ThereAreNoSunglasses

American Resistance To Empire

Obama’s Sanctions Jeopardize U.S. Oil Giants’ Mega-Deals

Putin Says Sanctions Jeopardize U.S., EU Energy Deals

BLOOMBERG

 

Photographer: Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg
Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president.

Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that further economic sanctions over the Ukraine crisis may lead Russia to reconsider participation by U.S. and European Union companies in energy and other key industries.

While his government has prepared measures to retaliate for penalties imposed by the U.S. and its allies, Putin told reporters in Minsk, Belarus, yesterday that he doesn’t consider them necessary for now, though that may change.

If sanctions continue, “then of course we will have to consider who’s working and how in the Russian Federation, in the key sectors of the Russian economy, including energy,” he said. “We really don’t want to take these reciprocal steps.”

Financial Warfare: an Alternative to Military Force

Putin’s remarks added uncertainty for companies that have stakes in Russia’s energy industry, including Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM), which is planning Arctic drilling in an alliance with Russian state-controlled OAO Rosneft. (ROSN)

The Russian leader spoke hours after the EU expanded penalties against people close to Putin and companies tied to them, following similar steps a day earlier by the U.S., which yesterday called separatist violence in Ukraine’s east “terrorism, pure and simple.”

The EU and the U.S. say Russia hasn’t lived up to an accord signed April 17 in Geneva intended to defuse the confrontation between the Ukrainian government and separatists supported by the authorities in Moscow. They’ve both warned that they’ll levy penalties on entire Russian industries if Putin escalates by sending troops into Ukraine.

EU Move

The EU added Russian Deputy Premier Dmitry Kozak to a list of people facing travel bans and asset freezes along with others including pro-Russian separatist leaders, according to a statement yesterday in the EU’s Official Journal. The U.S. on April 28 targeted seven people, including Kozak and Igor Sechin, head of Rosneft, and 17 companies linked to Putin allies, such as InvestCapitalBank.

Russian markets slid today after a two-day rally in the wake of the penalties. The Micex Index (INDEXCF) fell 0.2 percent to 1,302.79 at 11:04 a.m. in Moscow today, bringing its year-to-date loss to more than 13 percent. The ruble lost 0.1 percent to 41.8383 against its basket of euros and dollars. It’s down more than 8 percent this year, the second-worst performer among 24 emerging-market currencies tracked by Bloomberg.

‘Territorial Integrity’

The EU said that the people on its list are “responsible for actions which undermine or threaten the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine.” The latest names, which also include Valery Gerasimov, chief of the general staff of Russia’s armed forces, and Igor Sergun, head of the main intelligence directorate, bring the number of people blacklisted to 70.

Kozak, 55, is overseeing the development of Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula that Russia annexed from Ukraine.

EU preparations for “stage three” measures that would affect broader sectors of the Russian economy are “very advanced,” Maja Kocijancic, spokeswoman for European foreign-affairs chief Catherine Ashton, said on April 28 in Brussels.

“The shift toward tier three would be in the event of a very, very serious escalation of the type that you might associate with direct military invasions,” Jean-Christophe Gray, spokesman for U.K. Premier David Cameron, said in London.

‘Steep Price’

The sanctions are “forcing Russia to pay a steep price” for its role stoking tensions in Ukraine, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said yesterday in Washington.

U.S. companies are prohibited from doing business with individuals and entities on the sanctions list, and all assets of those designated that are within U.S. jurisdiction must be frozen, according to the U.S. Treasury Department.

The U.S. and its allies blame Russia for instigating the conflict in Ukraine that led to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the seizure of government buildings in eastern Ukraine. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization says Putin has massed about 40,000 troops on Ukraine’s border.

Separatists continued to seize more buildings in eastern Ukraine today. Some 20 gunmen in camouflage fatigues seized the city council building and the regional police headquarters in the city of Horlivka, news service Interfax reported today. That followed the storming of the regional administration building by hundreds of activists wielding sticks and waving Russian flags yesterday in the city of Luhansk, where the police chief quit over protesters’ demands.

‘Covert Operation’

Russia is undertaking a “covert occupation” of the country’s eastern regions, Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsia said in an interview with news service Interfax. He added that the Kiev-based government would handle the unrest on its own.

After international military observers were abducted by pro-Russian militants in the eastern town of Slovyansk last week, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said yesterday in a statement that it’s taking “practical steps” to secure their release.

The separatists said Ukrainian authorities hadn’t contacted them about the hostages’ release, the Donetsk militia commander, Igor Strelkov, told Russian state TV.

The U.S. condemned “the separatists’ taking of hostages, both Ukrainians and international monitors, some of whom have been brutally beaten,” the U.S. Embassy in Kiev said in a statement yesterday. “This is terrorism, pure and simple.”

Companies Sanctioned

Kerry said “we see no evidence — no evidence at all — that Russia has actually pressured” separatists to release the international observers.

Most companies on the latest U.S. list are tied to Gennady Timchenko or brothers Arkady and Boris Rotenberg, who were placed on a sanctions list on March 20. They include the Volga Group, controlled by Timchenko, and InvestCapitalBank and SMP Bank, which are controlled by the Rotenbergs.

One of the most prominent individuals on the list is Sechin, 53, a Putin colleague at the St. Petersburg mayor’s office before rising to become head of state-run Rosneft. Over the past decade he’s built it into the world’s largest publicly traded oil company by output and reserves.

Rosneft, in which British oil company BP Plc (BP/) owns 20 percent, isn’t being sanctioned.

The EU has been reluctant to impose broader sanctions because of the potential harm to its member states, which rely on Russia for energy imports. Germany, Europe’s largest economy, had $89 billion in trade with Russia in 2012.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang urged the U.S. to stop sanctions against companies and individuals today.

To contact the reporters on this story: Olga Tanas in Moscow at otanas@bloomberg.net; Jonathan Stearns in Brussels at jstearns2@bloomberg.net; Terry Atlas in Washington at tatlas@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: James M. Gomez at jagomez@bloomberg.net; John Walcott at jwalcott9@bloomberg.net; Balazs Penz at bpenz@bloomberg.net Michael Winfrey

Bahrain Forced To Admit Presence of Jordanian Gendarme Force

[SEE:  Proof of Jordanian Gendarme Force In Bahrain ]

Bahrain Mirror publishes important document regarding Jordanian Police: 499 policemen are costing Bahrain 1.8 million dollar per month

 

Bahrain Mirror (Exclusive): Bahrain Mirror reached important documents that assure the existence of about 499 Jordanian policemen in Bahrain whose financial allocation mounts to approximately 700000 Bahraini Dinar monthly (about 1.8 million dollar).

 The documents issued by the Bahraini Ministry of Interior on February 11, 2014 and fully published by “Bahrain Mirror” unveil the names, salaries and bank accounts numbers of all policemen found in Bahrain. These documents also show that these names were merged within the ministry staff.

Moreover, these critical documents signed by the finance affairs manager related to the Ministry, Khaled Abdullah Ali Almoaili, reveal that transferring the police’s salary happens via Arab Jordan Bank, where the salaries are asked to be paid to those “attributed to the Ministry” who appear to be of the blood of known Jordanian families.

The average salary for each policeman stands at 1200 Bahraini Dinar (about 31000 Dollars)

This new information refutes the announcements of the Jordanian Minister of State for Information Affairs, Official Spokesman of the Jordanian Government, Mohammed Hussain Al-Moumini, who said yesterday on Tuesday, April 1 that “the Jordanian policemen are found in Bahrain for training purposes and for qualifying the Bahraini policemen.”

A letter dated on February 11, 2014 holding the number “A-M-4-6-361” under the title of “Dues to those attributed to the ministry” states that: “enclosed, you will find payment returns of 699.604.073 Dinar (Six hundred ninety nine thousand six hundred four dinar and thirty seven fils) as salaries for February 2014 for those attributed to the ministry.”

   These documents states that “the number of accrued persons is 499 one”. All of the names are enclosed within the letter.

This number does not include all the Jordanian security members found in Bahrain, but only those who have been recently recruited.

Another letter holding the same date and the number “A-M-4-6” notices that the dues transferring is conducted through the “National Bank of Bahrain” to the “Arab Jordan Bank” which opened bank accounts to all the Jordanian policemen within “Special arrangements regarding this issue”, as stated in the letter.

Before considering that “the Jordanian policemen existence had nothing to do with the Bahraini crisis”, the Minister of State for Information Affairs, Sameera Rajab, affirmed during a lecture in Jordan on Tuesday that the Jordanian policemen are found in Bahrain pursuant to a security agreement. Ms. Rajab also underlined that “arrangement and security cooperation with an Arab state is better than that with a foreign one”.

Egyptian Authorities Putting Democracy To Death, Along With the MB Leadership

[SEE: Egyptian Court Body Count Raised To 1212 Muslim Brotherhooders]

Death sentences will bring down govt: Badie

the news pak

CAIRO: The senior leader of Egypt’s outlawed Muslim Brotherhood said on Tuesday that the mass death sentences against him and other members will cause the government’s downfall.

 

“This ruling is the last nail in the coffin of the ruling powers that led the coup,” said Brotherhood general guide Mohammed Badie, who was condemned to death along with 682 supporters on Monday. “The regime is on the brink of collapse.”

 

The defendants were charged with crimes including inciting violence following the army overthrow of elected leader Mohammed Mursi, a senior Brotherhood member, last July after mass protests against his rule.

 

Security forces have mounted a brutal crackdown on the Brotherhood since Mursi’s fall, killing hundreds of its supporters, arresting thousands and putting leaders on trial.

 

The Brotherhood says it is committed to peaceful resistance to the army-backed government. The death sentence against Badie, 70, is likely to fuel growing concerns that young members of the movement could resort to violence against the state.

 

The mass death sentences, which right groups say are the largest worldwide in recent history, have raised new questions about Egypt’s commitment to democracy three years after a popular uprising toppled autocratic president Hosni Mubarak.

 

The United Nations’ top human rights official added to an avalanche of criticism of the sentences, which the United States has called “unconscionable”.

 

“It is outrageous that for the second time in two months, the Sixth Chamber of the Criminal Court in Al Minya has imposed the death sentence on huge groups of defendants after perfunctory trials,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said in a statement.

 

International guarantees of a fair trial “appear to be increasingly trampled upon” in Egypt, Pillay said, noting that 529 people were sentenced to death by the same court in March. She said the mass trial had clearly breached international law requiring due process.

 

Meanwhile, a wave of mass sentences in Egypt, including hundreds sentenced to death this week after a rushed mass trial, has sparked charges that military-installed authorities are using the judiciary as a blunt tool of repression.

 

The sentences handed out Monday to nearly 700 supporters of ousted Islamist president Mohammed Mursi—after only one hearing—fed international outrage after a similar verdict last month, although most of the previous batch of sentences were commuted to life imprisonment.

 

On a near-daily basis, new trials open before being swiftly adjourned, with lawyers and human rights activists baffled by the sentencing of dozens or even hundreds of defendants based on evidence that is rarely made public.

 

Among those sentenced to death on Monday in the southern town of Minya were people who were dead or out of the country on the day of the violent riots they were accused of taking part in.

 

”If anybody had any doubts that Egypt was eradicating political opposition, those doubts should be put to rest,” Sarah Leah Whitson, Human Rights Watch´s Middle East director, told AFP. “This is sham justice.”Since the army ousted Mursi, Egypt´s first democratically elected president, in July amid a wave of protests against him, a security crackdown targeting his supporters has left more than 1,400 killed and 15,000 jailed.

 

Hundreds of Mursi´s supporters have been sentenced to death or life imprisonment, and dozens more have gotten hefty jail terms.

 

In one case, 14 young women were given 11 years in jail for taking part in a pro-Mursi protest. The sentence was later reduced on appeal to a one-year suspended sentence, however, and seven girls, initially sentenced to juvenile detention, were ordered freed.

 

In recent months the crackdown has been extended to non-Islamist activists—including many who backed the overthrow of Mursi—following illegal protests against the military-installed authorities.

 

Even before the sentencing phase, Egyptian court proceedings are frequently marred by shouting matches involving lawyers and journalists, with police conscripts physically separating the two groups.

 

At the opening of one of Mursi´s trials, local journalists chanted “Execution!”Mursi and his co-defendants have been relegated to soundproof glass docks for recent hearings to prevent them from interrupting the proceedings.

 

”It´s as if we are judged in absentia,” a defendant shouted during one hearing, into a microphone the judge can turn on or off at will.

 

In the widely covered trial of Al-Jazeera journalists accused of supporting Mursi´s Muslim Brotherhood, prosecutors presented a bizarre array of “evidence,” including garbled audio tapes that only the judge could understand, reports on the price of meat in Egypt and clips from programmes made by other media outlets.

 

The military-installed authorities have stood by the judiciary, insisting it is independent, but top officials have privately admitted to being embarrassed by overzealous judges.

 

Special Tribunal for Lebanon Prosecutes Press for Reporting

stl gag

Together for the sake of freedom

alakhbar

From left to right: MP Hassan Fadlallah, Assafir Editor-in-Chief Talal Salman, Al-Akhbar Editor-in-Chief Ibrahim al-Amin, and owner of Al-Jadeed TV Tahseen Khayat. They were part of the gathering at the Press Syndicate building on April 28, 2014 to denounce the STL’s charges against Al-Akhbar’s editor-in-chief, Ibrahim al-Amin, and Karma Khayat of Al-Jadeed TV. (Photo: Haitham Moussawi)

A lot of criticism can be directed at Ramzi Jreij, the current Lebanese minister of information. His short time at the ministry does not allow us yet to pass a fair judgement on how his excellency is dealing with this arduous profession that bears the sins of Lebanon’s absurd political life. But the signs so far are not encouraging.

Speaking of absurdity, Jreij – the former chairperson of the Beirut Bar Association – would have felt more comfortable at another ministry, such as the Ministry of Justice. Alas, the magical concoctions and surrealistic formulas that govern Lebanese politics willed it otherwise.

Therefore, until further notice, we can judge his performance based on his ambitious program, namely “transforming the Ministry of Information to the Ministry of Freedoms.” But, as everyone knows, it is not by wishful thinking that “freedoms” are gained.

In the meantime, we discovered that the minister has a sense of humor and excels at the art of irony. He chose a strange time to convey to the public his very own philosophy about freedoms. Jreij did not get a chance to participate personally in the solidarity conference with Al-Jadeed TV and Al-Akhbar newspaper organized by Assafir’s Editor-in-Chief Talal Salman, which was met with a wide and reassuring response on the national level. Instead, Jreij sent a statement that was read by the head of the Editors’ Syndicate, Elias Aoun.

The gist of the message, which addressed the journalists gathered yesterday at the Press Syndicate in defense of national sovereignty and public freedoms in Lebanon and against the bulldozer of international repression and intimidation of the media, was “I am with freedoms, but… not this time!” The statement was interrupted by the boos of the audience, dealing a moral blow to the minister that Lebanon will remember for a long time.

After a nice little introduction that emphasized his good intentions regarding freedoms, our minister advised the two journalists charged by the international court with contempt and obstruction of justice, Ibrahim al-Amin and Karma Khayat, to comply with the international tribunal “because it is the only way to prove their innocence.” How is that possible when he insists that they are not facing accusations? In other words, the minister told the journalists gathered at the syndicate, there is no need for you to be present here, go back to your homes, the Lebanese state has no sovereignty and no say in the presence of the international tribunal. This, however, is inaccurate considering Rule 178 of the Rules of Procedure and Evidence of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL).

 

According to the minister, the only freedom available is the freedom to comply with the court. Only this tribunal knows Lebanon’s interests and decides where freedom of the press begins and where it ends. It is the only source of justice and the biggest guarantee for freedom of the press in Lebanon. This is the same court that, as attorney Rashad Salameh reminded us, amends the law every time the political winds change direction to suit a new agenda. Salameh is surprised today that this odd case would pit justice against freedom. 

Jreij prefers justice, even if it is at the expense of freedoms and constitutional sovereignty. Perhaps the minister does not know the case well enough, as he suggested to the media delegation that met him yesterday. Or perhaps he is inspired by certain experiments in contemporary art that blur the border between what is real and what is imagined.

There is one more explanation. Jreij’s position is politically motivated, in the narrow sense of the word, and he, God forbid – like the prophet of liberalism who decreed on his Facebook page what should and should not be considered “freedom,” or the perpetrators of malicious and gloating articles on some cheap sites – is settling scores with his political adversaries while he impatiently waits for the hour of revenge against them and could not care less about press freedoms. However, let us wait for his response to the demands of the body that emerged from the solidarity conference before we pass our final judgement.

No ladies and gentlemen, this is not the time for political differences or even professional competition. This is a challenge for all the Lebanese media outlets and all Lebanese people. This is the test that will truly reveal who cares about press freedoms and who does not.

We are proud, as journalists, to see among those standing in solidarity with Al-Jadeed and Al-Akhbar yesterday at the Press Syndicate media figures, civil society and human rights activists that we might differ with. Pierre al-Daher, CEO of the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation International (LBCI) TV pointed out that many in the media failed to show up as though he is calling on everyone to join in and stand together in defense of our freedom and our profession regardless of our differences.

“It is an opportunity to unite the Lebanese people by standing in solidarity with press freedom,” said head of the Press Syndicate Mohammed Baalbaki. It is a great opportunity for the Lebanese media today to prove to itself and to the public that it is worthy of these values and of the reputation that Beirut still has as the capital of Arab media and a home for freedom.

You can follow Pierre Abi Saab on Twitter: @PierreABISAAB

Former Mossad, Former “BFF” To Manuel Noriega, Signs Secret Deal Between Israel and Cyprus

Michael Harari was called the “second most important person” in Noriega’s Panama. 

What You Won’t Read About Michael Harari, Noriega’s Israeli Adviser Who Got Away

Michael Harari, Ambassador of Israel to Cyprus

Energy: Cyprus and Israel sign hydrocarbons agreement

ansa med

(ANSAmed) – NICOSIA, APRIL 28 – An Agreement on the exchange and protection of confidential information with respect to hydrocarbons discovered in Block 12 in Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and in its adjacent Block Ishai in Israel’s EEZ was signed today in Nicosia by the Deputy Permanent Secretary of the Cypriot Ministry of Foreign Affairs Ambassador Tasos Tzionis and the Ambassador of Israel in Cyprus Michael Harari.

Negotiations, which led to the signing of this Agreement, were held between the negotiating teams of the two sides from November 2013 until January 2014 as Cna reports. The said confidential information will be exchanged for the purpose of assisting each Government in forming an opinion on the extent of hydrocarbons discovered in each of the aforementioned specific Blocks.

This Agreement forms part of the external dimension of Cyprus’ energy policy which inter alia promotes mutually beneficial cooperation with all the countries of the Eastern Mediterranean. (ANSAmed).

Libyan Terrorists Holding 3 Ambassadors Hostage

[SEE: Jordan Swapping Terrorist Leader for Ambassador To Libya]

( SAME SOURCE) Libyan sources : Al-Itan’s case ended

Libya says Jordan to handover jailed Islamist to get kidnapped ambassador

GERASA NEWS JORDAN

Jordan has agreed to handover a Libyan Islamist to Tripoli to secure the release of its ambassador kidnapped in the North African country two weeks ago, Libya’s state news agency LANA said on Monday.

250414genazraq2_19llvtj-19llvtn

 

 

 

Dersi

Jordan’s ambassador to Libya, Fawaz al-Itan, was snatched by gunmen who demanded the release of Mohamed Dersi, a Libyan Islamist militant jailed for life in 2007 for plotting to blow up the main airport in Jordan.

Sohar Banun, an undersecretary in Libya’s justice ministry, said both countries had agreed that the ambassador would be released in exchange for Jordan reducing Dersi’s sentence and allowing him to complete his jail term in Libya, LANA said.

“The Jordanian authorities expressed their total readiness to solve this crisis, confirming that the ambassador will be released in exchange for reducing the term of the Libyan prisoner and sending him home to complete his sentence,” he said according to the agency.

“The crisis will be solved according to a memorandum of understanding between the two countries,” said Banun, who heads a department taking care of Libyans jailed abroad.

He gave no details or time frame, and there was no immediate comment from Jordanian or Libyan officials.

Analysts have said agreeing to the kidnappers’ demand could set a dangerous precedent for Jordan, which is an important U.S. ally in the fight against al Qaeda.

Jordanian Ambassador to Libya , Fawaz al-Atyan

Kidnappings have become commonplace in Libya, with foreign diplomats often the targets.

Libyan Islamists have also seized two Tunisian diplomats to demand the release of fellow militants jailed in Tunisia for attacking security forces there in 2011, according to the Tunisian government.

Banun hinted at movement in efforts to get the Tunisians released.

“Regarding the file of Libyans jailed in Tunisia … Tunisia confirms its wish to cooperate with the Libyan government, especially with the kidnapping of the Tunisian diplomats,” he said according to LANA.

He did not elaborate.

The weak interim government has been unable to disarm former rebels and Islamist militants who fought in the uprising that deposed leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 and who have formed increasingly powerful and violent militias.

Two weeks ago the interim prime minister resigned after just a month into the job, saying gunmen had tried to attack his family.

Tribal groups, militias and even local citizens are also resorting to road blockades as a negotiating tactic. Some rebel groups have also shut down the OPEC member’s oil facilities, raising supply concerns on global oil markets.

( Reuters , LANA )

ISIS Terror Bombings of Both Kurds and Shias Disproves Saudi Myths of Maliki/ISIS Deals

[SEE:    Suicide bombers kill 33 at Iraq campaign rally for Shiite  ]

Iraq: Suicide bomber kills 25 in Kurdish town

houston_chronicle102510

By QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA and SINAN SALAHEDDIN, Associated Press

Security forces and army personnel queue to vote outside a polling center in Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, 340 miles (550 kilometers) southeast of Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, April 28, 2014. Amid tight security, some one million Iraqi army and police personnel have started voting for the nation's new parliament. ) Photo: Nabil Al-Jurani, AP / AP

Photo By Nabil al-Jurani/AP 
Security forces and army personnel queue to vote outside a polling center in Basra, Iraq’s second-largest city, 340 miles (550 kilometers) southeast of Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, April 28, 2014. Amid tight security, some one million Iraqi army and police personnel have started voting for the nation’s new parliament. )

BAGHDAD (AP) — Militants on Monday targeted polling stations across much of Iraq and a crowd of Kurds jubilantly dancing on the street as soldiers and security forces cast ballots two days ahead of parliamentary elections, officials said. The attacks, including a suicide bombing northeast of Baghdad, left at least 46 people dead.

