways.

“The sky’s the limit because we’re in a pretty bad shape. We need a totally new fleet. Seventy-five percent of our wagons can be described as vintage,” he said.

Retired journalist Ishtiaq Ali is taking his young, second wife home after a two-week holiday to show her snow for the first time in Murree.

“Oh my goodness, what the hell are you talking about,” he jokes when asked how the new train compares to the best rail services in the West.

“It’s impossible. There’s no education, there’s no security, there’s no insurance. In Pakistan, you can go outside and you can be held at gunpoint.”

It may not be a bullet train. It may not be the Orient Express, but his young wife smiles as she edges out of Lahore, speeding past clapped-out carriages shunted onto sidings.

The high cost of poor insulation in Ukraine

The high cost of poor insulation in Ukraine

With temperatures falling as low as -30 at night in Ukraine during the cold spell, experts claim gas vital for keeping warm is being wasted.

Poor insulation in homes and buildings makes heating inefficient. The substandard conditions are being blamed on a failure to modernise the country’s Soviet-era energy infrastructure.

During this particularly harsh weather, power is being rationed because it is so expensive.

The cost of heating is an especially bitter pill to swallow when measurements show poor insulation is causing 78 per cent of energy to be lost into the atmosphere.

Better efficiency would stop Ukraine’s need for imported gas, according to energy saving expert from the Pauce Foundation Svyatolslav Pavlyuk.

“If we cut the consumption of natural gas for heating in the public sector in half – and these figures are realistic – then Ukraine could do without gas imports at all. And we would have about 5 billion cubic meters left, which could be transferred to the needs of the economy,” he said.

Gas subsidies to the public cost the Ukrainian government billions of euros a year and are the reason the International Monetary Fund has stalled the country’s bailout of nearly 12 billion euros.

“Despite growing energy prices, the residential sector energy consumption hasn’t changed. It is exactly at the same level as it was 20 years ago. So there is huge room for savings. Savings of 50 per cent are easily achievable,” said Grzegorz Gajda, a Project Manager at the International Finance Corporation.

Earlier in the week, Russian company Gazprom accused Ukraine of taking a higher amount of gas from pipelines passing through the country than had been agreed in the contract – an accusation which Ukraine denies.

Taliban denying Mullah Omar sent letter to Obama

Taliban denying Mullah Omar sent letter to Obama

Afghan Taliban’s chief Mullah Omar. — File Photo

KABUL: The Afghan Taliban are denying their leader Mullah Omar wrote to President Barack Obama last July.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid describes as ”baseless allegations” reports that Omar had sent a letter indicating an interest in talks key to ending the war in Afghanistan. Mujahid’s statement was emailed to media organisations on Saturday.

Current and former US officials told The Associated Press the letter purportedly from Omar was unsigned. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the letter and its contents are part of sensitive diplomacy with a fighting force that still targets US troops.

Two officials said the Obama administration did not directly respond to the letter, although it has broadened contacts with Omar’s emissaries since then.

US-Russia differences

US-Russia differences

WHENEVER a nasty incident erupts, there is always a deeper cause beneath the apparently immediate one. The cold shoulder which the new US ambassador to Russia Michael A. McFaul received, shortly after his arrival on Jan 14, reflected a deeper hurt.

He was one of President Obama’s close advisers and one of the co-authors of his policy to ‘reset’ relations with Russia which had languished in the Bush era.

A columnist in Iznestia remarked, on his second day at work, that his appointment signalled a return to the 18th century when “an ambassador’s participation in intrigues and court conspiracies was ordinary business”. The provocation was his meeting on the first day with a number of opposition figures at the American embassy in company with the visiting US Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns.

Neither the ambassador’s fluency in Russian nor his authorship of a book entitled Russia’s Unfinished Revolution helped. A TV commentator asked “Is it possible that Mr McFaul came to Russia to work on his specialty? That is, to finish the revolution”. The truth is that the ‘reset’ announced in February 2009, soon after Obama took office, came apart despite many a meeting at the highest levels. The trust deficit remains undiminished. The accords signed in recent years have accomplished little. In 1997 Russia and Nato signed a Nato-Russia Foundation Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security. The Rome Declaration established a Nato-Russia Council in 2002.

A Russian commentator summed up the grievance. Nato continued to treat Russia as a threat, if no longer an outright enemy. It granted membership to not only former Warsaw Pact allies of the Soviet Union but also the ex-Soviet Baltic states, breaking its promise to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev that it would not expand beyond the Cold War borders. It again breached its word to president Boris Yeltsin that it would desist from deploying military forces on the territory of its new members.

Nato endorsed president George W. Bush’s plan to set up missile defences in Poland and the Czech Republic that could target Russian strategic arsenals. America’s European allies joined Washington in sponsoring ‘colour revolutions’ in the former Soviet Union under the guise of promoting freedom and democracy. Russia saw these policies as aimed at isolating, encircling and weakening it.