The wave of attacks was an apparent attempt to derail the balloting process and discourage the rest of the country’s 22 million registered voters from going to the polls on Wednesday in the first nationwide elections since the 2011 withdrawal of U.S. forces.

The early balloting for police and soldiers is meant to free up the 1 million-strong military and security forces so they can protect polling stations and voters on election day.

More than 9,000 candidates are vying for 328 seats in parliament, which is widely expected to be won by an alliance led by Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who is likely to seek a third four-year term in office.

The day’s worst attack took place in the Kurdish town of Khanaqin, 140 kilometers (87 miles) northeast of Baghdad close to the Iranian border. A suicide bomber walked toward a crowd of Kurds performing a traditional dance and blew himself up, killing at least 25 and injuring 35, many of them in critical condition.

The Kurds were celebrating the appearance on TV of Iraq’s ailing President Jalal Talabani, who is being treated in Berlin since December 2012 following a stroke. The nearly 80-year-old Talabani was seen sitting in a wheelchair smiling and waving his index finger, stained purple, flanked by clapping relatives. Few details have been released about the severity of Talabani’s illness.

Beside army troops and police, also voting on Monday were hospital patients, medical staff and detainees.

Abroad, Iraqi expatriates in more than 20 countries will also be able to cast ballots for a second day.

Authorities, meanwhile, announced the closure of Iraq’s air space, saying it will not reopen until after the polls close on Wednesday evening. Already, the government has decreed a weeklong national holiday to coincide with the elections, extending a previously announced three-day break. Such moves were common in past elections, chiefly to empty the streets and allow security forces faster access to attack sites.

A ban on vehicles will take effect on Tuesday night in Baghdad and stay in force throughout election day on Wednesday, a precautionary measure used in past voting to guard against car bombings.

Security has been tight in Baghdad and much of the rest of the country amid concerns that Sunni militants blamed for a recent resurgence of sectarian violence could target polling stations.

At one central Baghdad polling station, policemen went through four ID checks and search stations before they could enter the building on Monday. Inside, police dogs were used to search for explosives. Some policemen came to cast votes dressed in civilian clothes to attract less attention.

But despite the stepped up security, militants managed to strike polling centers in Baghdad and a string of other cities.

Egyptian Court Body Count Raised To 1212 Muslim Brotherhooders

[SEE:  Egypt Sentences 529 Muslim Brotherhood To Death ]

Egypt court sentences 683 Morsi supporters to death

ahram online

Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie among 683 people sentenced to death by a court in Upper Egypt; court commutes 492 of 529 death sentences passed in an earlier trial

El-Sayed Gamal El-Deen

Muslim Brotherhood guide

Muslim Brotherhood guide Mohamed Badie behind bars (Photo:Reuters)

A court in Minya has passed death sentences on 683 supporters of former president Mohamed Morsi, including leading members of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Islamist group’s Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie was among the defendants found guilty of attacking Adawa police station and killing a police officer, Mamdouh Kotb Mohamed Kotb, on 14 August 2013 — following the dispersal of pro-Morsi sit-ins at Rabaa and Nahda squares.

They were also found guilty of committing violence, rioting, destroying public and private property, attacking police officers, and inciting violence.

The verdicts must be ratified by the grand mufti before they can be carried out.

The court has set 21 June for the final verdict to be passed, after the grand mufti has made his assessment.

The law allows the verdicts to be appealed.

March verdict

The same judge sentenced 529 people to death in March.

On Monday, he confirmed 37 of the death sentences and commuted 492 others to life imprisonment upon the instructions of the grand mufti.

The defendants were accused of killing a police officer and storming Matay police station on 14 August 2013.

Khaled El-Koumi, lawyer for one of the defendants sentenced to death, told Ahram Online that he would appeal against the verdict as soon the court has issued its reasoning within the next 60 days.

Nusra/ISIS Hostilities Enflaming al-Hilweh Palestinian Refugee Camp

Tension between rival Islamists puts Ain al-Hilweh on edge

daily star LEB

By Mohammed Zaatari

File - A gunman in the camp sits near graffiti that says “Ain al-Hilweh is a red line.”

File – A gunman in the camp sits near graffiti that says “Ain al-Hilweh is a red line.”

SIDON, Lebanon: Radical Islamist groups went on armed alert in Ain al-Hilweh over the weekend, heightening tension in Lebanon’s largest Palestinian refugee camp and raising fears of renewed fighting between rival factions, Palestinian sources said Sunday.

Although life was normal in Ain al-Hilweh Sunday morning, residents in the teeming camp, located on the outskirts of the southern city of Sidon, feared that the current calm was just a lull before the storm.

The camp was rocked recently by inter-Palestinian fighting and a string of assassinations targeting members of rival Islamist groups, some of which are affiliated with Al-Qaeda.

Rival Islamist groups, Osbat al-Ansar, and factions integrated into the so-called “Muslim Youth,” deployed gunmen in their neighborhoods in the camp overnight Saturday in what appeared to be precautionary measures to forestall attacks on their posts, the sources said.

Headed by Palestinian Islamist Osama Shehabi, the Muslim Youth includes the remaining members of Al-Qaeda-linked groups in the camp such as Fatah al-Islam, Jund al-Sham and the Abdullah Azzam Brigades.

The deployment of gunmen by the two rival groups came as representatives of the Muslim Youth were meeting at Shehabi’s house, the sources said.

The sources added that the deployment of gunmen by Osbat al-Ansar was not only in response to the Muslim Youth meeting, but also after the group received information that one of Muslim Youth’s factions was preparing to assassinate a senior Osbat official identified as Taha Shreidi in retaliation for the killing of Shehabi’s nephew Ali Khalil.

Shehabi had accused Osbat al-Ansar of killing Khalil, a charge the group has denied.

A media spokesman for Osbat al-Ansar warned of renewed fighting in the camp as a result of simmering tension between rival Islamist groups.

“Ain al-Hilweh is in great danger. The camp’s sheikhs are on an assassination list,” Sheikh Abu Sharif Akel said in Friday’s sermon. He urged wise Palestinian officials in the camp to intervene to prevent renewal of violence “before we all pay a price in our blood and honor.”

Khalil, a bodyguard of Fatah al-Islam official Bilal Badr, was shot dead by at least one gunman in the Safsaf neighborhood of the camp last Monday.

An arrest warrant for Khalil had been issued earlier this month by Lebanon’s military investigative judge. The warrant demanded the death penalty for Khalil along with five others accused of forming an armed group and carrying out terrorist attacks, as well as possessing weapons and explosives.

Palestinian sources said that Khalil might also have been involved in the assassination of Arsan Sleiman, an Islamist preacher, suggesting a link between the two killings.

In addition to the possibility of retaliatory assassinations, Palestinian sources said the killings might have been part of a campaign to remove wanted Islamists from the camps amid a broad Lebanese security crackdown in the north.

Islamist groups in Ain al-Hilweh said in a statement that they had carried out limited military and security deployment to send a message to those concerned that they were not an “easy morsel” and they would not allow anyone to tamper with the camp’s security.

“It turned out that there are some who are seeking and plotting to stir up strife inside the camp,” the statement said.

Sheikh Jamal Khattab, head of the Islamic Jihadist Movement, said the security alert in Ain al-Hilweh was a precautionary measure aimed at protecting the camp and preventing any incidents or assassination attempts.

“The situation in the camp is generally calm and under control,” Khattab said.

In a bid to prevent renewed fighting in Ain al-Hilweh, a meeting is scheduled to be held at the Palestinian Embassy in Beirut Monday with representatives of various Palestinian factions, in addition to Islamist groups. The meeting will discuss ways to follow up on the implementation of a neutrality agreement signed by Palestinian factions in Lebanon in order to disassociate themselves from violence linked to the war in Syria.

Under the terms of the 1969 Cairo Agreement, the Palestinian factions in Lebanon assumed responsibility for the armed protection of the refugee camps in the country. But recent security incidents in Lebanon, including a wave of car bombings and suicide attacks claimed by Al-Qaeda-affiliated groups, have prompted fears that the camps are harboring extremists, though Palestinian officials say those responsible for the attacks are not from the camps.

During a visit to Sidon last week, Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk said Palestinian factions in Lebanon should no longer carry arms and ought to seek protection under the Lebanese state.

He criticized the use of weapons in inter-Palestinian strife and said Lebanon had a responsibility to protect the refugees: “Palestinian arms inside and outside the camps are unjustified.”

Saudi King Retires Two More Princes, After Bandar

Another elimination by Saudi king

SACH TIMES

 Saudi King Abdullah has relieved Prince Abdulaziz bin Fahd bin Abdulaziz of his posts as the minister of state and a member of the Council of Ministers.

In a decree issued on Friday, the king appointed Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, a son of the country’s heir apparent, to assume the post of minister of state.

Prince Mohammed will retain his current position of president of the Crown Prince’s Court, headed by his father Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz.

The state-run SPA news agency said the change was made upon a request by Prince Abdulaziz to be relieved of his post.

The change is seen as the latest push by King Abdullah to elevate a younger generation of royals into senior positions as the kingdom faces unprecedented challenges in the region and at home.

Earlier in the month, opposition sources said Minister of Foreign Affairs Saud al-Faisal will be removed from his post in the second phase of changes at the ruling family’s key positions.

A possible scenario could be that Faisal, who has held the post since 1975, submit his resignation in the coming days, the sources also said.

The decision to remove Faisal has reportedly been delayed due to a lack of suitable candidate for the post.

On April 15, the Saudi King replaced spy chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan, who handled the kingdom’s policies against Syria, with Youssef al-Idrisi.

Bandar is a former ambassador to the United States and is known to have had close ties with former US President George W. Bush.

The Saudi prince was an advocate of the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Jordan Swapping Terrorist Leader for Ambassador To Libya

Leader of anti-Islamist forces, Colonel Farag al-Dersi, is assassinated in Benghazi. 

CIA, Jordanian Special Forces to attack the kidnappers of Jordanian ambassador to Libya

Unconfirmed reports Jordan will release “convicted terrorist” Mohamad Al Dersi to free kidnapped Jordan’s ambassador to Libya

ammon news

King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Center (KASOTC)

AMMONNEWS – The head of the Committee for the Release Political Prisoners in Jordan, Mohamad Al Hadid told the Arab Daily News on the phone from Amman today that Jordan has secretly released “convicted terrorist” Mohamad Al Dersi it held in a Jordanian prison in exchange of freeing its kidnapped ambassador to Libya Fawaz Al Aytan. Al Hadid added that Al Dersi is now in Libya and the Jordanian ambassador will be released within few hours.

Sabah Al Rafaei , a spokeswoman for the Jordanian foreign ministry, however, declined to confirm the news of the presumed exchange , and told the Arab Daily News that the Jordanian government will release any information on the matter when it think it is appropriate to do so. She also declined to comment on the reports by Al Jazeera news channel that claimed Al Dersi was released by the Jordanian government, urging the news media to be accurate in its reporting.

Al Hadid said that the deal was brokered by Libyan tribal leaders . Al Dersi’s Jordanian attorney, Mousa Al Abdallat told the Arab Daily News that his client was released from the Jordanian prison because when he went to see him yesterday, he was not allowed to do so and was told that his client was not in the prison facility. He told us that he later assumed that his client was released and transported to Libya. The Arab Daily News was unable to confirm the reports of the alleged release of both Al Dersi and ambassador Al Aytan with the Libyan government at the time of writing of this report.

No one claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of ambassador Al Aytan. It was presumed however that it is the work of Al Qaida affiliate in Libya “Ansar Al Shareea” a group that seeks to impose a strict Islamic political and social Ideology in Libya and in the region.

The Arab Daily News had reported earlier of an impending joint secret American-Jordanian operation to attack the Libyan kidnappers and release ambassador Al Aytan. The Libyan government denied that there were any Jordanian or American special forces on its soil after demonstrations broke out in Tripoli based on the reporting by the Arab Daily News.

WATER WARS–Ukraine Chokes-Off Crimea’s Water (war crime?)

Syndication: Ukraine throats water flow to Crimea

VG NETT norse

DRY: Here you can see part of the north-krimske canal near the settlement Tabachnoye close Dzhankoi the Crimea. Photo: REUTERS / Stringer
Ukraine has closed the locks of the canal which supplies the Crimean peninsula by up to 85 percent of fresh water.

 

It writes the Russian news agency Itar-Tass , which refers to the Ukrainian news agency UNIAN.

The north-krimske channel region adds water from the river Dnjeper, and pictures to be taken at any of the locks shows an almost dry channel.

According to Russian authorities, water shortages become acute in the Crimea and destroy crops of grapes, rice, corn and soy if Peninsula does not get more water soon, writes the BBC .

Yields on Crime is totally dependent on artificial irrigation.

The canal, which was built in 1961 to 1971, ranging from Khakhovka reservoir in southern Ukraine and runs until Kerch almost entirely east of the Crimean peninsula. According to the BBC, 80 percent of fresh water to the Crimea through this channel.

Dry ground: There is now so little water in the channel that it is possible to negotiate on foot. Photo: REUTERS / Stringer
Dry ground: There is now so little water in the channel that it is possible to negotiate on foot. Photo: REUTERS / Stringer

A BBC reporter who recently was in the Crimea said that the water supply was a locals’ main issues ahead of the controversial referendum on Crimea should join Russia.

Crime was recently formally part of Russia. Annexation is condemned by the EU and the USA, and Ukraine does not recognize the new government in Crimea.

There are about two million people in the Crimea, and about 60 percent of the population are ethnic Russians.

In 1954, the peninsula was transferred from the Russian Soviet Republic to the Ukrainian Soviet Republic.

Channel authorities in Ukraine claim that Crimea has built up a huge debt for last year’s water supply. The dispute has worsened after its rupture in relations between Kiev and Moscow.

According to the new pro-Russian government in the Crimea, the water supply has dropped from 50 cubic meters per second to about 16

Russia claims, according to the BBC, the border between Crimea and Ukraine is now an official state border and the Russian government is planning to establish permanent border controls.

Feds Forced To Admit–No terrorist plot in Montevideo

Feds: No terrorist plot in Montevideo

star tribune MINN

  • Article by: RANDY FURST , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 25, 2014 – 9:22 PM

Federal agents investigated claims against Buford “Bucky” Rogers, but admit now that they found no group plan of attack.

This May 3, 2013, photo shows authorities with Buford Rogers, right, during a raid on a mobile home in Montevideo, Minn.

Photo: Jeremy Jones, Montevideo American-News via AP

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

what if militias

[The militia poster above, advocates a national “march on Washington,” by reps of the movement, similar to veterans caravans and the recent truckers protest.  This was the most radical thing found on the Michigan Minuteman Militia movement’s facebook page.  Their  website had been taken down.]

  • FILE – In this file photo provided by the Chippewa County, Minn., Sheriff is Buford Rogers who was arrested May 3, 2013, during a raid on a mobile home in Montevideo, Minn.

The admission came in an aside to a federal memorandum urging that Buford “Bucky” Rogers be sentenced to five years and three months in prison. Rogers, 25, is scheduled to be sentenced Monday in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis.

Rogers pleaded guilty in January to illegal possession of a semi-automatic rifle, prohibited because he is a convicted burglar, and possession of two black powder-and-nail explosive devices.

Federal prosecutors say Rogers’ arrest last May was necessary after the FBI was tipped off that he had a large cache of weapons and planned to attack the Montevideo police station, National Guard armory and a local radio tower, but he was never indicted on terrorism charges. Prosecutors say he should get five years because of “numerous” previous arrests, including third-degree burglary and possession of illegal weapons, suggesting he has “exhibited consistently dangerous criminal behavior over the course of many years.”

Federal Public Defender Andrew Mohring urged this week that Rogers get a two-year sentence, noting in a memorandum that “the facts of this case as it now exists stand in sharp contrast to those broadcast to the press and public when the case opened last spring.”

At the time of his arrest, Mohring said, Rogers was labeled by authorities as a “domestic terrorist.”

“Coming less than three weeks after the Boston Marathon bombings, these accusations were made in an unusually public manner, through news releases and televised interviews,” Mohring wrote.

In the end, Mohring said, the only suggestion that Rogers was planning a violent conspiracy came from a single individual “of untested reliability” who did not meet the definition of a reliable informant.

“Not withstanding the foreboding name” — the Black Snake Militia that authorities claimed Rogers headed — the FBI later acknowledged the group contained only three or four people, Mohring wrote.

“After one and one half years, no additional evidence has been identified to confirm the existence of any plot to attack anyone or any thing,” Mohring wrote.

Federal prosecutors Andrew Winter and Charles Kovats Jr. say Rogers’ arrest was proper, despite a decision not to charge him with terrorism,

At the time of the arrest, they wrote, “the FBI had been informed that the defendant was part of a group cheering the Boston bombing, possessed explosive devices and planned to conduct violent acts imminently.

“The fact that a broader plot was not discovered is not exculpatory,” they added. “It merely evidences the absence of additional inculpatory (incriminating) behavior.”

Prosecutors note that when they searched Rogers’ father’s premises they “uncovered a sizable collection of explosive devices, firearms, ammunition, military clothing and other militia related items. … Beyond the inherently dangerous nature of the devices was defendant’s disregard for the safety of his neighbors in storing the devices in a residential area.”

Mohring argues that Rogers’ past crimes were overstated, and while he admits to possessing dangerous weapons, he did not use them and he has already spent a year in jail.

The FBI’s source for believing there was a terrorist plot, according to court documents released earlier, was a single unnamed witness who first met Rogers at an Arizona “pow wow” in 2012, then moved to Montevideo and stayed with Rogers’ family. The witness told the FBI that Rogers “talked regularly about his plans to use his ‘Black Snake Militia’ to cut off connections to the city of Montevideo, to ‘take out’ a radio tower, to block communication to the city, to raid the National Guard armory and to attack the police station.”

The witness told the FBI around May 1, 2013, that Rogers had cheered the Boston Marathon bombing and planned to attack Montevideo that weekend. It prompted the FBI to assemble about 50 officers and two armored carriers to raid Rogers’ father’s home. Rogers was arrested without incident.

As part of the plea agreement in January, the U.S. attorney’s office agreed to drop two other counts against Rogers, one for possession of two Molotov cocktails, the other for possession of a pipe bomb.

Randy Furst • 612-673-4224

Ukraine, Deadbeat Nation Begs EU To Fill Its Rusty Pipelines

“We will destroy these pipelines and deprive our enemy of its source of income,” Yarosh said.

“More than half of the nation’s natural gas pipelines are in such bad shape that they could explode at any time.”

Ukraine: Russia’s Gazprom issues May 7 ultimatum over gas supplies

the telegraph

Energy giant sets payment deadline and warns Europe it risks “severe problems” in winter unless it helps Ukraine pay $8.5bn gas bill this summer

About 30 per cent of European gas comes from Russia and roughly half of it passes through the Ukraine under transit agreements. Photo: REUTERS

Russian state-controlled energy giant Gazprom has ratcheted up the pressure on Ukraine, issuing a May 7 ultimatum to settle $3.5bn unpaid debts or start paying in advance for its gas.

Alexander Medvedev, deputy chief executive, warned that Europe must help Ukraine pay the bill – and a further $5bn needed to refill storage facilities this summer – or face “severe problems” with gas supplies this winter.

By May 7, Ukraine would owe about $3.5bn for gas it has used in recent months, Mr Medvedev said. If it failed to pay, Gazprom would stop supplying Ukraine with gas for domestic usage from June, unless it paid for it in advance.

“If they don’t pre-pay they are not entitled to get any gas,” he told reporters in London.

About 30 per cent of European gas comes from Russia and roughly half of it passes through the Ukraine under transit agreements.

Mr Medvedev said Gazprom would continue to supply the gas destined for transit to Europe, but said Ukraine may siphon off gas to meet its domestic needs.

He warned that in winter, when demand is high, the consequences would far more severe because Ukraine’s pipeline system cannot physically import enough gas from Russia to meet its domestic needs as well as its transit commitments.

Ukraine therefore needs to buy a further $5bn of gas over the summer to stockpile in storage facilities, ready to meet winter demand.

If it fails to do so, Europe’s winter supplies will be threatened because Ukraine will likely siphon off supplies from Russia to meet domestic demand and fail to honour its transit commitments, Mr Medvedev said.

“The deficit of the gas in underground storage in the Ukraine could create severe problems next winter,” he said. “This is why we have called European countries to look at this matter together.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin wrote to European leaders earlier this month indicating Gazprom would move to pre-payments and acknowledging the “extreme measure” of cutting off the gas could jeopardise European supplies.

Mr Medvedev said that if European leaders want to protect their gas supplies in winter they must help Ukraine pay for the gas now.

“It’s necessary to find a solution of putting the gas in underground storage, to finance it. It’s quite obvious Ukraine does not have any source of revenues to finance it and the size of financial aid we see under discussion is not sufficient,” he said.

He said the size of potential financial aid under discussion between IMF and the Ukraine was “substantially lower” than the imminent $8.5bn gas bill and the funds should be found “on an intergovernmental level”.

“The most urgent thing is the current outstanding deliveries, which will reach $3.5bn on 7 May, and about $4-$5bn necessary to put gas in underground storage, so overall size is about $8.5bn which is urgently needed now,” he said.

He insisted that Russia was “not interested in a gas crisis” and would “do everything in order that our customers in Europe can receive our gas”.

Russia can increase supplies through other routes bypassing Ukraine but not enough to compensate for volumes that would likely be siphoned off by Ukraine, he said.

Asked about the prospect of sanctions affecting Gazprom, he said that Russian energy supply deals had never been subject to sanctions throughout a series of historical crises. “History shows sanctions never help to find a solution,” he said.

“We are mutually dependent. If somebody thinks to cut the revenue stream, what does that imply? What is their logic – we will give you our gas without payment?”

But he confirmed Gazprom was making contingency plans for possible sanctions. “Definitely we don’t sit still, we are considering all the scenarios,” he said.

Russia, Ukraine, and Europe are Tied by Gas Dependency

Russia, Ukraine, and Europe are Tied by Gas Dependency

INTERNATIONAL POLICY DIGEST

The German energy giant RWE has begun to “reverse flow” supplies of gas from Europe back to Ukraine via Poland, a process first arranged in 2012, with an agreement to deliver up to 10 billion cubic metres of gas per year.

Assembling the Nord Stream in 2011. Bair175/SA

The question for the Ukrainian interim government and state-owned energy firm Naftogaz is how this gas will be delivered, how soon, and whether it will be enough. Hungary has the capacity to deliver 5.5 billion cubic metres (bcm), Poland could deliver 1.5 bcm, and Romania could potentially provide 1.8 bcm capacity, but not before 2016-17 at the earliest.

Talks between Ukraine and Slovakia have renewed in an effort to tap into its capacity to deliver 9 bcm of gas, but the Slovak government and pipeline operator, Eustream, are anxious to ensure that feeding gas back to Ukraine does not breach its contracts with Russian state-owned energy giant Gazprom. Given that Ukraine imports around half of its annual 55 bcm of gas consumption, even with these new suppliers it will remain dependent on Russian gas.

The current situation comes as Kiev faces price hikes from US$285 to US$485 per thousand cubic metres of Russian gas, after Gazprom cancelled discounts offered in April 2010 and December 2013. The new price is significantly higher than, for example, the price of US$399 paid for Russian gas at the German border.

Naftogaz has struggled to pay for its Russian gas imports since late 2013, and now owes Gazprom more than US$2 billion. The combination of Naftogaz’s debts and unwillingness to pay the higher price means that many in Europe fear a suspension of Russian gas supplies to Ukraine – which, as it travels through the same pipelines, would also interrupt Russia’s gas exports destined for Western Europe.

This is not the first time that Russia and Ukraine have clashed over gas prices. For more than a decade following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukraine benefited from Russian gas import prices far lower than those in Western Europe. Attempts by Gazprom to raise gas prices for Ukraine resulted in disputes and suspensions of gas supplies to Ukraine in January 2006 and January 2009.

With Gazprom delivering 140 bcm to the EU in 2013 – more than a quarter of the EU’s total gas consumption – this has left many countries scrambling to find alternative ways to meet their needs.

Find new routes

Russian gas is delivered to the EU via several routes, of which the Ukraine pipelines are the most important, accounting for 55-60%. Around 25-30% travels through Belarus, and the remainder comes through the new Nord Stream gas pipeline, which runs under the Baltic Sea directly from Russia to Germany.

Opened in late 2011, Nord Stream is 51% owned by Gazprom, with the remaining shares owned by European energy companies (BASF Wintershall, E.On, Gasunie, and Gaz de France). The pipeline’s capacity can reach 55 bcm per year, but due to regulatory problems in Germany is currently operating at half capacity.

Gazprom is also planning the South Stream pipeline, another joint-stock partnership between Gazprom and local energy companies in each of the states it travels through. This would link Russia to Bulgaria under the Black Sea, through Serbia, Hungary, and Slovenia to northeast Italy.

If built, the 63 bcm per year capacity of South Stream and the 55 bcm capacity of Nord Stream combined could reduce Russia’s dependence on the Ukraine pipelines to almost nothing, if Gazprom’s current export levels of gas to Europe remain stable.

Find new sources

Ukraine’s efforts to find alternative sources of gas imports have led to protests from Gazprom. The gas that would be exported from the European market to Ukraine would actually be Russian gas, being re-exported at a profit by European energy companies. Gazprom claims such a scheme could be illegal, but has not clarified on what grounds.

Re-exporting imported gas was previously forbidden in Gazprom’s contracts with European energy companies, under the “destination clause.” But by 2006, these clauses had been removed on the grounds that they infringed Article 81 of the European Community Treaty (restrictive business practices). So any European energy company – theoretically, at least – now has the right to re-export gas, regardless of its source or destination.

The legality of re-exporting Russian gas from Europe to Ukraine may hinge on Gazprom’s gas transit contracts with Naftogaz and Eustream. These contracts effectively “reserve” the pipeline for delivering gas from east to west. Should Naftogaz and Eustream reverse the flow of their pipelines without Gazprom’s agreement, they could be in breach of contract. This condition applies even if those pipelines are not being used at full capacity, as is currently the case, and even if Naftogaz and Eustream are still able to fulfil their commitments to deliver Russian gas from east to west.

Recognise mutual dependence

They key aspect of this situation is the extent to which all parties depend on each other. While the EU sources more than 25% of its gas consumption from Russia, around 60% of Russia’s gas exports are to the EU. Almost 60% of Russian gas exports to the EU are delivered via Ukraine, which is itself also almost entirely dependent on Russia for its gas imports (imports account for just over half of Ukraine’s gas consumption).

Occasionally the European media refer to Russia’s gas as an “energy weapon,” or to the possibility that Russia may “turn off the taps” as leverage in a political dispute with the EU. But this is simply not credible: both Russia and EU member states and their energy companies have a vested interest in maintaining good trading relations.

For Europe, the disintegrating Gazprom-Naftogaz relationship is the greater worry. Both sides have in the past failed to use arbitration and dispute resolution to resolve their disagreements, and the ongoing arguments and two complete gas suspensions were the result. Given the recent statements by Russian and Ukrainian officials, another suspension of Russian gas supplies to Ukraine cannot be ruled out.

This article was originally published in The Conversation.

Saudis Buy Fleet of Chinese Terminator Drones

Wing Loong drone

Wing Loong (Pterodactyl) drone   –(£625,000) US$1.050.500

MQ-9 ReaperMQ-9 Reaper  -US$4.03 million

Saudi Arabia joins the killer drone arms race

the verge

By Russell Brandom

Last week, Saudi Arabia bought its first drone fleet, according to a dispatch from Tactical Reports. Saudi Crown Prince Salman met with Chinese General Wang Guanzhong to sign a contract for a shipment of Chinese Wing Loong drones, also known as Pterodactyls. The drones that make up the shipment are designed to mimic America’s Predator drone, with surveillance capabilities and enough lift to carry two matched air-to-ground missiles.

Drones are available to whoever can pay for them

If the report is true, it means Saudi Arabia may have joined an exclusive club, one of the few nations with armed, unmanned aircraft. It’s a group that, to date, includes just the US, Britain, Israel, China, and (depending who you ask) Iran — but beyond those countries, the capability is increasingly available to whoever can pay for it. At the Singapore Air Show earlier this year, both Israel and China were showing off their wares to would-be clients, including the Pterodactyl drone named in the report, and you could find similar displays at dozens of other air shows. With American counterterrorism efforts providing an ongoing test of how valuable the machines can be, there are lots of countries willing to buy.

“The American monopoly on drones is over.”

The US is still responsible for the vast majority of drone strikes, but that may have more to do with politics than capability. A GAO report from 2012 found that more than 75 countries have some form of drone system. Most are unarmed but some, like the systems used in Australia, Japan, and Singapore, could be retrofitted for military purpose. More importantly, the US’ use of drones — more than 50 strikes in 2013 alone — seems to have whetted a global appetite for combat drones. “If you think of this as part of a broader trend of the proliferation of military robotics, then the idea that we were going to have a monopoly on this kind of technology was always a bit far-fetched,” says University of Pennsylvania political scientist Michael Horowitz. “The American monopoly on drones is over and probably never really existed.”

Israel exported $4.6 billion in drone systems over seven years

International trade barriers have slowed down the spread, but they haven’t stopped it. For US companies, combat drones are controlled under the same agreement as cruise missiles, through an association called the Missile Technology Control Regime. But China and Israel aren’t part of the group, and the two countries have begun aggressively marketing drone systems to outsiders eager to keep up with US capabilities. One report from the consulting firm Frost & Sullivan estimated that Israel had exported $4.6 billion in drone systems between 2005 and 2012.

Experts also say Saudi Arabia has previously demonstrated both the interest and the budget for this kind of purchase. “Saudi Arabia and smaller countries like the UAE are trying to get their hands on whatever they can, and the US has pretty restrictive export policies,” says Cornell University professor Sarah Kreps, who studies drone proliferation. The result leaves China as one of the only sources available in town.

“Saudi Arabia and…the UAE are trying to get their hands on whatever they can.”

One of the biggest questions is whether the new generation of foreign drones can match US capabilities. “We don’t know at all about the quality of the pterodactyl,” Kreps cautions, “these aren’t combat-tested.” Since unmanned aircraft rely so heavily on satellite and communications infrastructure, it’s hard to tell from the craft alone how well it will perform in the field. The Pterodactyl is also typically sold for a fraction of the price of the Predator, which has only fueled skepticism.

But even if China needs help to bring its drones up to US standards, that expertise may not be hard to find. UAVs are built on mostly commercial technology, drawing from the robotics and aviation industries. That’s much harder to keep under wraps than military tech like warheads or missiles. As long as there’s a market, there’ll be an incentive to build cheaper and more powerful drones, and the club of drone-armed countries will continue to grow. As Horowitz puts it, “What we know about the history of military technology suggests it will be really difficult to keep a lid on this.”

Filipinos Protest Return of US Military

US Access Pact: Getting a rapist to protect us from neighborhood bully – See more at: http://www.bayan.ph/site/2014/04/us-access-pact-getting-a-rapist-to-protect-us-from-neighborhood-bully/#sthash.d22COKyF.dpuf

 1343055842-protest-turns-violent-on-president-aquinos-sona–manila_1351033

Anti-Obama protesters clash with Manila police

sun star Philip

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

MANILA (Updated) — Police armed with truncheons, shields and water hose clashed Wednesday with more than 100 left-wing activists who rallied at the United States Embassy in Manila to oppose a visit by President Barack Obama and a looming pact that will increase the American military presence in the Philippines.

Riot policemen blocked the flag-waving activists near the heavily fortified embassy compound, but the protesters slipped past them, sparking a brief scuffle in view of motorists stuck in traffic.

Philippines Anti Obama2

Police and protesters clash as the latter try to force their way closer to the US Embassy for a rally against next week’s visit of US President Barack Obama Wednesday, April 23, 2014 in Manila, Philippines. Philippine police armed with truncheon, shields and water hose have clashed with more than 100 left-wing activists who rallied at the US Embassy in Manila to oppose a visit by Obama and a looming pact that will increase the American military presence in the Philippines. (AP Photo)

The police sprayed the protesters with water from a fire truck to push them away. A police officer was punched in the face in the melee, but no arrests were made. Some of the protesters carried paper US flags with the message: “Obama, not welcome.”

“Obama’s visit is not a symbol of friendship, but signals the US’ plan to re-occupy the Philippines. He will meet with his puppet Aquino to push for measures that would further tighten the US’ economic, military and all-around control over the country,” said Roger Soluta, secretary-general of labor center Kilusang Mayo Uno, one of the groups present at the protest.

KMU warned that it will hold protests when Obama sets his foot in the country on April 28. The civil disturbance and management teams of the Philippine National Police (PNP) are already preparing for the protests, especially in areas identified as “no rally zones,” said PNP spokesperson Chief Superintendent Reuben Sindac.

Obama will be in Manila for an overnight stop after visiting Japan, South Korea and Malaysia on an Asian trip where he is expected to reassure allied nations enmeshed in long-running territorial disputes with an increasingly assertive China.

Philippines US Obama

Health workers display placards during a rally outside the US Embassy in Manila, Philippines on Tuesday, April 22, 2014 to protest next week’s four-country visit of President Barack Obama that includes the Philippines. The US and Philippine governments are rushing to finalize, for possible signing, the so-called Agreement on Enhanced Defense Cooperation (AEDC) which will allow larger US military presence in the country. (AP Photo)

The United States and the Philippines, which are treaty allies, have been scrambling to overcome differences to finalize a new security accord in time for Obama’s visit.

The Agreement on Enhanced Defense Cooperation (AEDC) will allow more US troops, aircraft, and ships to be temporarily stationed in selected Philippine military camps as a counterweight to China and as a standby disaster-response force.

“By allowing the US to establish de facto military bases all over the country, the Aquino government is further attacking the interests of the Filipino workers and people. The AEDC is a gross violation of our national sovereignty and poses danger to Filipinos’ lives and properties and to the country’s environment,” said Soluta.

About 500 American soldiers have been based in the southern Philippines since 2002 to provide anti-terrorism training and intelligence to Filipino troops battling al-Qaida-linked militants. (AP/Virgil Lopez/Third Anne Peralta/Sunnex)

NO TO US PRESENCE. Militant activists burn a mock US flag during a protest against the up-coming visit of US President Barack Obama in Manila, 25 April 2014. Photo by Dennis Sabangan/EPA

NO TO US PRESENCE. Militant activists burn a mock US flag during a protest against the up-coming visit of US President Barack Obama in Manila, 25 April 2014. Photo by Dennis Sabangan/EPA

US Access Pact: Getting a rapist to protect us from neighborhood bully

US Access Pact: Getting a rapist to protect us from neighborhood bully – See more at: http://www.bayan.ph/site/2014/04/us-access-pact-getting-a-rapist-to-protect-us-from-neighborhood-bully/#sthash.d22COKyF.dpuf

April 13, 2014

The umbrella group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan said that the imminent signing of the so-called Agreement on Enhanced Defense Cooperation will be a gross violation of Philippine sovereignty and the Constitution. The group said that it will strongly protest the signing of the military pact and will take the fight in the streets and in the courts.

“The oft repeated rationale is that we need this agreement with the US to protect ourselves from Chinese incursions. So what Aquino is basically saying is, to protect Filipinos from the neighborhood bully, we’re inviting a rapist inside our house to do as he pleases. That is the implication of this agreement. We’re being told we’re getting a good deal but in fact we’re getting the short end of the stick,” said Bayan secretary genera Renato M. Reyes, Jr.

Bayan said that the rape of PH sovereignty by US forces has been historically proven, “from the time of the Fil-Am War, the establishment of US bases, the signing of the Visiting Forces Agreement, the numerous violations of PH laws by US troops, and the refusal of the US government to pay for environmental damage caused by US troops in Clark, Subic and Tubbataha reef.”

The group said that the US cannot be trusted to respect PH sovereignty as US forces always consider themselves above the laws of the host countries. “Everywhere in the world where US troops are stationed, whether as an occupation force, or through foreign bases or military exercises, the problems are the same,” Reyes said.

“Stand up to China, we must. But let’s not delude ourselves that the US is our protector. The US is only after its own agenda,” he added.

The group is also not buying the provision in the agreement that sates the US will “not establish a permanent military presence or base in the territory of the Philippines
“The agreement makes the claim that there will not be permanent US military presence in the country. That is a worthless assurance because US troops have already been permanently stationed in Mindanao since 2002, and without any clear exit plan. US forces say that they can only use PH facilities upon the invitation of the PH government. That too is laughable since US forces are regularly going in and out of the country every month via port calls and military exercises,” Reyes said.

“There is also no empirical evidence to support the assertion that giving US forces access to our facilities will modernize our AFP. During the time of the US bases, and even under the VFA, the same argument was used yet our AFP still remained backward. There is nothing to support the claim that a military agreement will develop the country’s minimum credible defense posture,” he added.

Bayan will lead a week-long protest in time for the visit of US President Barack Obama. It has linked up with anti-bases activists in the United States, Japan and South Korea.

“The US pivot to Asia involves US allies shouldering the cost of hosting US forces. The US fiscal crisis is making it increasingly difficult for the US to sustain its self-appointed role of global policeman. It is why countries like Japan, South Korea, Philippines and Australia are being asked to share the burden by providing bases and access to bases,” Reyes said. ###

News Release

April 13, 2014

The umbrella group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan said that the imminent signing of the so-called Agreement on Enhanced Defense Cooperation will be a gross violation of Philippine sovereignty and the Constitution. The group said that it will strongly protest the signing of the military pact and will take the fight in the streets and in the courts.

“The oft repeated rationale is that we need this agreement with the US to protect ourselves from Chinese incursions. So what Aquino is basically saying is, to protect Filipinos from the neighborhood bully, we’re inviting a rapist inside our house to do as he pleases. That is the implication of this agreement. We’re being told we’re getting a good deal but in fact we’re getting the short end of the stick,” said Bayan secretary genera Renato M. Reyes, Jr.

Bayan said that the rape of PH sovereignty by US forces has been historically proven, “from the time of the Fil-Am War, the establishment of US bases, the signing of the Visiting Forces Agreement, the numerous violations of PH laws by US troops, and the refusal of the US government to pay for environmental damage caused by US troops in Clark, Subic and Tubbataha reef.”

The group said that the US cannot be trusted to respect PH sovereignty as US forces always consider themselves above the laws of the host countries. “Everywhere in the world where US troops are stationed, whether as an occupation force, or through foreign bases or military exercises, the problems are the same,” Reyes said.

“Stand up to China, we must. But let’s not delude ourselves that the US is our protector. The US is only after its own agenda,” he added.

The group is also not buying the provision in the agreement that sates the US will “not establish a permanent military presence or base in the territory of the Philippines
“The agreement makes the claim that there will not be permanent US military presence in the country. That is a worthless assurance because US troops have already been permanently stationed in Mindanao since 2002, and without any clear exit plan. US forces say that they can only use PH facilities upon the invitation of the PH government. That too is laughable since US forces are regularly going in and out of the country every month via port calls and military exercises,” Reyes said.

“There is also no empirical evidence to support the assertion that giving US forces access to our facilities will modernize our AFP. During the time of the US bases, and even under the VFA, the same argument was used yet our AFP still remained backward. There is nothing to support the claim that a military agreement will develop the country’s minimum credible defense posture,” he added.

Bayan will lead a week-long protest in time for the visit of US President Barack Obama. It has linked up with anti-bases activists in the United States, Japan and South Korea.

“The US pivot to Asia involves US allies shouldering the cost of hosting US forces. The US fiscal crisis is making it increasingly difficult for the US to sustain its self-appointed role of global policeman. It is why countries like Japan, South Korea, Philippines and Australia are being asked to share the burden by providing bases and access to bases,” Reyes said. ###

– See more at: http://www.bayan.ph/site/2014/04/us-access-pact-getting-a-rapist-to-protect-us-from-neighborhood-bully/#sthash.d22COKyF.dpuf

US Access Pact: Getting a rapist to protect us from neighborhood bully

Posted on 13 April 2014 by admin

News Release

April 13, 2014

The umbrella group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan said that the imminent signing of the so-called Agreement on Enhanced Defense Cooperation will be a gross violation of Philippine sovereignty and the Constitution. The group said that it will strongly protest the signing of the military pact and will take the fight in the streets and in the courts.

“The oft repeated rationale is that we need this agreement with the US to protect ourselves from Chinese incursions. So what Aquino is basically saying is, to protect Filipinos from the neighborhood bully, we’re inviting a rapist inside our house to do as he pleases. That is the implication of this agreement. We’re being told we’re getting a good deal but in fact we’re getting the short end of the stick,” said Bayan secretary genera Renato M. Reyes, Jr.

Bayan said that the rape of PH sovereignty by US forces has been historically proven, “from the time of the Fil-Am War, the establishment of US bases, the signing of the Visiting Forces Agreement, the numerous violations of PH laws by US troops, and the refusal of the US government to pay for environmental damage caused by US troops in Clark, Subic and Tubbataha reef.”

The group said that the US cannot be trusted to respect PH sovereignty as US forces always consider themselves above the laws of the host countries. “Everywhere in the world where US troops are stationed, whether as an occupation force, or through foreign bases or military exercises, the problems are the same,” Reyes said.

“Stand up to China, we must. But let’s not delude ourselves that the US is our protector. The US is only after its own agenda,” he added.

The group is also not buying the provision in the agreement that sates the US will “not establish a permanent military presence or base in the territory of the Philippines
“The agreement makes the claim that there will not be permanent US military presence in the country. That is a worthless assurance because US troops have already been permanently stationed in Mindanao since 2002, and without any clear exit plan. US forces say that they can only use PH facilities upon the invitation of the PH government. That too is laughable since US forces are regularly going in and out of the country every month via port calls and military exercises,” Reyes said.

“There is also no empirical evidence to support the assertion that giving US forces access to our facilities will modernize our AFP. During the time of the US bases, and even under the VFA, the same argument was used yet our AFP still remained backward. There is nothing to support the claim that a military agreement will develop the country’s minimum credible defense posture,” he added.

Bayan will lead a week-long protest in time for the visit of US President Barack Obama. It has linked up with anti-bases activists in the United States, Japan and South Korea.

“The US pivot to Asia involves US allies shouldering the cost of hosting US forces. The US fiscal crisis is making it increasingly difficult for the US to sustain its self-appointed role of global policeman. It is why countries like Japan, South Korea, Philippines and Australia are being asked to share the burden by providing bases and access to bases,” Reyes said. ###

– See more at: http://www.bayan.ph/site/2014/04/us-access-pact-getting-a-rapist-to-protect-us-from-neighborhood-bully/#sthash.d22COKyF.dpuf

US Access Pact: Getting a rapist to protect us from neighborhood bully

Posted on 13 April 2014 by admin

News Release

April 13, 2014

The umbrella group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan said that the imminent signing of the so-called Agreement on Enhanced Defense Cooperation will be a gross violation of Philippine sovereignty and the Constitution. The group said that it will strongly protest the signing of the military pact and will take the fight in the streets and in the courts.

“The oft repeated rationale is that we need this agreement with the US to protect ourselves from Chinese incursions. So what Aquino is basically saying is, to protect Filipinos from the neighborhood bully, we’re inviting a rapist inside our house to do as he pleases. That is the implication of this agreement. We’re being told we’re getting a good deal but in fact we’re getting the short end of the stick,” said Bayan secretary genera Renato M. Reyes, Jr.

Bayan said that the rape of PH sovereignty by US forces has been historically proven, “from the time of the Fil-Am War, the establishment of US bases, the signing of the Visiting Forces Agreement, the numerous violations of PH laws by US troops, and the refusal of the US government to pay for environmental damage caused by US troops in Clark, Subic and Tubbataha reef.”

The group said that the US cannot be trusted to respect PH sovereignty as US forces always consider themselves above the laws of the host countries. “Everywhere in the world where US troops are stationed, whether as an occupation force, or through foreign bases or military exercises, the problems are the same,” Reyes said.

“Stand up to China, we must. But let’s not delude ourselves that the US is our protector. The US is only after its own agenda,” he added.