The reset in 2009 did no more than revive the dialogue. Hopes expressed at Nato’s summit at Lisbon, on Feb 19-20, 2010, that Russia might become a partner in the missile defence system, which was meant to protect Europe from a nuclear-armed ‘rogue’ state, (i.e. Iran) were as unreal as fears of the threat itself.

Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said on Nov 11, 2011 that Russia’s ambassador to Nato Dmitry Rogozin had been told by an American senator that the missile defence system had been aimed to blunt the effectiveness of Russia’s nuclear weapons. They were not aimed solely at irrational states with a handful of weapons yet to be acquired.

President Obama’s meeting with President Dmitri Medvedev at Honolulu in November 2011 failed. Obama refused to give a formal assurance that the Nato system could not be used against Russia’s intercontinental ballistic missiles, in reality, a formal guarantee by the US of non-aggression.

Soon after the announcement of the ‘reset’ in 2009, Obama had promised to overhaul the plans for stationing anti-ballistic missiles. Just before the Honolulu summit, the US administration had announced that the US would base Aegis cruises on the Spanish coast. This was denounced in a statement by Russia’s foreign ministry. Russia had not been
consulted on what was “a significant build-up of US missile potential in the European Zone”.

Failure of the Obama-Medvedev summit at Honolulu therefore surprised nobody. What Medvedev sought was a treaty to set up a new security architecture comprising the US, Europe and Russia, so that Russia acquired a voice in decision-making on Nato’s expansion and military intervention.

This was, in effect, revival of Moscow’s quest for parity with the US which it pursued relentlessly after the end of the Second World War. The US never accepted Moscow’s claim to parity even when the Soviet Union was a superpower. It is this attitude which irks and lies at the root of Russia-American differences. The latest proposal was given short shift by
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. “We believe that the best way to achieve this [security] is by reinforcing the pillars that have supported European security for decades, not by negotiating new treaties, as Russia has suggested.”

Sheer desperation marked President Medvedev’s outburst on Nov 23 last year. He announced a sweeping package of retaliatory measures if the US went ahead with its missile defence plans, ranging from targeting US missile defence sites in Europe and deploying new long-range nuclear missiles capable of piercing US defences to tearing up the Russian-US START
pact and walking out of the arms control and disarmament process.

START signed in 2010 was the most tangible achievement of the Russian-American ‘reset’ the two countries embarked upon. Medvedev said Russia remained open to dialogue with the US and Nato on missile defence issues.

As Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Centre, noted “the Russians have concluded that they have nothing to expect from Obama on arms issues in the remainder of his term”. On any major issue, would be a more accurate assessment. For, 2012 is election year in the US as well as in Russia which holds its parliamentary elections next month. Both
countries are locked in rivalry in Central Asia as well as in the East with China as an interested party with its own interests to pursue. The US can ill afford to ignore the two in any settlement of the Afghan problem, or the crisis with Iran.

The writer is an author and a lawyer based in Mumbai.

Major Gas Pipelines of the Former Soviet Union and Capacity of Export Pipelines

Major Gas Pipelines of the Former Soviet Union and Capacity of Export Pipelines

 

Reproduction is allowed only with the reference to East European Gas Analysis.

Click here to download the scheme in PDF format.

Outlet Capacity of Export Pipelines at the FSU Border, bcm/year

Pipeline Capacity Destination of exports
Via Ukraine:    
Orenburg-Western border (Uzhgorod) 26 Slovakia, Czech, Austria, Germany, France, Switzerland, Slovenia, Italy
Urengoy-Uzhgorod 28 Slovakia, Czech, Austria, Germany, France, Switzerland, Slovenia, Italy
Yamburg-Western border (Uzhgorod) 26 Slovakia, Czech, Austria, Germany, France, Switzerland, Slovenia, Italy
Dolina-Uzhgorod – 2 lines 17 Slovakia, Czech, Austria, Germany, France, Switzerland, Slovenia, Italy
Komarno-Drozdowichi – 2 lines 5 Poland
Uzhgorod-Beregovo – 2 lines 13 Hungary, Serbia, Bosnia
Hust – Satu-Mare 2 Romania
Ananyev-Tiraspol’-Izmail & Shebelinka-Izmail – 3 lines 27 Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey, Macedonia

Total via Ukraine:

143  
Via Belarus:    
Yamal-Europe (Torzhok-Kondratki-Frankfurt/Oder) 31 Poland, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, UK
Kobrin-Brest 5 Poland

Total via Belarus:

35  
St. Petersburg-Finland – 2 lines 7 Finland
Blue Stream (design capacity) 16 Turkey (possible to Greece, Macedonia)

TOTAL EXISTING EXPORT CAPACITY:

201  
NEW PIPELINES:    
Nord Stream 55 Germany, France, Czech and other
South Stream 63 Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece, Italy and other

Sub-total new capacity:

118  

TOTAL PLANNED EXPORT CAPACITY:

319  

Contracted exports guaranteed for 2020-2025

158  

Reproduction is allowed only with the reference to East European Gas Analysis.