The group is also not buying the provision in the agreement that sates the US will “not establish a permanent military presence or base in the territory of the Philippines
“The agreement makes the claim that there will not be permanent US military presence in the country. That is a worthless assurance because US troops have already been permanently stationed in Mindanao since 2002, and without any clear exit plan. US forces say that they can only use PH facilities upon the invitation of the PH government. That too is laughable since US forces are regularly going in and out of the country every month via port calls and military exercises,” Reyes said.

“There is also no empirical evidence to support the assertion that giving US forces access to our facilities will modernize our AFP. During the time of the US bases, and even under the VFA, the same argument was used yet our AFP still remained backward. There is nothing to support the claim that a military agreement will develop the country’s minimum credible defense posture,” he added.

Bayan will lead a week-long protest in time for the visit of US President Barack Obama. It has linked up with anti-bases activists in the United States, Japan and South Korea.

“The US pivot to Asia involves US allies shouldering the cost of hosting US forces. The US fiscal crisis is making it increasingly difficult for the US to sustain its self-appointed role of global policeman. It is why countries like Japan, South Korea, Philippines and Australia are being asked to share the burden by providing bases and access to bases,” Reyes said. ###

– See more at: http://www.bayan.ph/site/2014/04/us-access-pact-getting-a-rapist-to-protect-us-from-neighborhood-bully/#sthash.d22COKyF.dpuf

Ukraine Govt Attacks Pro-Russians…Putin Moves Troops…Ukraine Stops Killing—A PATTERN?

Ukrainian officials say that up to five pro-Russian militants were killed in an early morning operation outside Slovyansk. WSJ’s Paul Sonne joins the News Hub with a report. Photo: AP

Ukrainian forces moved in on a pro-Russian stronghold Thursday, killing several militants in a firefight at a roadside checkpoint, but quickly halted their advance after Russia activated the thousands of troops it has massed just across the border.

Moscow’s saber-rattling—launching new land and air military drills—left Ukraine’s new government in a quandary: whether to risk pressing ahead with what it calls its antiterrorist operation in the restive east, or risk more bloodshed and provoking an invasion. (Read the latest updates.)

Acting President Oleksandr Turchynov, who had ordered the military operation to restart on Tuesday, vowed it would continue even as a security official in Kiev said the operation in the eastern city of Slovyansk had been paused for reworking. Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry gave Moscow 48 hours to explain the military exercises along the border.

The Pentagon called those drills “exactly the opposite of what we have been calling on the Russians to do.”

Ukrainian soldiers moved against pro-Russian forces in Slovyansk on Thursday. Kiev halted the advance after Russia activated troops across the border Michal Burza/Zuma Press

U.S. officials said they didn’t know if the drills meant Russian President Vladimir Putin intends to intervene militarily in Ukraine. Some officials said they think it is a show of strength to reinforce his position before moving to reduce tensions and solidify his gains.

“We see movement, motion and activity,” said a senior military official. “It looks like muscle flexing by Moscow. But is it more than that?”

President Barack Obama said Thursday in Tokyo that Russia hasn’t been abiding by the spirit or letter of the international agreement reached a week ago in Geneva and intended to reduce tensions. Mr. Obama reiterated warnings that the U.S. is prepared to impose additional sanctions in days. Secretary of State John Kerry said Ukraine was holding up its end of the deal, but that Russia hasn’t taken a “single concrete step.”

Mr. Putin’s tone Thursday was less strident than that of his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, a day before.

A pro-Russian protester stood guard atacheckpoint near Donetsk, Ukraine. Several militants were killed elsewhere inafirefight Thursday. European Pressphoto Agency

Mr. Putin said the use of the Ukrainian army against its own citizens would be “a very serious crime,” but he stopped short of threatening military action. Mr. Lavrov had said an attack on Russians in Ukraine would be seen as an attack on Russia itself and require a response.

Despite that threat, Thursday marked the deadliest engagement yet between the military and the pro-Russian forces that seized control in 10 cities early this month.

Ukrainian military units moved in strongest on Slovyansk—a city that lies at the heart of the local insurgency. The Interior Ministry said they overran three checkpoints leading into the city, sparking gunbattles that left up to five militants dead.

Militants gave varying numbers of dead to Russian media, from two or three to as many as seven.

Footage broadcast from the scene showed thick columns of smoke rising from burning tires that had made up the roadblocks. Armored personnel carriers flying Ukrainian flags stood nearby and helicopters flew overhead.

Police said they had also taken control of a government building in the port city of Mariupol that had been in the hands of separatists since April 13, and that they had repulsed an attack on a military base in Artemovsk.

In response, Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said military exercises involving land and air forces had begun along the border.

Supporters of Kiev trained with weapons outside Donetsk on Thursday. Associated Press

Russia has had tens of thousands of troops massed there since last month and has threatened to intervene in eastern Ukraine if it felt ethnic Russians there were under threat.

“We are forced to react to this situation,” he said. He called Ukraine’s deployment of the military against the separatists “clearly uneven.”

“Permission has already been granted to use weapons against civilians,” he said. “If this military machine isn’t stopped today, it will lead to a greater number of dead and wounded.”

Even before he spoke, however, it appeared that the Ukrainian forces had stopped. A senior security official in Kiev said Ukraine had paused its operation to take back Slovyansk “to reformulate the plan,” because of a “heightened risk” of Russia sending in troops.

During the day, a Ukrainian helicopter had dropped leaflets over Slovyansk, advising civilians to avoid mass rallies and to be mindful of being used as human shields by the heavily armed men who control the city. But there was no military move into the city itself, and no reports of other assaults.

“Russia started to flex its muscles, and they suspended” the operation, said Marina Belushenko, a local resident. Still, she said, “people are confused, some have left the city.”

A U.S. video journalist who had been held by the militants in Slovyansk since Tuesday was set free, according to his employer. Simon Ostrovsky of Vice News “has been safely released and is in good health,” the company said, without providing further details.

In downtown Slovyansk, many shops were open and life continued as normal, albeit in a subdued state, according to residents. “There’s no panic, but there’s fear,” said Pavel Palaguta, a local journalist. He also said some of his friends had left town to wait out the crisis.

[SEE: Hotspots Along the Ukraine-Russia Border ]

President Turchynov, who had ordered the military operation to restart on Tuesday after a local, pro-Kiev politician was found dead in Slovyansk, went on national television to say the assault would continue.

“We won’t retreat in the face of this terrorist threat and will continue taking steps to defend our citizens,” he said. “We demand that Russia stop intruding in our internal affairs, to stop its constant threats and blackmail, and to remove its forces from the eastern border.”

The interim government called for the U.S. and European Union to impose broad economic sanctions on Russia “as quickly as possible,” rather than solely targeting individuals as the West has done so far.

Speaking in Washington, Ukraine’s deputy foreign minister, Danylo Lubkivsky, also said his government needs increased military support from the West, including arms, to defend itself against Moscow’s aggression.

“We are definitely interested in getting all possible means to protect our people,” he said.

Senior U.S. officials have said in recent days that the White House isn’t prepared yet to sanction broad sectors of the Russian economy, such as energy, finance and defense. Both European and U.S. officials are assessing what effect such sanctions would have on their own economies.

Officials in Kiev have repeatedly accused Russia of having agents operating on the ground in the east to foment unrest. Russia denies this, but its troops on the border have raised fears that it could quickly mobilize.

Ukraine’s Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said there were no casualties in the predawn operation to take back the city council building in Mariupol, but local police said five people were hurt after a group of men armed with bats tried to force the pro-Russian protesters out.

Mr. Avakov said the city’s mayor had been returned to his office and police said they had confiscated 250 Molotov cocktails, baseball bats, clubs and two pistols.

Mr. Avakov also said that about 70 people had attacked a military base in the city of Artemovsk in an effort to seize weapons. He said the attack has been repulsed but that soldiers had been wounded. It wasn’t immediately clear if there were casualties among the attackers, he said.

—Philip Shishkin in Donetsk, Ukraine; Jay Solomon in Washington and Colleen McCain Nelson in Tokyo contributed to this article.

Write to Lukas I. Alpert at lukas.alpert@wsj.com and Julian E. Barnes at julian.barnes@wsj.com

Langley Orders Reverse Rhetoric In Ukraine…Calling Putin Obama

Ukraine PM: Russia Wants to Start World War III 

voa

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk chairs a meeting in Kyiv, Apr. 25, 2014.

VOA News
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk is accusing Russia of wanting to occupy Ukraine “militarily and politically,” as both Kyiv and Moscow mass troops close to their mutual border.

Yatsenyuk warned Friday that Russia’s actions could lead to a wider military conflict in Europe. He told an interim Cabinet meeting that Moscow “wants to start World War III.”

U.S. President Barack Obama also criticized what he called Russia’s “further meddling” in eastern Ukraine, where armed, pro-Russian separatists have occupied government buildings.

Speaking in Seoul, Obama said he would talk to “key European leaders” later Friday about implementing wider sanctions in the event Russia further escalates the situation.

He said Russian President Vladimir Putin must decide whether he wants to see his country’s already fragile economy weakened further because he failed to act diplomatically in Ukraine.

His comments echoed that of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who said Thursday that Moscow is making “an expensive mistake” by failing to restrain the separatists.

Underscoring the threat to Moscow’s economy, credit agency Standard and Poor’s cut Russia’s credit rating to BBB- . The agency said it is concerned about increased capital outflows from Russia, and said the rating could be cut further if sanctions are tightened.

Both Obama and Kerry have accused Russia of failing to uphold the four-party deal it signed last week calling for all parties in Ukraine to lay down their weapons and vacate public buildings. Kerry said Moscow has not taken “a single step” to de-escalate tensions since the deal was signed in Geneva.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Friday blamed the West for raising tensions, saying the Pro-Russian militants would only lay down their weapons if the Ukrainian government first clears out its own protesters in the capital.

Lavrov also denounced Kyiv’s security operation to clear the pro-Russian militants, calling it a “bloody crime.” Ukrainian officials on Thursday said the crackdown killed up to five people.

Ukraine’s Interior Minister Arsen Avakov is vowing the operation will continue. On his Facebook page, Avakov said “terrorists should be on guard 24 hours a day,” but that civilians have nothing to fear.

The flurry of diplomatic exchanges come amid rising tensions along the Ukraine-Russian border, where a huge Russian military force is gathered. A Ukrainian diplomat at the United Nations told VOA that Moscow has doubled its military presence on the border to about 80,000 troops.

Captagon Pipeline To Sudan Disrupted By Beirut–THE JIHAD WILL HAVE TO GO COLD TURKEY

[SEE: CAPTAGON—Saudi Mind Control Drug of Choice ]

14 Million Captagon Pills Seized in Sudan after Tip from Beirut

W460

Sudanese police has managed to seize 14 million Captagon narcotic pills that were smuggled from Beirut, following a tip-off from Lebanon’s Central Anti-Drug Bureau.

According to a statement issued by the Internal Security Forces, the aforementioned bureau had obtained “confirmed intel about the smuggling of five containers carrying corn and Captagon from the Port of Beirut to Sudan.”

Consequently, the bureau passed on the information to Sudan’s anti-narcotics authority, which managed to confiscate the containers upon their arrival at Khartoum’s port, the ISF added.

“A quantity of 14 million Captagon pills were found inside and three members of the smuggling gang were arrested,” the ISF said.

The statement mentioned that the operation comes on the heels of seizing five million Captagon pills in Dubai following similar cooperation with its police department.

Two weeks ago, around 15 million Captagon pills were seized at Beirut’s port before being trafficked to Dubai.

Another Fugitive Abdullah Azzam Leader Survives Assassination

[SEE: Leb. Army Busts Top Dog from Abdullah Azzam In Ain el-Hilwen Camp  ; Lebanese Authorities Busy Interrogating Key To Entire Sunni Islamist Terrorist Suicide-Bomber Network ]

Wanted Islamist escapes assassination in Sidon

daily star LEB

By Mohammed Zaatari

Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp

SIDON, Lebanon: An Islamist belonging to an Al-Qaeda affiliated group survived an assassination attempt Wednesday in the southern Palestinian refugee camp of Ain al-Hilweh.

Security sources told The Daily Star Mohammad Abdullah Jumaa, a Palestinian, traded gunfire with two attackers who surprised him as he left Al-Nour mosque after performing the dawn prayer.

The sources said Jumaa, a member of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, is wanted by Lebanese authorities on multiple charges.

The Brigades have claimed responsibility for a number of attacks in Lebanon, including separate twin suicide bombings in November and February targeting the Iranian embassy, which killed scores.

The Army has arrested several suspects belonging to the Al-Qaeda-linked group, including Jamal Daftardar and Palestinian Naim Abbas, who are accused of killing and attempted killing of civilians as well as belonging to terrorist organizations.

Jomaa, who has been missing for over a month, is also linked to Abbas, whose arrest helped the military thwart several planned attacks in the country.

Oman Fights Saudi Bid for Persian Gulf Hegemony with Iran Pipeline Plan

Oman Fights Saudi Bid for Persian Gulf Hegemony with Iran Pipeline Plan

farsnews

Oman Fights Saudi Bid for Persian Gulf Hegemony with Iran Pipeline Plan

TEHRAN (FNA)- Oman’s plan to build a $1bln natural-gas pipeline from Iran is the latest sign that Saudi Arabia is failing to bind its smaller Persian Gulf neighbors into a tighter bloc united in hostility towards Tehran, media reports said.

The accord was signed during Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s visit to Oman last month, and marks the first such deal between Iran and a Persian Gulf Cooperation Council (PGCC) state in more than a decade, Iran Focus reported. Saudi Arabia’s oil reserves and population exceed the combined total of the PGCC’s other five members, yet it has struggled to impose policy on its smaller neighbors. Some are uncomfortable with Saudi opposition to changes in the region including the US-Iranian thaw and the rise of political Islam.

Oman faces Iran across the Strait of Hormuz, the world’s most important trade route for crude shipments.

Oman is well placed to benefit from Iran’s reintegration into the global economy, which would only strengthen the two nations’ historic ties.

Oman isn’t the only PGCC country that hasn’t adopted Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy. Qatar has refused to toe the Saudi line on another regional issue, supporting political Islamists including the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt after the 2011 revolts.

Iran’s Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh told reporters on the sidelines of the signing ceremony that the contract followed long talks and meetings held with his Omani counterpart in Tehran.

Zanganeh said that during a visit to Tehran by Oman’s Sultan Qaboos seven months ago, the two sides drafted an agreement to export Iran’s gas to Oman.

In relevant remarks, Zanganeh was asked if Iran has come into terms with Oman for entering the gas retail market of the Arab country. “Some agreements have been held in this regard and we will reach good results during this trip (to Masqat).”

Iran sits atop the world’s largest gas reserves. Iran is currently producing more than 700 mcm/d of sour gas which is fed into petrochemical plants, power plants, domestic industries, oil wells and households. A portion of this production is exported.

Iranian officials have repeatedly underlined that they attach great importance to the consolidation of Tehran’s relations with the Middle-East countries, specially with the Persian Gulf littoral states, in order to protect and promote peace and security in the region.

Pakistan Moves Heaven and Earth To Silence Pak Media Criticism of ISI

Pemra chief ‘sacked’  4-17

Geo News senior anchor Hamid Mir was shot six times  4-20

Third party exploited senior journalist’s criticism of ISI

Pakistan’s Geo TV in trouble for accusing ISI over attack on journalist Hamid Mir

ndtv

Edited by Zoya Anna Thomas

Pakistan's Geo TV in trouble for accusing ISI over attack on journalist Hamid Mir

File picture of journalist Hamid Mir.

Karachi:  Pakistan’s Defence Ministry today moved to cancel private news channel Geo TV’s license, saying that it has accused the ISI of attacking journalist Hamid Mir, without evidence.

The attack on leading Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir last week in Karachi had led to unprecedented criticism and discussion on television channels about the ISI’s dubious role.

The President of Geo TV, Imran Aslam, has openly accused the ISI of targeting journalists, calling for a probe.

Mr Mir was shot and wounded on Saturday in an attack that his family also alleged was orchestrated by the Inter Services Intelligence or ISI.

According to a statement released in Karachi, the Defence Ministry has provided the authority with evidence that suggests the media group is involved in smearing the image of ISI.

“The news channel has breached the code of conduct by accusing Director General of ISI Lt Gen Zaheerul Islam of masterminding the attempt on senior journalist Hamid Mir,” the statement said. “All those who are involved in the mala fide broadcast, riddled with baseless allegations, will be taken to task.”

Hamid Mir, who hosts a prime-time current affairs talk show on the Geo News channel, was attacked on Saturday while travelling by car to his office from the airport in Karachi.

The government has announced a special commission to investigate the attack and offered a $100,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of those responsible.

A spokesman for Karachi’s Aga Khan University Hospital said Mr Mir was “conscious and stable”.

The shooting came less than a month after gunmen tried to murder another prominent liberal journalist, Raza Rumi, known for criticising the Taliban.

Have We Been Fighting On the Wrong Side of the Durand Line, All Along?

Pakistan militants prepare for war in Afghanistan

ap

  • Pakistan Preparing For War

     

    FILE – In this Sept. 20, 2008, file photo, a five-star hotel burns down following a bomb explosion in Islamabad, Pakistan. Militants in Pakistan’s most populous province are said to be training for what they expect will be an ethnic-based civil war in neighboring Afghanistan after foreign forces withdraw. In the past two years the number of Punjab-based militants deploying to regions bordering on Afghanistan has tripled. While militants from Punjab province have long sought refuge and training in the tribal regions, they confined their hostility to Pakistan’s neighbor and foe, India. (AP Photo/B.K. Bangash, File)

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Militants in Pakistan’s most populous province are said to be training for what they expect will be an ethnic-based civil war in neighboring Afghanistan after foreign forces withdraw in 16 months, according to analysts and a senior militant.

In the past two years the number of Punjab-based militants deploying to regions bordering on Afghanistan has tripled and is now in the thousands, says analyst Mansur Mehsud. He runs the FATA Institute, an Islamabad-based think tank studying the mix of militant groups that operate in Pakistan’s tribal belt running along much of the 2,600-kilometer (1,600-mile) Afghan-Pakistan border.

Mehsud, himself from South Waziristan where militants also hide out, says more than 150 militant groups operate in the tribal regions, mostly in mountainous, heavily forested North Waziristan. Dotted with hideouts, it is there that Al Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri is thought by the U.S. to be hiding, and where Afghanistan says many of its enemies have found sanctuary.

While militants from Punjab province have long sought refuge and training in the tribal regions, they were fewer in number and confined their hostility to Pakistan’s neighbor and foe, India.

All that is changing, say analysts.

“Before, they were keeping a low profile. But just in the last two or three years hundreds have been coming from Punjab,” said Mehsud. “Everyone knows that when NATO and the American troops leave Afghanistan there will be fighting between Pashtuns and non-Pashtuns.”

And the Punjabi militants will side with the Afghan Taliban, who are mostly Pashtun, Afghanistan’s dominant ethnic group and the majority ethnic group in Pakistan’s northwest region that borders Afghanistan. Like many in the Taliban, the Punjabi militants share a radical and regressive interpretation of Islam.

“We will go to Afghanistan to fight alongside the Taliban as we have done in the past,” said a senior member of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), a militant Sunni Muslim group, who goes by a nom de guerre, Ahmed Zia Siddiqui.

In an interview with The Associated Press in Pakistan, he said the Taliban haven’t yet requested help, but when asked whether Punjab-based militants were preparing for war in Afghanistan after the foreign withdrawal, he replied: “Absolutely.”

Despite being outlawed in Pakistan, Siddiqui’s group is among the most active and violent, providing a cadre of suicide bombers for attacks both in Pakistan and in Afghanistan. It has taken responsibility for dozens of attacks that have killed hundreds of minority Shiites in Pakistan.

It has also been implicated in some of the most spectacular attacks in Pakistan, including the 2008 bombing of a five-star hotel in the capital and an assassination attempt on former dictator and U.S. ally Gen. Pervez Musharraf.

Zahid Hussain, whose books plot the rise of militancy in Pakistan, said at least two dozen militant groups are headquartered in Punjab province, while in Waziristan their numbers are growing as mainstream religious parties such as Jamaat-e-Islami recruit young men to the militant cause.

“Even if a settlement occurs in Afghanistan there are still a lot who will continue to fight and those who are most likely to resist a settlement are Pakistani militants,” Hussain said. He said that during a recent trip he made to North Waziristan, local tribesmen spoke of the influx of Punjab-based militants into their area. Foreign journalists are not allowed in the tribal regions.

Pakistan’s new elected civilian government has promised a strategy to tackle the militants whose actions, says Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, are a scourge that has killed upward of 40,000 Pakistanis in recent years.

In a televised speech last month, he lamented Pakistan’s inability “to restrict the culprits or even identify them, to spot their hideouts and take them to task.”

“Pakistan cannot tolerate this anymore,” he said.

While Sharif suggested that “incompetence or insensitiveness” were to blame, analysts accuse the government of lacking the political will to go after the militants. They say Sharif’s conservative Pakistan Muslim League rules Punjab province, where militant headquarters are easy to spot and are left undisturbed.

In the south Punjab city of Bahawalpur, the al-Qaida linked Jaish-e-Mohammed is expanding its headquarters and building bigger religious schools for its adherents, said Ayesha Saddiqa, a defense analyst from Bahawalpur. The militant group has radicalized locals, and its leader, Azhar Masood, freed from an Indian jail in 1999 in exchange for a hijacked Indian Airlines plane, moves about freely, she said.

Punjab “is infested with numerous jihadi outfits that support the Taliban based in the tribal areas from time to time,” said Saddiqa. “The Punjabi jihadis are critical of the war in Afghanistan and Western presence in the region. This is not just an objection to foreign presence in a Muslim country but is part of a larger war they hope to fight in establishing supremacy of Islam according to their interpretation and imagination.”

Omar Hamid Khan, the Interior Ministry spokesman, says violence has escalated since the Sharif government took office in June, with 68 attacks in 60 days.

In a recent interview he acknowledged the difficulties the new government faces in meeting its stated goals of creating a counter-terrorism authority and competent police force, and finding experts to translate its national security blueprint into action.

Dr. Simbal Khan, a regional security expert with the Islamabad Policy Research Institute in Islamabad, said Pakistan doesn’t want to see Afghanistan return to the 1990s, when civil war destroyed the country and gave rise to the repressive Taliban regime which in turn strengthened Pakistan’s militants. Yet Pakistan’s options are few, and according to Dr. Khan exclude an all-out assault on militant hideouts in Punjab that would turn the full force of militancy against Pakistan.

“We know where they are. We could bomb the whole area, flatten it. That would solve Afghanistan’s problem but what would that leave for us?” she asked. “We might solve the Afghan problem but our problem would be far worse. We would suffer for the next 40 years.”

___

Kathy Gannon is AP Special Regional Correspondent for Pakistan and Afghanistan and can be followed on www.twitter.com/kathygannon .

 

Why the Taliban will win

Afghan election: Why the Taliban will win

the star_logo

The West invaded Afghanistan, but Pakistan may have been the “true enemy” — and the real power behind the current election.
Afghan election: Why the Taliban will win

AREF KARIMI / AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Afghans stood up to the Taliban and voted on April 5, with Ink-stained fingers proving they had cast a ballot.

An Afghan woman in a burka flips an ink-stained middle finger to a Talib armed with a Kalashnikov to show she was unafraid to cast her vote in the presidential election.

The cartoon has been widely circulated on social media among urban, Internet-savvy young Afghans, who have grown up with U.S. presence — memorably described as “Generation America” by the Wall Street Journal.

“This is our Afghan people’s message to insurgents and enemies,” tweeted Omaid Sharifi, a young political activist in Kabul who shared the cartoon.

Images of large crowds of men and women waiting in (separate) lines outside polling centres in cities like Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif and the inky fingers proving they cast a ballot were exchanged on Twitter and Facebook, helping Afghans win the world’s admiration for standing up to the Taliban and voting on April 5.

About 58 per cent of eligible voters, or 7 million out of 12 million, turned out, according to the Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan, a figure close to the 61 per cent of Americans who cast a ballot in the last U.S. election.

With 500,000 ballots counted, Abdullah Abdullah, an eye specialist and former foreign minister, had the lead with 41.9 per cent of the vote. Ashraf Ghani, once a World Bank executive, was in second place at 37.6 per cent.

The final winner will be announced on April 24. If no candidate wins a clear majority, a runoff is expected in May.

But the euphoria of election day may be an urban story.

To paraphrase Gandhi, Afghanistan’s soul lives in its villages, and villagers are far removed from city folks on Facebook. For them, the elections were violent. There were 690 attacks aimed at disrupting the election, according to the Afghan defence ministry. Most happened in the rural east and south, areas bordering Pakistan where the Taliban is entrenched.

The next Afghan president will govern a fractured country and take on a fearsome insurgency and tribal warfare without the military and financial muscle provided by the U.S. and its NATO allies, who are packing up Humvees and flying home for good as ballot boxes strapped to donkeys arrive from mountain villages. It is unlikely the insurgents will fade into the mountains.

In Afghanistan's remote villages, the recent elections were violent, with 690 attacks aimed at disrupting the vote, according to the Afghan defence ministry. Here, a man carries election materials back to his village.

SHAH MARAISHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images

In Afghanistan’s remote villages, the recent elections were violent, with 690 attacks aimed at disrupting the vote, according to the Afghan defence ministry. Here, a man carries election materials back to his village.

Other, more complex factors are at work besides the simplistic pro- or anti-democracy narrative usually applied to Afghans.

Much of what happens, particularly in the border provinces, will depend on the reaction in Pakistan.

 


 

In December 2001, a war council convened in Peshawar, the Pakistani frontier town. Most of the world was celebrating the success of the U.S.-led air campaign against the Taliban, but the 60 men gathered in the meeting hall were in no mood to concede defeat.

Afghan commanders and Pakistani religious and militant leaders discussed how to confront the U.S. military and its allies. Watching from the sidelines were Pakistani military and intelligence figures who helped bring the Taliban to power in the 1990s, writes New York Times journalist Carlotta Gall, who recounts the meeting in her new book, The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan, 2001-2014.

“For Islamabad, it was the worst possible scenario because it had taken two decades to build their influence in Kabul,” she writes.

A new generation of anti-Taliban leaders was in power in Kabul backed by the U.S. And they weren’t village mullahs ready to do Islamabad’s bidding. Among the political elite was Ghani, the finance minister, Abdullah, the foreign minister whose northern militia were among those who fought the longest against Taliban rule, and Zalmai Rassoul, the courtly civil aviation minister from an old aristocratic family. Today, they are the leading contenders in the presidential election.

Afghan Presidential candidates (L/R): Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, Abdullah Abdullah and Zalmai Rassoul

AFP/Getty Images

Afghan Presidential candidates (L/R): Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, Abdullah Abdullah and Zalmai Rassoul

The decision was made at the Peshawar meeting to “trip up America,” one of the men said, according to Gall. Afghanistan was divided into operation zones and each commander assigned a region.

Tripping up America was exactly what they did during the next decade.

Gall puts the war in a different, more troubling context: Pakistan’s ongoing determination to use militants as proxies and drive out America so it can continue a 40-year pursuit to dominate its weak neighbour.

“Pakistan, not Afghanistan, has been the true enemy,” concludes Gall, accusing Pakistan, supposedly America’s ally, of “driving the violence in Afghanistan for its own cynical, hegemonic reasons.”

Those reasons have to do with India, Pakistan’s old enemy, and a desire for a malleable state next door in Afghanistan.

Failure to see regional dynamics clearly has come at a great cost to the West.

From 2001 to 2006, when Canadian and British troops arrived in the south, Gall details how the Quetta Shura was formed in the eponymous Pakistani city and with the help of the S Directorate, a top-secret unit within Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan’s main spy agency, and fomented violence in Afghanistan. She alleges the S Directorate is responsible for covert operations in Kashmir and Afghanistan, gives weapons, ammunition and fuel to the Taliban and co-ordinates support for its offensives.

“This was a covert program and designed to be deniable,” she writes.

The Taliban and their Pakistani backers were able to exploit the errors and missed opportunities made by the U.S., its allies and Afghans.

If the outgoing president, Hamid Karzai, had guaranteed the Taliban’s exiled leaders in Pakistan that they could return home peacefully, the insurgency’s strength could have been sapped, particularly since Pakistani intelligence was warning insurgents that unless they fought in Afghanistan they would be handed over to Americans who would ship them to Guantanamo Bay.

“For many Taliban members in exile there were few options,” she notes.

Lack of understanding of tribal culture in the south was also catastrophic.

British troops did not realize that a tribal civil war was underway in Helmand province when they arrived in 2006 and worsened the situation, writes former British army captain Mike Martin in his book An Intimate War: An Oral History of Helmand 1978-2012.

As the Afghans fought over land and water, the ISI attempted to control the south through a campaign of assassinations and offers to fund disgruntled farmers fighting poppy eradication — and the British.

The British had little clue.

In 2006, as Canadian troops arrived, the Quetta Shura deployed the notorious Mullah Dadullah to capture the south.

The high number of civilians killed by NATO airstrikes and the posting of predatory officials in key government and police roles were huge sources of anger among Afghans, both authors write.

The Taliban’s offensive continued as they attempted to lay siege to the capital with road blocks, assassinations and IEDs.

Gall notes that many attacks bore the hallmarks of Pakistani involvement. During the January 2008 bombing of the Serena Hotel in Kabul, the two suicide attackers called their controllers in Pakistan 14 times. After the Indian Embassy bombing that left 50 dead, American and Afghan surveillance intercepted phone calls from ISI officials discussing the siege.

The patterns were similar: suicide bombers breach the outside security perimeter, gunmen and bombers rush in from behind, a degree of planning and expertise that suggest military training, Gall notes.

“The aim is to make the cost too high for everyone to continue backing the Karzai government. The ISI want them to all go home,” she writes.

As the violence reached new levels, with thousands of civilians dying every year, grown men cried on Afghan television, pleading for Karzai and the Americans to end the violence. A rattled government spokesman appeared on Tolo television after one particularly brutal attack on Kabul in 2011, yelling obscenities at the Taliban and describing them as “hairy barbarians.”

Karzai himself began to show signs of unravelling. He burst into tears in public and threatened to join the Taliban as he continued to tell the Americans to look at ISI headquarters and the madrassas as sources of the insurgency — which led to his falling out with his Washington benefactors.

One counterterrorism official told Gall that Pakistan’s purpose is to keep Afghanistan violent so it can play a larger role in the region’s politics, using “chaos as a principal weapon.”

The 350,000-strong Afghan army and police, trained and funded by international donors, face a tough fight when foreign forces leave.

To this end, Ghani, Abdullah and Rassoul have promised to sign a bilateral security agreement, a long-term arrangement with Washington to keep a contingent of military personnel in the country after 2014 for training and counter-insurgency.

Omar Samad, the former Afghan ambassador to Canada, said the agreement is critical.

“Without that signature, we are taking a major risk and a gamble, and it will to an extent impact the morale of the Afghan army as well as the effectiveness of the security forces,” he said in a telephone interview.

Against this backdrop, Afghans went to the ballot box.

 


 

It is doubtful that Pakistan’s attempts to bring Afghanistan to heel will end. A spokesman for the Haqqania madrassa in Pakistan, which has pumped out suicide bombers, made this vow to Gall:

“The white flag of the Taliban will fly again over Kabul,” he said.

Thousands of Punjab-based militants have gathered at the Afghan border to fight with the Taliban once foreigners leave, Associated Press journalist Kathy Gannon reported last September. She was recently shot and wounded in Afghanistan.

To prevent the country from falling apart, the next Afghan president will need to deftly win over the restive tribes in the south. Ghani and Abdullah sent thousands of campaign observers there to monitor election fraud, said Graeme Smith, senior analyst in Kabul for the International Crisis Group.

“They were the only ones really pushing out into the districts,” he said in a telephone interview.

For the cast of supporting actors in the American-led mission, including Canada, none of this may matter. Canadians may be able to retreat and leave it for historians to debate the value of the 12-year engagement.

But for the Afghans waiting for the results of the ballot box, that option is not available.

BP busier than ever in the Gulf of Mexico

Four years later: BP busier than ever in the Gulf of Mexico

fuel fix

 

HOUSTON — BP’s oil empire began to shrink many decades before a massive oil spill first fouled the Gulf of Mexico and then nearly toppled its industry reign four years ago Sunday.

Forty years ago, Saudi Arabia and other oil-rich states began to siphon BP’s 1 billion barrels of Middle Eastern oil — four-fifths of its reserves in 1975 — into state-owned companies like Saudi Aramco. That tightening grip on global oil is one big reason BP, even after the worst offshore oil spill in American history, is doubling down on the Gulf of Mexico.

The London oil company in 2012 sold stakes in three deep-water Gulf fields in part to collect cash for oil spill costs. But in the past year, BP has begun to regain its momentum and help push the U.S. deep-water region past its previous oil production peak, reached in 2009.

BP has rebuilt its armada of deep-water drilling rigs to nearly double its size before April 20, 2010, fired up three big expansion projects since last April and in March reached a deal with the federal government to lift a 16-month suspension from entering into new federal contracts for leases in Gulf oil fields.

“We’re fully back in,” said Richard Morrison, regional president of BP’s Gulf of Mexico business, in a recent interview with FuelFix.

Gulf growth: BP builds its largest-ever Gulf of Mexico fleet

The Gulf has become one of BP’s most profitable regions in the world, and the company has produced only about a fifth of the reserves from its four giant Gulf fields. Those, along with newly discovered ultradeep-water oil patches, “will keep our geologists and rigs busy for the next several decades,” Morrison said. “That’s why we have confidence in the future.”

It’s a turnaround that relieved many who had feared the deep water of the Gulf of Mexico would succumb to political entanglements and lose its status as a major oil lode.

The government put a moratorium on some deep-water operations for several months after the accident, and the aftermath of that suspension all but stopped BP and other producers’ drilling and well completions in 2011 and 2012.

But activity has picked up. Last April, BP started a major expansion project at its Atlantis North field. Two months ago, it boosted its daily oil crop at the Na Kika field southeast of New Orleans and reaped rewards from its partnership with Royal Dutch Shell, which started up production from its Olympus platform about 130 miles south of New Orleans.

By 2020, BP expects the Gulf to deliver a larger share of operating cash than any of its other regions.

Its large projects are among several slated to come online that will boost overall Gulf production 35 percent over the next two years, according to Wood Mackenzie.

The Houston-based research firm expects the region’s daily harvest to rise from 1.4 million barrels in 2014 to 1.9 million barrels in 2016 — its highest level ever  — boosted by projects including Hess Corp. and Anadarko Petroleum expansions planned this year, and by growing production from Noble Energy and Exxon Mobil’s fields.

Deep water: BP starts pumping crude at major Gulf project

Spending in the region could hit $17 billion this year, 20 percent over 2013, according to Wood Mackenzie.

BP has told investors it aims to spend $40 billion over the next decade expanding its Thunder Horse, Atlantis, Mad Dog and Na Kika fields and exploring for new discoveries in the Gulf. It also wants to boost its Gulf daily production from 189,000 barrels last year to 300,000 barrels in 2018.

With high-pressure wells that flow large volumes of oil, the Gulf is an attractive investment for BP and other companies that have the scale and technological capability to tackle massive deep-water oil fields, Morrison said.

But while the Gulf’s economics are attractive, Big Oil has been running out of alternatives for nearly half a century. BP, formerly British Petroleum, and other international oil companies had controlled nearly every drop of oil in the Middle East until the early 1970s, when tension between Britain and Libya culminated in the nationalization of BP’s oil assets in that North African nation.

Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi, Iraq and other Arab states followed suit over the next decade, clamping down on reserves that international companies had developed after World War II. By 1983, the amount of oil that BP shipped out of the Middle East had fallen to less than 1 percent of the 1 billion barrels it had moved out of the region only eight years before.

By the end of the last decade, nationalized oil companies owned more than 85 percent of the world’s known oil reserves. And international oil giants were producing less than 25 percent of the world’s output, said Praveen Kumar, a University of Houston finance professor and executive director of the UH Global Energy Management Institute.

“That’s what’s driving these international oil companies to the Gulf of Mexico,” Kumar said. “They’ve essentially been shut out of ownership of the world’s known oil reserves. They’ve been aware since the 1990s that to grow production, they have to move into these technologically challenging locations.”

Gulf return: BP makes first bids on Gulf drilling rights since post-spill suspension

Those locations include extreme settings such as the massive Kashagan field in the Caspian Sea, near the coast of Kazakhstan, where a Big Oil consortium has struggled for years and spent $40 billion. Production there was delayed late last year after operators discovered a gas leak.

Yet the Gulf of Mexico has presented its own challenges.

Four years ago, BP’s Macondo well off the Louisiana cost blew out — killing 11 workers on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig and spilling millions of barrels of oil into the ocean.

The disaster demonstrated how a single accident can inflict immense costs on a company and an entire region.

BP has spent billions of dollars on oil spill costs, raising the cash by selling $38 billion in assets in a program that cut half its pipelines, half its installations, 35 percent of its wells and 10 percent of its reserves.

BP CEO Bob Dudley has said the strategy will focus the company on creating value, rather than hanging on to low-margin volumes.

BP’s market value as of Friday was $151 billion — $32 billion below its level April 19, 2010.

Investors are watching for rulings from U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier of New Orleans, who is overseeing the tangle of litigation arising from the spill and eventually will set fines under the Clean Water Act that could reach $18 billion.

After the spill, federal regulators set stricter rules around deep-water drilling, including a requirement for weekly tests of blowout preventers — the stacks of valves and rams that sit at the top of a well as a final line of defense should pressure rise beyond operators’ control.

Legal clash: BP digs in as last leg of Gulf oil spill trial approaches

The requirement has slowed drilling operations and increased costs for many companies, said Nimmi Henderson, Wood Mackenzie’s lead analyst on the Gulf of Mexico upstream business.

“Companies are working with a new normal in the Gulf,” Henderson said, adding that some companies have equipped their rigs with secondary blowout preventers.

Still, BP continues to pour money into the region. In a federal auction last month, it spent $42 million to win 24 bids on new blocks in the Gulf of Mexico. That’s on top of its 620 lease blocks there, the largest position of any company in the Gulf.

The company’s rebound in the Gulf, however, would not be possible without first prioritizing increased safety on its deep-water rigs, Morrison said.

BP, he said, has sharpened its safety procedures and organizational structures since 2011. Over the past four years, it has cut by 75 percent the number of accidents that harm crew members or damage equipment.

“It has been a long journey working through procedures and really getting systematic in how we approach our business,” Morrison said. “If you keep your operations running safely, you’ll keep them running well.”

The Real “Islamist” Danger–Both Sunni and Shia Jihadis Are Looking To Meet the “Mahdi”

Syria Fighters Await Apocalypse

onislam
OnIslam & News Agencies
SyriaWar-Apocalyptic-prophecies

BEIRUT – As the Syria’s three-year conflict claims more lives every day, a growing number of Sunni and Shiite fighters are joining the expanding sectarian war, with each side claiming that the war is a mark for the end of time and apocalypse.

“If you think all these mujahideen came from across the world to fight Assad, you’re mistaken,” a Sunni Muslim jihadi who uses the name Abu Omar and fights in one of the many anti-Assad Islamist brigades in Aleppo told Reuters on Tuesday, April 1.

“They are all here as promised by the Prophet. This is the war he promised – it is the Grand Battle,” he added.

For rebel and pro-Assad fighters, the war that started in March 2011 was promised in the 7th century in prophecies by Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

Though the whole world is already weary and troubled by this brutal war, with its heavy toll in human lives, some of these fighters still believe they have religious backing in some of the Prophet’s hadiths

One hadith by Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) mentions Syria as a main battlefield, naming cities and towns where blood will be spilled.

Hundreds of thousands of people will be killed. The whole region will be shaken from the Arabian Peninsula to Iraq, Iran and Jerusalem, according to some texts.

Saudi Arabia will collapse. Almost every country in the Middle East will face unrest.

A widely circulated hadith attributed to Prophet Muhammad says Sham, or Syria, is God’s favored land. Asked where the next jihad will be, he replies: “Go for Sham, and if you can’t, go for Yemen …(though) God has guaranteed me Sham and its people.”

Another refers to Muslims gathering “at the time of war in Ghouta, near a city called Damascus”. Ghouta, east of Syria’s capital, has been a rebel stronghold for the last two years.

But many scholars maintain skepticism about these hadiths and their relevance and applicability to the current war.

With diplomatic talks failing to achieve any progress, the rhetoric of the end of time war in which two huge Islamic armies will confront for a great battle near Damascus was getting stronger.

“We have here mujahideen from Russia, America, the Philippines, China, Germany, Belgium, Sudan, India and Yemen and other places,” said Sami, a Sunni rebel fighter in northern Syria.

“They are here because this is what the Prophet said and promised, the Grand Battle is happening.”

“These hadith are what the Mujahideen are guided by to come to Syria, we are fighting for this. With every passing day we know that we are living the days that the Prophet talked about,” Mussab, a fighter from the Nusra Front, added.

Shiites Too

Syria war was not important for Sunni Muslims only, drawing thousands of Shiite fighters from Iran, Lebanon and Iraq.

According to Shiite tradition, an early sign of his return came with the 1979 Iranian revolution, which set up an Islamic state to provide fighters for an army led by the Mahdi to wage war in Syria after sweeping through the Middle East.

“This Islamic Revolution, based on the narratives that we have received from the prophet and imams, is the prelude to the appearance of the Mahdi,” Iranian scholar and parliamentarian Ruhollah Hosseinian said last year.

Hosseinian cited comments by an eighth century Shiite imam who said another sign of the Mahdi’s return would be a battle involving warriors fighting under a yellow banner, the color associated with Lebanon’s pro-Assad Hezbollah militia.

“As Imam Sadeq has stated, when the (forces) with yellow flags fight anti-Shiites in Damascus and Iranian forces join them, this is a prelude and a sign of the coming of his holiness,” Hosseinian was quoted as saying by Fars news agency.

This rhetoric has been attracting a growing number of Shiite fighters from different countries.

Murtada, a 27-year-old Lebanese Shiite who regularly goes to Syria to battle against the rebels, asserted that he is not fighting for Assad, but for the Mahdi, also known as the Imam.

“Even if I am martyred now, when he appears I will be reborn to fight among his army, I will be his soldier,” he told Reuters in Lebanon.

“Nothing is more precious than the Imam, even my family. It is our duty.”

Abbas, a 24-year-old Iraqi Shiite fighter, said he knew he was living in the era of the Mahdi’s return when the United States and Britain invaded Iraq in 2003.

“That was the first sign and then everything else followed,” he told Reuters from Baghdad, where he said was resting before heading to Syria for a fourth time.

“I was waiting for the day when I will fight in Syria. Thank God he chose me to be one of the Imam’s soldiers.”

Abu Hsaasan, a 65 year old pensioner from south Lebanon, said he once thought the prophecies of the end of days would take centuries to come about.

“Things are moving fast. I never thought that I would be living the days of the Imam. Now, with every passing day I am more and more convinced that it is only a matter of few years before he appears.”

Both Sunnis and Shiites emphasize the ultimate goal of establishing an Islamic state which will rule the world before total chaos.

However, there are many scholars on both sides who are skeptical whether the Prophet’s Hadiths apply on the current war.

“Yes some of the signs are similar but these signs could apply at any time after the fall of the Islamic state (1,000 years ago),” one Sunni Muslim scholar in Lebanon said, asking that he not be identified.

“There is no way to confirm we are living those times. We have to wait and see.”

Afghan Peace Talks Exposed–Agha Jan Mutasim Is A US Mole, Tayeb Aga IS Taliban Rep, and Brother Baradar Still Captive In Pakistan

Taliban denounces former senior official, deny talking peace

Mullah Mutasim arrives in Kabul from Dubai

[The mysterious other “important task” which the real Taliban rep in Qatar (Tayeb Aga) was dealing with, while the “parallel negotiations” show was being staged with the Mutasim group, probably pertained to reconvening the previously stalled TAPI pipeline negotiations between the Taliban and the Saudis, which had been led by Prince Turki (SEE: Is the Whirling Dervish of TAPI Politics Finally Spinning America’s Way? ).   Dragon Oil of Dubai has since then, ended-up owning the rights to the natural gas in the Turkmen area of the Caspian.  The “parallel negotiations” may have been with Dragon Oil, making potential plans for after the American withdrawal from Afghanistan.]

No role in ‘Dubai initiative’: Qatar-based Taliban leaders

gulf times

The Taliban office in Doha.-File photo

By Salman Siddiqui/Staff Reporter

The Qatar-based Afghan Taliban leaders have not participated at any level in the so-called ‘Dubai initiative’ even though some of their members were present in the UAE during that time to carry out another “important task” of the ‘Islamic Emirate’, a top Taliban source told Gulf Times.
The official, who chose to remain anonymous, requested not to reveal what and with whom the other “important” matter was discussed on behalf of the ‘Islamic Emirate’ in the UAE until the “right time” came.
He, however, stressed that the  Karzai-led administration in Kabul was trying its best to divide their ranks by using people  such as the “former official of The Islamic Emirate” Agha Jan Mutasim, but he said that all such ‘tactics’ would fail and only further complicate efforts of peace and stability in Afghanistan.
“It is true that Aga Jan Mutasim in the past had held senior posts in the Emirate, including that of finance minister and also headed our political delegation before Tayeb Aga was tasked with his present responsibilities, but it should be clear to everybody now that he is not one of us and has no authority whatsoever to speak on behalf of the Taliban leadership,” the source said.
Tayeb Aga, a close aide of Taliban chief Mullah Omar, was appointed as head of the Taliban delegation based in Qatar, when the group opened its political office in June last year. The office was “temporarily” shut down after the Taliban “boycotted” talks when differences arose over the naming of the office and hoisting of their flag.
The former Taliban senior official Agha Jan Mutasim moved to Turkey after he survived an assassination attempt in Karachi in 2010. Last February, he claimed to have organised a high-level meeting in Dubai that was attended by current and former senior Afghan Taliban leaders. Further, it was said that Karzai’s High Peace Council members also met with these Taliban officials to work out an acceptable solution to the Afghan crisis in the aftermath of the US and Nato troops withdrawal from Afghanistan post 2014.
The Afghan Taliban had also issued a formal rebuttal statement to deny the ‘Dubai initiative’ and said: “The Islamic Emirate has delegated officials and a political office to conduct its political activities and if a need arises for contacts with any party, a responsible organ will be tasked with the permission of its head, under the guidance of its leadership and on the practical needs of Jihad.”
The issue is clearly of trust as the Afghan Taliban officials believe that their former comrade Agha Jan Mutasim is being used against them by the current Afghan administration.
Speaking about another senior leader of the Taliban movement, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who is regarded as the co-founder of the group along with Mullah Omar, the senior Taliban source told Gulf Times that all reports that he was set free by Pakistan were false.
“The entire world now knows that Mullah Barader was never set free and he remains in [Pakistan’s] custody,” he said.
The Taliban officials believe that extreme pressure was being applied on their senior leader Mullah Barader to join the camp of their erstwhile members such as Aga Jan Mutasim in Turkey in order to start a parallel peace process by sidelining the main Afghan Taliban leadership.
“But all their efforts have so far failed and Mullah Barader has remained loyal to the cause and refused to give in to any pressure,” the source said.
Also, the Taliban believe that the Karzai-led  administration “in cahoots with Pakistan” was still trying to change the location of their talks from Qatar to Turkey and Saudi Arabia. “We chose Qatar to open our political office only because of its role as a neutral mediator and any plans to forcibly change the location of talks will only lead to failure of the peace process,” he said.

ISIS accuses al-Qaeda of betrayal

[SEE: Al-Qaida In Iraq Leader Ignores Zawahiri, Absorbs Saudi al-Nusra Group]

ISIS accuses al-Qaeda of betrayal

alakhbar

A powerful rival organization has accused al-Qaeda leaders of betraying the jihadist cause, in the latest widening of divisions rooted in Syria’s civil war.

“Al-Qaeda today is no longer a base of jihad,” Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani said in a statement posted on jihadist forums.

“Its leadership has become a hammer to break the project of the Islamic State,” Adnani said, adding that “the leaders of al-Qaeda have deviated from the correct path.”

“They have divided the ranks of the mujahideen (holy warriors) in every place,” he said.

Powerful rebel groups in Syria, including al-Qaeda’s designated affiliate al-Nusra Front, have been locked in fierce fighting with ISIS since January that has killed thousands of fighters.

ISIS was initially welcomed by other rebels, who have been fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad since 2011, but allegations of brutal abuses against rival opposition fighters in a bid to capture territory sparked a backlash.

Both al-Nusra and ISIS have roots in al-Qaeda’s onetime Iraqi affiliate, the Islamic State of Iraq.

But the two have never merged, with al-Nusra’s leader rejecting a union proposed by ISIS, and al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri urging ISIS to return to Iraq after its fighters moved into Syria.

(AFP)

Was Jesus Christ An Anti-Jewish Roman PsyOp?

Jesus_070

We Invented Jesus Christ’ Why Governments Create False Histories and False Gods.

Ancient Confession Found: ‘We Invented Jesus Christ’

LisaLeaks  Madness magnolias

Biblical scholars will be appearing at the ‘Covert Messiah‘ Conference at Conway Hall in London on the 19th of October to present this controversial discovery to the British public.

“[Jesus Christ] may be the only fictional character in literature whose entire life story can be traced to other sources.”

American Biblical scholar Joseph Atwill will be appearing before the British public for the first time in London on the 19th of October to present a controversial new discovery: ancient confessions recently uncovered now prove, according to Atwill, that the New Testament was written by first-century Roman aristocrats and that they fabricated the entire story of Jesus Christ. His presentation will be part of a one-day symposium entitled “Covert Messiah” at Conway Hall in Holborn.

Although to many scholars his theory seems outlandish, and is sure to upset some believers, Atwill regards his evidence as conclusive and is confident its acceptance is only a matter of time. “I present my work with some ambivalence, as I do not want to directly cause Christians any harm,” he acknowledges, “but this is important for our culture. Alert citizens need to know the truth about our past so we can understand how and why governments create false histories and false gods. They often do it to obtain a social order that is against the best interests of the common people.”

Atwill asserts that Christianity did not really begin as a religion, but a sophisticated government project, a kind of propaganda exercise used to pacify the subjects of the Roman Empire. “Jewish sects in Palestine at the time, who were waiting for a prophesied warrior Messiah, were a constant source of violent insurrection during the first century,” he explains. “When the Romans had exhausted conventional means of quashing rebellion, they switched to psychological warfare. They surmised that the way to stop the spread of zealous Jewish missionary activity was to create a competing belief system. That’s when the ‘peaceful’ Messiah story was invented. Instead of inspiring warfare, this Messiah urged turn-the-other-cheek pacifism and encouraged Jews to ‘give onto Caesar’ and pay their taxes to Rome.”Tizian_014Was Jesus based on a real person from history? “The short answer is no,” Atwill insists, “in fact he may be the only fictional character in literature whose entire life story can be traced to other sources. Once those sources are all laid bare, there’s simply nothing left.” Atwill’s most intriguing discovery came to him while he was studying Wars of the Jews by Josephus [the only surviving first-person historical account of first-century Judea] alongside the New Testament. “I started to notice a sequence of parallels between the two texts,” he recounts. “Although it’s been recognized by Christian scholars for centuries that the prophesies of Jesus appear to be fulfilled by what Josephus wrote about in the First Jewish–Roman War, I was seeing dozens more. What seems to have eluded many scholars is that the sequence of events and locations of Jesus ministry are more or less the same as the sequence of events and locations of the military campaign of [Emperor] Titus Flavius as described by Josephus. This is clear evidence of a deliberately constructed pattern. The biography of Jesus is actually constructed, tip to stern, on prior stories, but especially on the biography of a Roman Caesar.”

How could this go unnoticed in the most scrutinized books of all time? “Many of the parallels are conceptual or poetic, so they aren’t all immediately obvious. After all, the authors did not want the average believer to see what they were doing, but they did want the alert reader to see it. An educated Roman in the ruling class would probably have recognized the literary game being played.” Atwill maintains he can demonstrate that “the Roman Caesars left us a kind of puzzle literature that was meant to be solved by future generations, and the solution to that puzzle is ‘We invented Jesus Christ, and we’re proud of it.’”

Is this the beginning of the end of Christianity? “Probably not,” grants Atwill, “but what my work has done is give permission to many of those ready to leave the religion to make a clean break. We’ve got the evidence now to show exactly where the story of Jesus came from. Although Christianity can be a comfort to some, it can also be very damaging and repressive, an insidious form of mind control that has led to blind acceptance of serfdom, poverty, and war throughout history. To this day, especially in the United States, it is used to create support for war in the Middle East.”

Atwill encourages skeptics to challenge him at Conway Hall, where after the presentations there is likely to be a lively Q&A session. Joining Mr.Atwill will be fellow scholar Kenneth Humphreys, author of the book “Jesus Never Existed.”

About Joseph Atwill: Joseph Atwill is the author of the best-selling book “Caesar’s Messiah” and its upcoming sequel “The Single Strand.”

Saudi spy chief ousted under US pressure

[On March 31, it seemed as though Bandar was trying to reassert himself after his recuperation/cool-off time-out in Morocco, or wherever (Prince Bandar bin Sultan back to the forefront).  By April 15 ( we have this on from the Saudi Press Agency), it had become apparent that the “Obamanites” had cut him off at the knees.  which reported that Bandar had been replaced.  Today, the 18th, we have the following report from Pakistan, which tells a little more of the story.  The photo below from Alalam.Iran is of an undetermined date.]

Saudi Prince Bandar officially removed from spy chief post

Yousef bin Ali Al-Idrisi (Left) shakes hands with Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (Center) as Prince Bandar bin Sultan (Right) watches

Yousef bin Ali Al-Idrisi (Left) shakes hands with Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (Center) as Prince Bandar bin Sultan (Right) watches.
Yousef bin Ali Al-Idrisi (Left) shakes hands with Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (Center) as Prince Bandar bin Sultan (Right) watches.

– See more at: http://en.alalam.ir/news/1585593#sthash.GFnQQdJb.dpuf

Saudi spy chief ousted under US pressure

the news pak

 

The exit of Saudi’s spy chief was the result of US pressure over his stance on Syria but does not signal a shift in Riyadh’s goal of toppling the Damascus regime, experts say.

 

Riyadh, as is usual, did not elaborate on its statement this week that Prince Bandar bin Sultan was being replaced, saying only that the veteran diplomat had asked to step down.

 

But a Saudi expert said that Washington — irritated for some time by Prince Bandar’s handling of the Syria dossier — had in December demanded his removal. Prince Bandar was leading Saudi Arabia’s efforts to finance, arm and unify the Syrian rebellion, which after three years of fighting is still far from its goal of overthrowing the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

 

The spy chief’s efforts were especially stymied by US objections to plans to supply the rebels with advanced weapons that could tip the military balance against Assad’s forces, which are increasingly gaining the upper hand on the ground.

 

Dubbed “Bandar Bush” for his strong links with former US president George Bush and his son George w Bush — forged during the time he served as ambassador to Washington — the Saudi royal has openly criticised the current US administration headed by the Democrats.

 

He vented his anger in front of Western diplomats when Washington stepped back after threatening a military strike following deadly chemical attacks in August outside Damascus that the West blamed on Assad forces. One diplomat revealed that Prince Bandar had on that occasion angrily said Riyadh no longer considered the United States to be its principal ally and that it would instead be seeking support from France and other powers.

 

The influential powerbroker was appointed intelligence chief in 2012.

 

His last public assignment was a failed attempt in December to press Russian President Vladimir Putin to abandon his support for Assad.

 

Experts underlined Prince Bandar’s encouragement to Islamists in Syria, which they said increased security threats already posed to the kingdom by Saudi Jihadists. “Prince Bandar’s aggressive Syria approach highlighted the gap between the expectations he set and Saudi Arabia’s intelligence and operational capabilities,” said Emile Hokayem, senior fellow for regional security at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

 

“Running a vast and complex effort to help bring down a foreign regime supported by Iran and Russia was simply beyond Riyadh’s ability,” he said. Saudi Arabia’s goal is especially difficult due to the “reluctance of its main Western partner and the conflicting agendas of other important regional players such as Turkey and Qatar,” he added.

 

Although the Arab heavyweight has supplied the rebels with “arms and rebels,” Hokayem said, it had to deal with armed groups that are “dangerous and undisciplined”. The Damascus government, on the other hand, enjoys strong support from Iran, which “could count on organised and well-trained proxies and allies,” such as Lebanon’s Hizbullah movement, he added.

 

Diplomats indicated in February that the kingdom had sidelined Prince Bandar from the Syrian dossier, assigning it to Interior Minister Prince Mohamed bin Nayef, known as the kingdom’s iron fist in the fight against al-Qaeda. Soon afterwards Riyadh announced tougher punishment for Saudi Islamists fighting abroad, warning that they could spend 20 years behind bars.

 

“The ballooning number of Saudi Jihadists in Syria — with probable negative consequences for the Saudi regime — and the setbacks suffered there contributed to a rethinking and consequently a reshuffling in Riyadh,” argues Hokayem.

 

Saudi analysts insist however that replacing Prince Bandar does not mean a shift in the Saudi position towards the Syrian conflict.

 

“There is no change. Saudi Arabia wants the fall of Bashar al-Assad,” stressed columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

 

“There is no such thing as the politics of Bandar. There is government policy as well as directives given by King Abdullah that any intelligence chief would implement,” he said.

 

For the time being Prince Bandar’s deputy, Yusef al-Idrissi, has been appointed as a caretaker but Saudi sources have said that another member of the royal family is likely to be named to the post.

 

 

Saudi, Wahhabi and Muslim Brotherhood Miscalculations

Saudi, Wahhabi and MB Miscalculations

Sharnoff's Global

 

The public schism between the Saudi, Wahhabi and the Muslim Brotherhood ideologues is neither new nor surprising.

Saudi MB

It’s another chapter in a centuries-old conflict between the regressive, impoverished desert dwelling founders, users and propagators of the rigid Hambali-based Wahhabi doctrine and the founders of and adherents to the philosophy of the Muslim Brotherhood which sprang from one of the world’s oldest civilizations.

The struggle between the adherents of these two opposing philosophical approaches to the practice of Islam is based on religious and geopolitical enmity dating back to the 19th century and represents a protracted contest for leadership of the Muslim World. The Saudi and Muslim Brotherhood ideologues differ only in degree as to how strictly the precepts of Islam should be observed and to what ends.

The Saudi/Wahhabi doctrine is based on the 18th century teachings of  the founder of the Wahhabi movement, Mohammed Ibn Abdul Wahhab, who was a disciple of Ibn Taymiyah, a follower of Ahmed Ibn Hambal, the founder of the Hambali brand of Islam which is considered the most rigid, rejectionist form, allowing “no scope for reason or independent thinking.” The Saudi/Wahhabi clans espoused a literal interpretation of fundamentalist Islam, insisting that all Muslim advances between the 7th century and the beginning of their movement in mid-18th century constituted deviations from true Islam. The Wahhabis still consider modern technology as dangerous to their beliefs and values.

The Saudi/Wahhabi clans’ debauched adherence to their interpretation and application of their repressive brand of Islam can be attributed to their social, political and geographical environments. Born and raised in the inhospitable land-locked impoverished desert of central Arabia (known as Nejd), the adherents to the Wahhabi doctrine were isolated from other civilizations, tolerant cultures and the infusion of evolutionary ideas that might have broadened their rigid perspectives. Given their unforgiving isolated environment and unbending, survivalist mentality, it’s not surprising that the Saudi/Wahhabi allies embraced the constricted interpretation of Islam as an end in itself, the only means which they believed would guarantee their survival, potential for conquest and absolute political and social control.

Because Islam was founded in their desert land and in order to ensure their survival and control, the Saudi/Wahhab rulers (the Houses of Al-Saud and Al-Alshaikh) claimed ownership of the faith and designated the Quran as their constitution and the arbitrary Shariah (Islamic law) as the law of the land when they established their kingdom in 1932. Additionally, they designated themselves as the guardians (Custodians) of Mecca and Madina, the holy shrines of the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims so that they can exert religious influence over Muslims worldwide.

Muslim Brotherhood origins

In contrast to the founders of the Wahhabi doctrine, the Muslim Brotherhood was founded by Hassan Al-Bana, an educated Egyptian socialist/nationalist who declared that the Quran should form the basis for the legal system in Egypt because he alleged that social justice and moral purity cannot be achieved and maintained under any other system. Ostensibly, he was revolting against social injustices and immoral practices which he blamed on the infusion of Western values in the evolving Egyptian society of the 1920s and 30s. Based on his education and background, including exposure to different philosophies of Islam such as Sufism (Islamic mysticism), Al-Banna developed a less rigid Sunni interpretation of Islam as a means to achieve social objectives.

While the Saudi/Wahhabi rulers and the Muslim Brotherhood (aka Brotherhood) share a type of religious totalitarianism (the rule of Islamic law rather than secular law), the Brotherhood is more tolerant of some modern values such as educational equality for women, semi-secular constitutions and acceptance of non-Muslim faiths and houses of worship in Egypt. For example, under the Saudi/Wahhabi system “women are excluded from studying engineering, journalism, pharmacy, and architecture,” an exclusion that does not apply to the Brotherhood’s philosophy or practice. Furthermore, the Saudi/Wahhabi rulers reject all forms of non-Islamic laws and not only prohibit public practice of non-Muslim faiths in their kingdom, but advocate destruction of Christian churches in the Arabian Peninsula.

Despite their different outlooks (as discussed above), experiences, cultural dissimilarities and mutual abhorrence, the two groups have one thing in common: use of their respective ideologies as a tool to vie for leadership among Arabs and Muslims. The Saudis and the Brotherhood have always competed with each other for power and influence even when they seemed to be cooperating.

Saudi manipulation

The Saudis have shrewdly manipulated their friends and foes to promote their interests and divert potential threats to their survival. For example, they publicly embraced Hassan Al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, and put him on their payroll in 1948. Presumably, they wanted to cultivate his goodwill and by doing so infiltrate and control or weaken his organization which they saw as a challenge to their ideological influence.

The Saudis further manipulated the Brotherhood to combat the rise of secular Arab nationalism in the 1950s, 60s and 70s under the leadership of President Nasser of Egypt who considered Arab religious movements and monarchies reactionary and obstacles to Arab unity. The Saudi rulers supported the Brotherhood’s efforts to undermine Nasser’s secularization of Egyptian society which the Saudis, like the Brotherhood, felt would weaken the appeal of both groups’ ideologies.

When Nasser turned against the Brotherhood and hanged their spiritual thinker, Syed Qutb in 1966, Saudi King Faisal, a staunch enemy of Nasser, welcomed a large number of the Brotherhood to stay and conduct their anti-Nasser activities from Saudi Arabia. However, during their stay in Saudi Arabia, the Muslim Brothers converted many Saudis to their way of thinking. With the ascendance of friendly Egyptian leaders such as Sadat and Mubarak after Nasser’s death, the Saudis’ need for the Brotherhood diminished. The assassination of pro-Saudi President Sadat in 1981 by soldiers associated with the Muslim Brotherhood further fueled Saudi rulers’ distrust of that organization.

9/11

Saudi acrimony toward the Brotherhood mushroomed publicly into open accusations and blame after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the US by mostly Saudi nationals, led by an Egyptian affiliated with the Brotherhood.

In a burst of emotion and anger, former Saudi Interior Minister Prince Naif blamed the Brotherhood for destroying Arabs and Islam. In a passionate interview with a Kuwaiti newspaper, Prince Naif was quoted as saying, “The Brotherhood has done great damage to Saudi Arabia.” He went on to say, “All our problems come from the Muslim Brotherhood. We have given too much support to this group… The Muslim Brotherhood has destroyed the Arab world.”

He blamed the Brotherhood for a list of wars and terrorist activities including the attack on the US on 9/11, the takeover of Islam’s holiest shrine, Mecca’s Grand Mosque in 1979 by Saudi zealots/nationalists and Saddam Hussein’s invasion and occupation of Kuwait in 1990-91. Even though Naif’s attack on the Brotherhood was meritorious, he was also hypocritical. The Saudi government and other wealthy Gulf rulers engage in subversive activities throughout the world. Naif’s accusations against the Brotherhood were presumably designed to deflect some of the global media’s unprecedented criticism of Saudi support for terrorists and extremists as well as to counteract the Brotherhood’s rising influence.

The Brotherhood’s recent geopolitical gains in Egypt and in other Arab countries due to the “Arab Spring,” combined with other events looming over Saudi Arabia had left its rulers more vulnerable, isolated and uncertain of their future than ever. Saudi failure to recruit support for their Syrian policy; their dwindling regional and global significance due to less dependence on Saudi oil and strategic location; the US and European Union’s flirting with Iran; likely ties between Israel and Iran and budding alliances between the Brotherhood and major Muslim states (e.g. Turkey, Iran and Qatar) have all coalesced to weaken the Saudis’ influence and threaten their sense of security.

Saudi/Brotherhood miscalculations

The Saudi/Brotherhood relations suffered a major blow immediately after the election of President Morsi due to his strategic outreach to Iran. Furthermore, the current Administration of the US, the Saudis’ most staunch ally, had voiced support for the Brotherhood as the legitimate government of Egypt.

These worrisome developments left the Saudis with no options but to counter the Brotherhood’s growing power not only in Egypt, but in Saudi Arabia, the other Gulf States and the Greater Middle East. Consequently, the Saudis joined with unlikely allies, secular and liberal Egyptians. Taking advantage of the anti-Brotherhood surge in Egypt, the Saudi rulers supported and financed the Egyptian military to depose the Brotherhood’s first elected government. This move halted the immediate spread of Brotherhood-instigated revolutionary movements in the Gulf States, as well as thwarting nascent alliances between the Brotherhood and major Sunni Arab and Muslim states.

While the Saudis have removed these immediate threats by using the Egyptian military to trample the Brotherhood, they may have only won a temporary victory. Like the Muslim Brotherhood’s colossal mistakes in governing Egypt, the Saudis may have made a perilous miscalculation by driving the group underground. Given their numerical strength in Egypt and throughout the world, their widely appealing social  philosophy among many Muslims and their delivery of significant social services, the Brotherhood will be in a stronger position to mobilize their imbedded cells, especially in the Gulf region, and do more damage to the autocratic Saudi and other Gulf monarchies than they would have, for pragmatic reasons, had they remained in power in Egypt.

Given their long history of enmity, as long as the Saudi and Muslim Brotherhood ideologues remain active, they will likely continue to struggle for leadership of the Muslim world.

Please share this article on FacebookTwitter and Google+

Dr. Ali Alyami is the founder and executive director of the Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, CDHR, in Washington, DC. CDHR focuses on promoting peaceful and incremental democratic reforms in Saudi Arabia, including empowerment of women, religious freedom, free flow of information, free movement, free press, privatization of government industries, free elections, non-sectarian constitution, and codified rule of law, transparency and accountabilityRead other articles by Ali.

India to pay Russia for arms, ammo it sells to Afghanistan

India to pay Russia for arms, ammo it sells to Afghanistan

the indian express

Written by Pranab Dhal Samanta

The first order under this deal, sources said, is already being executed. The first order under this deal, sources said, is already being executed.

Ahead of NATO troops downsizing their presence in Afghanistan, India has firmed up a far-reaching deal with Russia to supply arms to the troubled country under which New Delhi will pay for the military equipment that will be sourced from Moscow.

The deal, which had been under intense negotiations for the past few months, was clinched after a high-level Indian team made a quiet trip to Moscow in February and stitched up the loose ends even as Russia was bracing for the challenge in Ukraine.

The first order under this deal, sources said, is already being executed.

India, through the strategic partnership with Afghanistan, is committed to provide arms and ammunition to strengthen the Afghan National Army. The arrangement with Moscow allows New Delhi to fulfill this commitment, an issue on which Kabul has been sending reminders including detailed lists of its requirements.

The issue was debated at length on various occasions in the Cabinet Committee on Security, which eventually arrived at two conclusions — that India will have no troop presence in Afghanistan; and that India will not provide small arms even though some are manufactured domestically.

The logic behind the second decision was to avoid a situation where any India-marked small arms make their way into Kashmir or to the hinterland through terrorist outfits.

While Russia may separately supply its own range of Kalashnikovs, the Indian financing will largely focus on artillery guns, air support in the form of choppers and even armoured vehicles, including tanks.

A range of non-lethal items could also make it to the list depending on the nature of the requirement. Also part of the arrangement is an exercise to refit some old Russian-made equipment lying with Afghanistan for years, sources said, adding that a survey of such equipment has been carried out.

As of now, the ANA is a predominantly infantry force as the US, sources said, limited its access to long-range guns largely due to Pakistani concerns. But over the past of couple of years, Afghanistan has been pressuring countries such as India and Russia to properly equip the ANA if it has to repel Taliban offensives on its own.

On the training front, the Indian position remains the same. While trying to meet Afghan demands for more seats here, the government is still against setting up any facility in Afghanistan and posting instructors there. Sources pointed out that any such move may also invite strong Pakistani protests.

Besides, India has also held preliminary conversations with China on jointly improving the connectivity infrastructure in Afghanistan’s mining belt so that the resources can be better exploited. Both countries already have interests in specific mining projects and are looking to expand their presence, which would aid Afghanistan’s economy.

 

Pakistan and the War Within Islam

Pakistan and the Sunni Gulf

the diplomat

Pakistan and the Sunni Gulf

Image Credit: REUTERS/Mian Khursheed

Recent months have brought Islamabad a flurry of visits from leaders of Sunni gulf nations, prompting many observers to question just what Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif might be getting the already embattled country into.

Pakistan’s 190 million inhabitants include around 26 million Shiites, giving it the largest population of the minority Muslim sect’s adherents after Iran. While Pakistan has officially tried to remain on the sidelines of the regular Shiite-Sunni flare-ups in the Middle East over the last few decades, backroom deals with Sunni monarchies like those being signed recently have not gone unnoticed domestically.

Pakistan is already witnessing unprecedented levels of sectarian violence, with more than 1,700 killed since 2008. The armed groups responsible for the bloodshed were born out of the global sectarian tensions that followed the Iranian Revolution of 1979, which produced the first modern Shiite theocracy.

Now, as the three-year-old civil war in Syria is encouraging Muslim nations to form Shiite and Sunni blocs, there is concern that if Pakistan were to join the fray globally, things could go from bad to worse domestically.

Bahrain’s king, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, smiles down on traffic in Pakistan’s capitol Islamabad from hundreds of banners lining the streets, a reminder of the ruler’s visit last month, the first by a Bahraini ruler in 40 years.

The words “Pakistan welcomes you!” are emblazoned across the top, although that is more an aspiration than reality.

The details of Khalifa’s visit were kept deliberately vague, with the Pakistani Foreign Office describing discussions between the “brotherly countries” centering around “bilateral, regional and international matters of mutual interest.” What little information that did emerge was worrying to some Pakistanis, like the pledge to increase the “export of Pakistani manpower to Bahrain.” That’s something that has ended badly in the past.

In 2011, when largely Shiite protesters began demanding that Bahrain move towards a constitutional monarchy, thousands of ex-soldiers and police officers were recruited from Pakistan with the promise of Bahraini citizenship. The Pakistani security personnel shouted orders at Bahrainis in English and Urdu, becoming the face of a brutal crackdown by the state that engulfed Shiite villages in perpetual clouds of tear gas.

But Bahrain’s domestic troubles pale in comparison to the explosive war in Syria, which has drawn thousands of Sunni jihadists, including Al-Qaeda’s leadership, into a conflict Islamist extremists see as an apocalyptic confrontation with Shiite Islam, in this case the forces of Bashar al-Assad and neighboring Iran.

With prospects for a negotiated settlement fading, the rebels are in need of weapons and expertise to get them out of a stalemate. Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Qatar have set up camps to coordinate the training of Syrian rebels, but are in need of instructors and equipment.

That likely prompted a rare February visit to Pakistan by Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, who doubles as the defense minister. Over three days in Islamabad, al-Saud met the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the President Mamnoon Hussain, and the country’s top military leadership.

His prize: a 180-degree shift in Pakistan’s policy towards the war in Syria, which had previously been one of neutrality. A joint statement called for “the formation of a transnational governing body with full executive powers enabling it to take charge of the affairs of the country.” In other words, Pakistan now stands with Saudi Arabia in demanding the departure of Bashar al-Assad.

A few weeks later, $1.5 billion was transferred to Pakistan’s state bank by an unnamed “brotherly country,” giving the rupee is largest boost in years. When word leaked the funds had come from Saudi Arabia, many in Pakistan began to connect the dots with other rumors about Pakistan’s shift in policy.

A long-delayed pipeline meant to carry natural gas from Iran to energy-starved Pakistan has effectively been killed by Nawaz Sharif’s government. Pakistan has not built any of the 781 km pipeline on its side that it’s contractually obligated to complete by December 2014, and stands to incur a daily fine of $3 million next year.

Meanwhile, there are rumors Pakistan is planning to provide Saudi Arabia with expert trainers and equipment for the Syrian rebels.

Officials have been coy on the details, but responding to inquiries in February, a Foreign Ministry spokesperson admitted it was looking to sell the Gulf kingdom the JF-17 Thunder, a fighter jet developed jointly with China, and other unspecified equipment.

That equipment is thought to include the Anza, a heat-seeking, shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missile designed with China and manufactured locally. It’s the equivalent of the American Stinger missile, which was used to equip jihadist fighters during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan three decades ago. The U.S., which is also supplying the Syrian rebels with light arms and communication equipment, is reportedly reluctant to hand over its own shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles for fear of where they might end up.

Thousands of Pakistani troops, who now have more than a decade of experience fighting insurgents in the country’s war against the Taliban, may also make their way to Saudi Arabia to train the rebels.

All of that prompted criticism by Pakistani lawmakers, who grilled the foreign minister last month about what their military could play in the Syrian war. “We are afraid this amount has a link with the Syrian situation,” Syed Khursheed Shah, who leads the opposition in the National Assembly, told reporters. The prime minister himself weighed in, categorically denying that any troops would be sent to Saudi Arabia or Bahrain.

But the rumors have persisted, including one story that Pakistan might deploy nuclear weapons to Saudi Arabia if Iran goes nuclear itself. While Pakistan has vehemently denied that story – which does indeed seem far-fetched – the fact is, Pakistan owes Saudi Arabia a favor.

Pakistan’s decades-long nuclear weapons program finally yielded a weapon in 1998, prompting severe sanctions by the United States, which were only lifted when the country’s cooperation was needed following the September 11, 2001 attacks. Beginning in 1998, Saudi Arabia began supplying Pakistan with 50,000 barrels a day of free crude oil, worth nearly $2 billion.

In fact, Pakistan’s military-to-military cooperation with Saudi Arabia goes back five decades. Between the 1960s and 1980s, tens of thousands of Pakistani troops were stationed in Saudi Arabia, working under Saudi command. Pakistani fighter pilots trained their first Saudi counterparts, and in 1969 flew jets that successfully repulsed incursions by Yemeni forces. Pakistani engineers built Saudi fortifications along its border with Yemen, meant to keep out Shiite Houthi fighters to the south.

During the first Gulf War, Pakistan toned down the presence of 15,000 troops in Saudi Arabia, ordering them away from the frontlines, fearing a backlash from Saddam Hussein, and sectarian groups at home.

It was during those decades that the sectarian groups now plaguing Pakistan first emerged.

In 1980, military ruler Zia ul Haq instituted the Zakaat Ordinance, which forced Shiites and Sunnis alike to turn over 2.5 percent of their income, as was required under Islamic law, to the state to be spent on charity. Pakistan was engulfed in protests by Shiites, who objected to the state’s interference in their religious practices. Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran’s leader, convinced Zia ul Haq to exempt Shiites from the law.

That movement spawned the Tehrik-e-Jafria, a Shiite group sworn to protect the minority’s rights. Sunnis saw the group as a front for the Iranian regime, and by 1985, hardliners had formed their own group, called Sipah-e-Sahaba. In 1990, one of that group’s founders, Haq Nawaz Jhangvi, was killed, and in return, Sunni militants killed the Iranian Consul General.

In 1997, a bomb killed the head of the Sunni Sipah-e-Sahaba group; in return, Sunni militants killed an Iranian diplomat in the city of Multan. Later that year, the Iranian cultural center in Lahore was also bombed, and five Iranian soldiers training in Pakistan were killed.

Today, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a splinter group of the Sunni Sipah-e-Sahaba, has claimed responsibility for the deaths of hundreds of Shiites in the city of Quetta, killed in bombings and brazen attacks on buses carrying pilgrims to Iran, Iraq and Syria. Dozens of Shiite and Sunni clerics have been gunned down in Pakistan this year alone, in tit-for-tat assassinations each blames on “foreign interference.”

“There is no doubt the differences are being instigated,” said Muhammad Amin Shaheedi, the head of Pakistan’s largest Shia political party. “It’s terrorism being fanned by others, outsiders who are taking advantage of the situation.”

Ahmed Ludhianvi, head of a Sunni group that formed after Sipah-e-Sahaba was banned in 2002, has exactly the same view. “Some foreign powers are trying to bring Pakistan to the brink of civil war,” he says. “This bloodshed began after 1979.”

To be sure, Pakistan’s sectarian militants are now operating on auto-pilot, and the idea that Iran and the Sunni Gulf monarchies are to blame seems farfetched. But if Pakistan’s pivot away from Iran continues and it finds itself mired in a sectarian war in Syria, those domestic militants could become proxy warriors in a conflict that has already killed hundreds of thousands in the Middle East.

Umar Farooq is based in Pakistan, where he works as a correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor and the Wall Street Journal. He has also written for The Atlantic, Foreign Policy, The Globe and Mail, and The Nation.

Is the Pakistani Army Obligated To Fight for Saudi Arabia?

 

Notwithstanding the fanfare surrounding the king of Bahrain’s meeting on Wednesday with the top commanders of Pakistan’s armed forces at the joint staff headquarters in Rawalpindi, an increasingly baffling question refused to go away.

Beyond the limelight following a growing engagement recently between Pakistan’s ruling structure and the Saudi-led Arab world, exactly who gains what remains unclear in the public eye.

Three years after a popular uprising rocked Bahrain, Pakistan’s role in quelling that popular unrest remains an actively discussed subject. At best, Pakistani officials have confirmed knowledge of retired uniformed personnel having been engaged by Bahrain’s security establishment for training purposes. But the numbers are far from clear.

Meanwhile, the arrival in Pakistan of Sheikh Hamad bin Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa, the ruler of Bahrain, has coincided with a widely talked about controversy emanating from the mysterious case of the $1.5 billion which according to Finance Minister Ishaq Dar were given by a ‘friendly country’ to bolster Pakistan’s depleting foreign reserves.

Though still not confirmed officially, Pakistan remains abuzz with suggestions that the funds were given by Saudi Arabia following last month’s high-profile visit to Islamabad by Saudi crown prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud.

For members of Pakistan’s pro-Saudi lobby, the support is a repeat of Riyadh’s past benevolence showered in forms like the practically free-of-charge oil given for three years to Pakistan after Islamabad’s 1998 nuclear tests. Without the previous Saudi largesse, the economic sanctions following Pakistan’s entry to the global nuclear club could have had a significantly more crippling effect on the country, goes the argument.

Yet, the stakes are much higher for Pakistan at a time when its increasingly challenged internal security environment has thrown up possibly the worst challenge in the nation’s history.

The danger of Pakistan getting sucked into the considerable security challenges faced by Saudi Arabia and Bahrain while its internal conditions remain deeply unsettled will likely continue to evoke controversy.

In a powerful reminder of the uncertainty surrounding Bahrain, a Bahraini court on Wednesday sentenced 11 defendants each to a 15 year prison term. They were convicted of “manufacturing bombs for terror purposes”.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s growing engagement with Islamabad has prompted suggestions of the ruling establishment in Riyadh seeking Islamabad’s support to bolster itself on two fronts — the southern frontline along the border with Yemen and to the north to face internal security challenges as well as tackling any possible spillover from conflict-stricken Syria.

Media reports have gone further to claim that the Saudis have asked Pakistan to help arm and train Syrian dissidents facing president Bashar al-Assad’s embattled regime. Not surprising though, these reports have prompted concerns from a range of well-positioned critics among Pakistan’s political representatives and policy watchers.

According to Farhatullah Babar, a senator of the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), “Serious questions need to be answered by the government. It is inconceivable that somebody gives you $1.5 billion and there is no quid pro quo. That has never happened before”.

Senator Babar further warned of the wider regional consequences for Pakistan’s security if the country is proven to have taken sides in active Middle-East conflicts. “If Pakistan supports any one side in the Syrian conflict that will exacerbate sectarian tensions within Pakistan and keep the border with Iran on the boil,” he added, echoing an oft-repeated concern over the fallout for Pakistan from becoming entangled in a sharpened Shia-Sunni divide in its surrounding region.

For long-term observers of Pakistan’s military engagement with Saudi Arabia, the recently reported requests are not without precedent. “In the 1980s our troops were there at a time when the Saudis faced an external threat from a spillover of the Gulf war,” said retired Brigadier Farooq Hameed Khan, a commentator on Pakistan’s defence affairs.

Brigadier Khan however warned that suggestions of “Pakistan getting sucked in to a wider conflict especially a sectarian conflict” has significantly raised the stakes for Islamabad. “Pakistani weapons in no way should be used anywhere in the Gulf in a conflict situation,” he added, referring to unconfirmed reports of a Saudi request for light arms to be provided by Pakistan to the Syrian opposition.

While the debate rages across Islamabad on the pros and cons of Pakistan’s deeper involvement in Middle East tensions, western diplomatic observers are struck by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government’s failure to become more transparent as it pursues potentially significant policy choices.

“It is mind boggling that you have a government with a majority in parliament but little faith in the parliamentary processes. There is so much secrecy,” said one senior western diplomat on Wednesday. “A political government ought to go to parliament, put the matter on the table and prove that it has the backing of the majority. Pakistan’s tragedy is ultimately you have a democracy but not a [democratic] character,” he concluded.

Farhan Bokhari is an Islamabad-based journalist who writes on politics, economy and security issues.

US financial showdown with Russia is more dangerous than it looks, for both sides

US financial showdown with Russia is more dangerous than it looks, for both sides

the telegraph

The US Treasury faces a more formidable prey with Russia, the world’s biggest producer of energy with a $2 trillion economy, superb scientists and a first-strike nuclear arsenal

Two currencies - US Dollar and Rouble

Washington is tightening the noose on Russia, slowly shutting off market access for Russian banks, companies and state bodies with $714bn of dollar debt Photo: Alamy

The United States has constructed a financial neutron bomb. For the past 12 years an elite cell at the US Treasury has been sharpening the tools of economic warfare, designing ways to bring almost any country to its knees without firing a shot.

The strategy relies on hegemonic control over the global banking system, buttressed by a network of allies and the reluctant acquiescence of neutral states. Let us call this the Manhattan Project of the early 21st century.

“It is a new kind of war, like a creeping financial insurgency, intended to constrict our enemies’ financial lifeblood, unprecedented in its reach and effectiveness,” says Juan Zarate, the Treasury and White House official who helped spearhead policy after 9/11.

“The new geo-economic game may be more efficient and subtle than past geopolitical competitions, but it is no less ruthless and destructive,” he writes in his book Treasury’s War: the Unleashing of a New Era of Financial Warfare.

Bear this in mind as Washington tightens the noose on Vladimir Putin’s Russia, slowly shutting off market access for Russian banks, companies and state bodies with $714bn of dollar debt (Sberbank data).

The stealth weapon is a “scarlet letter”, devised under Section 311 of the US Patriot Act. Once a bank is tainted in this way – accused of money-laundering or underwriting terrorist activities, a suitably loose offence – it becomes radioactive, caught in the “boa constrictor’s lethal embrace”, as Mr Zarate puts it.

This can be a death sentence even if the lender has no operations in the US. European banks do not dare to defy US regulators. They sever all dealings with the victim.

So do the Chinese, as became clear in 2005 when the US hit Banco Delta Asia (BDA) in Macao for serving as a conduit for North Korean commercial piracy. China pulled the plug. BDA collapsed within two weeks. China also tipped off Washington when Mr Putin proposed a joint Sino-Russian attack on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac bonds in 2008, aiming to precipitate a dollar crash.

Mr Zarate told me that the US can “go it alone” with sanctions if necessary. It therefore hardly matters whether or not the EU drags its feet over Ukraine, opting for the lowest common denominator to keep Bulgaria, Cyprus, Hungary and Luxembourg on board. Washington has the power to dictate the pace for them.

The new arsenal was first deployed against Ukraine – of all places – in December 2002. Its banks were accused of laundering funds from Russia’s organised crime rings. Kiev capitulated in short order.

Nairu, Burma, North Cyprus, Belarus and Latvia were felled one by one, all forced to comply with US demands. North Korea was then paralysed. The biggest prize yet has been Iran, finally brought to the table. “A hidden war is under way, on a very far-reaching global scale. This is a kind of war through which the enemy assumes it can defeat the Iranian nation,” said then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Iran’s Majlis. He meant it defiantly. Instead it was prescient.

The US Treasury faces a more formidable prey with Russia, the world’s biggest producer of energy with a $2 trillion economy, superb scientists and a first-strike nuclear arsenal. It is also tightly linked to the German and east European economies. The US risks endangering its own alliance system if it runs roughshod over friends. It is in much the same situation as Britain in the mid-19th century when it enforced naval supremacy, boarding alleged slave ships anywhere in the world, under any flag, ruffling everybody’s feathers.

President Putin knows exactly what the US can do with its financial weapons. Russia was brought into the loop when the two countries were for a while “allies” in the fight against Jihadi terrorism. Mr Putin appointed loyalist Viktor Zubkov – later prime minister – to handle dealings with the US Treasury.

Mr Zarate said the Obama White House has waited too long to strike in earnest, clinging to the hope that Putin would stop short of tearing up the global rule book. “They should take the gloves off. The longer the wait, the more maximalist they may have to be,” he said.

This would be a calibrated escalation, issuing the scarlet letter to Russian banks that help Syria’s regime.

He thinks it may already too late to stop Eastern Ukraine spinning out of control, but not too late to inflict a high cost. “If the US Treasury says three Russian banks are “primary money-laundering concerns”, do you think that UBS, or Standard Chartered will have anything to do with them?”

This will graduate to sanctions on Russian defence firms, mineral exports and energy – trying not to hurt BP assets in Russia too much, he adds tactfully – culminating in a squeeze on Gazprom should all else fail. Whether you are for or against such action, be under no illusion as to what it means. We would be living in a different world, and Wall Street’s S&P 500 would not be trading anywhere near 1,850.

It is true that Russia is not the power it once was, as you can see from these Sberbank charts showing relative economic size against China and Europe.

This is not a repeat of the Cold War. There is no plausible equivalence between Russia and the West, and no ideological mystique.

It has $470bn of foreign reserves but these have already fallen by $35bn since the crisis began as the central bank fights capital flight and defends the rouble. Moscow cannot easily deploy the reserves in a slump without causing the money supply to shrink, deepening a recession that is almost certainly under way. Finance minister Anton Siluanov says growth may be zero this year. The World Bank fears -1.8pc, while Danske Banks says it could be -4pc.

Putin cannot count on global allies to carry him through. Only Venezuela, Bolivia, Cuba, Nicaragua, Belarus, North Korean, Syria, Sudan, Zimbabwe and Armenia lined up behind Mr Putin at the United Nations over Crimea, a roll-call of the irrelevant.

Yet as the old proverb goes: “Russia is never as strong as she looks; Russia is never as weak as she looks.”

Princeton professor Harold James sees echoes of events before the First World War when Britain and France imagined they could use financial warfare to check German power.

He says the world’s interlocking nexus means this cannot be contained. Sanctions risk setting off a chain-reaction to match the 2008 shock. “Lehman was a small institution compared with the Austrian, French and German banks that have become highly exposed to Russia’s financial system. A Russian asset freeze could be catastrophic for European – indeed, global – financial markets,” he wrote on Project Syndicate.

Chancellor George Osborne must have been let into the secret of US plans by now. Perhaps that is why he issued last week’s alert in Washington, warning City bankers to prepare for a sanctions fall-out. The City is precious, he said, “but that doesn’t mean its interests will come above the national security interests of our country”.

The greatest risk is surely an “asymmetric” riposte by the Kremlin. Russia’s cyber-warfare experts are among the best, and they had their own trial run on Estonia in 2007. A cyber shutdown of an Illinois water system was tracked to Russian sources in 2011. We don’t know whether US Homeland Security can counter a full-blown “denial-of-service” attack on electricity grids, water systems, air traffic control, or indeed the New York Stock Exchange, and nor does Washington.

“If we were in a cyberwar today, the US would lose. We’re simply the most dependent and most vulnerable,” said US spy chief Mike McConnell in 2010.

The US defence secretary Leon Panetta warned of a cyber-Pearl Harbour in 2012. “They could shut down the power grid across large parts of the country. They could derail passenger trains or, even more dangerous, derail passenger trains loaded with lethal chemicals. They could contaminate the water supply in major cities, or shut down the power grid across large parts of the country,” he said. Slapstick exaggeration to extract more funds from Congress? We may find out.

Sanctions are as old as time. So are the salutary lessons. Pericles tried to cow the city state of Megara in 432 BC by cutting off trade access to markets of the Athenian Empire. He set off the Pelopennesian Wars, bringing Sparta’s hoplite infantry crashing down on Athens. Greece’s economic system was left in ruins, at the mercy of Persia. That was a taste of asymmetry.

The Dangerous Economic Warfare Policies of the US Treasury

More Evidence That Consolidated Global Power Is Wielded by a Tiny Elite

the daily bell

US financial showdown with Russia is more dangerous than it looks, for both sides … The United States has constructed a financial neutron bomb. For the past 12 years an elite cell at the US Treasury has been sharpening the tools of economic warfare, designing ways to bring almost any country to its knees without firing a shot. The strategy relies on hegemonic control over the global banking system, buttressed by a network of allies and the reluctant acquiescence of neutral states. Let us call this the Manhattan Project of the early 21st century. – UK Telegraph

Dominant Social Theme: How fortunate that the US can place sanctions anywhere in the world. What foresight.

Free-Market Analysis: Gradually and continually (we humbly observe) our theses are confirmed by others. The Anglo-American axis indeed controls the world – China, too.

We find this startling admission in a recent article posted at the UK Telegraph (SEE: US financial showdown with Russia is more dangerous than it looks, for both sides).

And, yes, we’ve reported on it in our own way, proposing that the top elites in any society have more in common with each other than the vast majority of citizens they keep (a distant) company with.

Thus it is not surprising that the US has a great deal of clout around the world. The article also makes the point that the power the US has accumulated makes its exercise dangerous, at least when it comes to Russia.

The Bear is a big and powerful country on its own, and any misjudgment on the part of US officials may cause a kind of destabilization that could lead to direct military conflict between Russia and the US.

Nonetheless, leaving aside the obvious danger, the article’s point about the power that the West – and the US – has accumulated is significant.

Here’s more:

“It is a new kind of war, like a creeping financial insurgency, intended to constrict our enemies’ financial lifeblood, unprecedented in its reach and effectiveness,” says Juan Zarate, the Treasury and White House official who helped spearhead policy after 9/11.

“The new geo-economic game may be more efficient and subtle than past geopolitical competitions, but it is no less ruthless and destructive,” he writes in his book Treasury’s War: the Unleashing of a New Era of Financial Warfare.

Bear this in mind as Washington tightens the noose on Vladimir Putin’s Russia, slowly shutting off market access for Russian banks, companies and state bodies with $714bn of dollar debt (Sberbank data).

… The stealth weapon is a “scarlet letter”, devised under Section 311 of the US Patriot Act. Once a bank is tainted in this way – accused of money-laundering or underwriting terrorist activities, a suitably loose offence – it becomes radioactive, caught in the “boa constrictor’s lethal embrace”, as Mr Zarate puts it.

This can be a death sentence even if the lender has no operations in the US. European banks do not dare to defy US regulators. They sever all dealings with the victim. So do the Chinese, as became clear in 2005 when the US hit Banco Delta Asia (BDA) in Macao for serving as a conduit for North Korean commercial piracy.

China pulled the plug. BDA collapsed within two weeks. China also tipped off Washington when Mr Putin proposed a joint Sino-Russian attack on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac bonds in 2008, aiming to precipitate a dollar crash.

Mr Zarate told me that the US can “go it alone” with sanctions if necessary. It therefore hardly matters whether or not the EU drags its feet over Ukraine, opting for the lowest common denominator to keep Bulgaria, Cyprus, Hungary and Luxembourg on board. Washington has the power to dictate the pace for them.

This last point is especially noteworthy: Not only is the US effective at placing sanctions on countries around the world, it can also push most countries into complying with these sanctions. If US officials are unhappy, they can threaten credibly to destabilize a country causing such unhappiness.

Of course, it is not just the “US.” Those who stand behind the enormous power of America are globalist bankers located in various independent city-states around the world.

Those wielding sanctions are a power elite that has created a complex tapestry of rules, regulations and relationships that are subordinate to Western interests.

The British Empire dominated in the world in the 1800s, and this domination included China, India and Brazil. The British also had a sizeable influence in Russia during the post-war Russian Revolution, along with Wall Street, as G. Edward Griffin has

Using Social Media To Help the CIA To Destabilize the World

World instability

Security forces from Provincial Reconstruction Team Ghazni secure a landing zone while Polish medics arrive to provide medical care in Ghazni province, Afghanistan. Poles and militaries from other Eastern European countries participated in Iraq and Afghanistan with the hope that someday when they need military assistance, the U.S. would provide it, said Robert D. Kaplan, chief geopolitical analyst for Stratfor.

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, April 11, 2014) — Twitter, Facebook and other types of social media are contributing to global instability, said Robert D. Kaplan, chief geopolitical analyst for Stratfor — a team of intelligence experts.

The use of social media, he explained, has been shown to unite and rally demonstrators at a moment’s notice, enabling them to focus their energies on toppling regimes in just a matter of days. An example would be the use of it during the so-called Arab Spring, which began in December 2010.

Kaplan was keynote speaker at the 25th Annual Strategy Conference in Carlisle, Pa., sponsored by the Army War College, in partnership with the Joint Staff/J7. His remarks and those of others are not official U.S. Army doctrine. Rather they are meant to inform the Army of possible challenges it faces in the coming years and decades, officials said.

FAILED STATES

Failed, collapsed or weakened states pose a regional security problem and even a national security threat for the U.S. and its Army, Kaplan said, defining a weak or failed state as one where travel outside the capital can be dangerous — places like Syria, Iraq, South Sudan and Yemen.

Social media is not the only factor that will increasingly destabilize the world in the next 20 years, he said.

Ethnic and religious sectarian problems will continue to fester and create failed states in places like Africa and the Middle East, areas he compared to the post-Roman Empire Christendom in 4th, 5th and 6th-century Europe, where doctrinal battles and violence occurred between various sects.

Syria, Iraq and the Central African Republic area examples where that is occurring and Kaplan believes it will further spread as passions increase.

Another factor in the rise of failed states, he said, is the end of colonial rule and the strongmen who followed.

Like it or not, he said, the European powers sliced up the world in spheres of influence and domination, where protest and chaos was effectively quashed.

When that domination ended in the 1960s, strongmen — who were seen by their people as leaders against imperialism — emerged. Since these dictators now felt like they had moral authority, they governed how they pleased, he said, adding that it wasn’t always in the best interest of their own people, but at least they maintained tight control.

But with the era of colonial rule and strongmen ending, people are getting restless and want change, he said; however the change each tribe, ethnic or sectarian group seeks may be very different and this results in friction and clashes.

WEAK INSTITUTIONS

One of the most important factors creating global instability, he said, are weak institutions that Americans take for granted; things like the departments of motor vehicles, water and electric companies, police and firefighters. These are not top-level government agencies, but are services that make society function.

In vast swaths of Africa and Asia, these institutions are weak and in some cases nonexistent, he said. Weak institutions in turn give rise to feeble state identities. Feeble state identities in turn breed discontent and anarchy.

That discontent then often manifests itself in militant, radicalized groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, which can create regional security problems. The kinds of people that join these types of groups, he said, are more willing to die for a cause than they would be for the state.

Non-state actors, he said, are also empowered by new technologies that have the potential for doing a great deal of damage; for instance offensive cyber capabilities and plastic explosives that can fit inside a pocket. A very small group of people with ideologies and these types of weapons can cause a great deal of instability.

There’s not much the U.S. will be able to do in the coming years to address failed states, he said, because the money to do it might not be there. The U.S., however, can take selective actions it deems important using its special operations capabilities.

Meanwhile, he said, the Army and other services remaining strong can serve as a deterrent to those who would do America harm. In other words, even if the Army isn’t engaged in direct combat, its strength will dissuade potential aggressors.

DEALING WITH CHINA

As if failed states aren’t bad enough, Kaplan said there’s plenty to be concerned about with respect to non-failed states like China and Russia.

For centuries, China was effectively separated from India by the Himalayas. Then, new technologies made the world a much smaller place.

Now, the Chinese are building warships and routinely sailing in the Indian Ocean and they’re building airfields in Tibet for fighter aircraft. India too is building warships and is using its satellites to spy on the Chinese.

This can cause a great deal of mutual suspicions and mistrust, Kaplan said.

The Chinese are mimicking what the U.S. did in the 19th and 20th centuries in the Western Hemisphere. The U.S. made the Caribbean its own lake and controlled the Panama Canal — the passage between the Atlantic and Pacific.

In China’s case, officials look at the East and South China seas — and increasingly the Indian Ocean — as part of their strategic sphere of influence. In other words, it’s their Caribbean.

For now, it isn’t in their interest to attack the U.S. because their military is not as strong as the U.S. and they can take their time building it up and gaining experience in using new military technologies, he said. Also, Kaplan doesn’t believe the Chinese are in meetings planning a world empire.

The problem for the U.S. with regard to China, he said, is that China will face internal instability over the coming decades because of an economic slowdown and tumultuous ethnic and social transformation.

When that occurs, the best way for China’s leaders to hold sway over their people will be to dial up nationalism, he said. That nationalism would take the form of provocations to its neighbors.

DEALING WITH RUSSIA

With respect to Russia, Kaplan said it too is acting in the same way the U.S. has in the past, dominating countries close to it like Ukraine, which he said the Russian people consider part of their heritage.

Throughout history, the Russians have felt the need for a buffer zone between their country and Europe, especially since it was periodically invaded by the French, Germans and others. America, he said, has been insulated from that threat by two oceans.

Russia’s need for buffers has not gone unnoticed by its eastern European neighbors, who are becoming increasingly uneasy, as Russia has proved willing to use force in Crimea and as it builds up its military forces elsewhere, he said.

Poles, Romanians and others are not reassured that they’ll get military assistance if needed from Western Europe, whose armies have been downsized much more than U.S. Army, he said. As well, Europe has become dependent on Russia for its energy needs, so this gives the Russians a great deal of leverage.

Because of Eastern Europe’s mistrust of getting help from the rest of Europe, Kaplan said they’ve turned increasingly to the U.S. for help, participating in U.S.-led exercises and contributing troops in Iraq and Afghanistan with the hope that in the future, the U.S. will remember their loyalties.

PARTNERSHIPS

So what can America do in the coming decades?

Besides maintaining a strong military, Kaplan said the U.S. can partner with other powers, India and Japan, for instance.

India views the U.S. presence in the Indian Ocean, for example, as a counter to China’s buildup. And in turn, he said, the U.S. values India’s military, although there isn’t a formal treaty like NATO in place.

The other thing the U.S. can do, he said, is to organize its interagency structure in a more vertical manner, like the British did in the 19th century and earlier with its East India Company. Economic, political and military agencies worked hand-in-hand in foreign policy, although today that policy would be viewed as imperialistic.

The U.S. military can use the vertical model to its benefit in national security by working more closely with the Department of State and agencies like the U.S. Agency for International Development.

An important area of national security where Kaplan sees the U.S. going in the right direction is the continued development of its home-grown energy requirements, which makes America less reliant on energy imports from places not always friendly to the U.S.

Besides his work for Stratfor, Kaplan, is a national correspondent for the magazine “The Atlantic,” author of “Asia’s Cauldron: The South China Sea and End of a Stable Pacific,” and in 2011 and 2012, he was chosen by “Foreign Policy” magazine as one of the world’s “Top 100 Global Thinkers.”

The 25th Annual Strategy Conference in Carlisle ran April 8-10.

Mega oil field discovered in southern Russia

Mega oil field discovered in southern Russia

Russia-Today
AFP Photo/Fabio Bucciarelli

AFP Photo/Fabio Bucciarelli

A new oil field with roughly 300 million tons of oil and 90 billion cubic meters of gas has been discovered in the Astrakhan region of Russia.

“The field’s reserves are unprecedented, this discovery confirms the high potential of the Astrakhan region in terms of these major discoveries,” Sergey Donskoy, Russia’s Natural Resources Minister said on Wednesday.

The field, called “Velikoe” (The Great) was discovered by the AFB Oil and Gas Company, which will likely seek out larger partners to develop it.

Two likely candidates are Rosneft, Russia’s state-owned and largest producer, and Lukoil, the country’s second biggest producer.

“According to experts, given the lack of large land deposits, project participation will likely come from all major industry players. The most probable partners are Rosneft and Lukoil, which already have projects in neighboring regions,” Uralsib Capital analyst Aleksey Kokin told mail.ru.

Kokin estimates the deposits could be worth nearly $1 billion.

Rosneft has projects in the neighboring Vanqor oil field, which has a capacity of 140 million tons.

The last major land hydrocarbon deposit discovery was the Vanqor field in 1988, which has over 500 million tons of oil in estimated reserves.

Another Astrakhan region field is Lukoil’s Filanovsky field, which has more than 150 million tons of recoverable oil in the Caspian Sea.

In 2012, the company opened the neighboring Tambov field, also located in the Astrakhan oil field, which is the world’s fifth largest.

Cyprus warns economic sanctions against Russia will destroy its economy

Cyprus warns economic sanctions against Russia will destroy its economy

Russia-Today
Cyprus Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides (Reuters/Yuri Gripas)

Cyprus Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides told a German newspaper Wednesday that economic sanctions against Russia by Europe would destroy the Cypriot economy, adding that every EU state should decide separately whether they want to cut ties with Moscow.

“There are very strong economic ties between Cyprus and Russia. If sanctions are really necessary, then every member state should decide for itself whether to take part. However the measures look, we must not harm ourselves,” Kasoulides told Die Welt.

Kasoulides, speaking during deliberations at a meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council of the EU in Luxemburg, said the upcoming meeting in Geneva between the US, Russia, Ukraine, and the High Representative of the EU is an important “weapon” for establishing de-escalation in Ukraine.

“That is where our efforts should focus,” he added.

After the meeting, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the ministers “condemned unreservedly” the recent events in Ukraine, adding that they plan to add additional people to the asset-freeze and travel ban list which was created following the hasty referendum in Crimea last month. Thirty-three Russian officials are already on the list.

There are three stages of sanctions which the EU has drawn up against Russia. Current sanctions – the first two stages – stop short of economic measures and target individuals close to President Putin and disposed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich. The third stage, which was discussed by the EU on April 14, would include full economic measures.

Legal and accounting firms in Cyprus say that sanctions against Russia would negatively affect their prospects for growth, Vedomosti daily reported.

“Sanctions would have a limited influence in Cyprus but right now uncertainty remains and part of the decision making in business will be delayed,” Elias Neocleous, deputy director of Andreas Neocleous and Co, told Bloomberg. Seventy-seven of the firm’s lawyers and six of its tax inspectors have direct dealings with Russian and Ukrainian clients.

Cyprus is one of the biggest offshore investment destinations for Russian money. According to figures from the Central Bank of Russia, $12.9 billion was invested into Russia from Cyprus in the last three quarters of 2013.

But overall, the Cypriot economy remains in poor shape; it shrunk by 5.4 percent in 2013 as a result of tough EU austerity measures and a restructuring of the financial sector. GDP also shrunk by 4.8 percent last year.

A political crisis between Russia and Ukraine would further damage growth prospects for the island. It would also have a devastating effect on tourism, because the number of tourists from Russia and Ukraine would shrink, explained Teodor Panaiotu, a professor of economics and director of the International Management Institute of Cyprus.

“This crisis will lead to a drop in tourism and investment, which we can expect from Russia and Ukraine,” he said.

Tourism is now the most important area of the Cypriot economy and is more valuable than the banking sector, according to former Cyprus President Georgios Vasiliyu.

Israel To Build Gas Pipeline To Turkey?

ISRAEL TO PICK TURKEY AS GAS PARTNER

daily sabah

Israel in talks with Egypt, Turkey on gas export deals. This plan deals a blow to Greek Cypriot LNG plans and could deprive Europe of an alternative to Russian gas. Construction of Turkey’s pipeline may start in 2015

  • by Reuters
  Israel to pick Turkey as gas partner
MILAN/LONDON — Israel’s drive to export its newfound natural gas could help to rebuild strained ties with old regional allies Egypt and Turkey, but could deprive Europe of a precious alternative to Russian gas. Israel has in recent months signed energy deals with Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, though relations with the Palestinians are at a low ebb, and now needs to expand its export horizons to cash in on its huge energy discoveries. If all goes well, the latest developments could see first pipelines being laid between Israel and Turkey as soon as 2015, and a gas cooperation between Israel and Egypt is also emerging, which would allow export access to Asia’s major markets.

Once close allies, ties between Israel and Turkey were severely damaged following a deadly raid by Israeli commandos on a Turkish yacht carrying pro-Palestinian activists trying to defy an Israeli blockade on the Gaza Strip in 2010. Poor relations remain a barrier to a deal on gas, though the sides are talking.

Talks between the Leviathan consortium and Turkish counterparts are focusing on building a 10 billion cubic metre sub-sea pipeline at an expected cost of $2.2 billion, giving Israel access to a major emerging market and one of Europe’s biggest power markets by 2023. “We think construction phase for a pipeline to transport Israeli gas to Turkey could begin in the second half of 2015,” a Turkish energy official said. A separate yetto- be-built pipeline linking Europe with the Caspian through Turkey in 2019 could eventually also open up a new market for Israeli gas in western Europe. Meanwhile, a growing population and soaring demand have left Egypt’s own liquefied natural gas export (LNG) plants in need of new supply, as domestic shortages eat into seaborne exports through the Suez Canal to the world’s most lucrative market in Asia. This has put Israel’s previous plans to pump its gas reserves into a future export plant in Greek Cyprus on the back burner, dealing a major blow to the indebted Mediterranean island’s ambitions to become a global player in the gas market.

A Greek Cypriot LNG export plant was due to deliver at least 5 million tonnes a year to Europe and Asia, allowing Europe to reduce its growing dependency on Russia, which has become of particular concern since the crisis in Ukraine cast a Cold War chill over East-West relations.

Israel’s new plans throw Greek Cypriot developments into doubt. “If Israel has really ditched Greek Cyprus as a partner to develop the region’s gas resources, then we (Greek Cyprus) really do have to find quite a lot more gas if we want to become a viable exporter, and that would inevitably throw our plans back by several years,” said one source involved in developing Greek Cyprus’s gas reserves.

The possibility of sanctions on Russia’s energy sector in response to Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and troop build-up along Ukraine’s eastern border have underscored Europe’s acute need to diversify its oil and gas sources. Israel plans to export gas by pipeline and through several floating LNG production plants, which cool gas to liquid form, so they can ship it to the world’s largest markets. At stake for Israel is a $150 billion tax take should export deals be agreed by a consortium operating its gasfields. Its strategic re-alignment effectively places a tantalisingly close new gas province out of Europe’s reach. Egypt offers a way for the U.S.-Israeli group of companies developing Israel’s giant Leviathan gas field to reach the Asian market, where LNG fetches about twice the price Europeans pay.

Talks between the Leviathan consortium – Israel’s Delek Drilling, Ratio, and Avner Oil, and U.S.-headquartered Noble Energy – and Egyptian authorities are focusing on feeding Israeli gas into the country’s idled LNG export facilities.

Britain’s BG Group, which runs one of Egypt’s under-utilised LNG plants and is among the world’s top LNG trading firms, is in talks with the Leviathan partners.

The favoured option is to build a subsea pipeline from Leviathan to link up with BG Group’s offshore pipeline network in Egyptian waters, allowing Israeli gas to feed directly into its LNG plant at Idku, according to industry sources. If realised, this would not only revive output at Idku but also mean that Israel’s first LNG exports would take place from an Egyptian plant.

Previous land-based pipelines between Egypt and Israel were repeatedly bombed by groups opposed to links with Israel, but a subsea pipeline would be much harder to target. As part of a twin-track export policy, Israel also aims to ship LNG to distant Asian and South American markets through a floating plant to be moored above the Leviathan field.

The Republic of Donetsk Flag

The Republic of Donetsk Flag

itar tass

flag of the self proclaimed donetsk peoples republic

Flag of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic in Donetsk    © EPA/PHOTOMIG

New flag of the latest self-proclaimed republic, the Donetsk Republic.  The process of Nation fragmentation, works both ways.   Even though this corrosive virus was set into motion by the opportunists in Washington, it is still very dangerous to Obama’s allies.  The plague referred to as “Balkanization” threatens all nations, both the guilty and the innocent.

Riots Ensue At Al-Aqsa Mosque, As Jews Attempt Passover Goat Sacrifice

Jews Arrested Trying to Perform Passover Sacrifice on Temple Mount

israel today

140416_sacrifice

 

A group of eight Israeli Jews were arrested on Monday while attempting to ascend the Temple Mount and sacrifice a goat there in fulfillment of the biblical instructions regarding the Passover holiday.

Several organizations associated with the group told Israel National News that the arrests were yet another indication of the total lack of religious freedom for Jews atop the Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest site.

That same Temple Mount again exploded in violence on Wednesday morning when Muslim mobs assaulted police and Jewish visitors.

Mullah Omar Makes Plea To Unite Afghan and Pakistani Taliban for Spring Offensive

[SEE: When the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban Unite]

ISI TALIBAL, OBAMA CARTOONS

Mullah Omar wants TTP to end infighting, join spring offensive

the news pak

ISLAMABAD: The latest call by the ameer of the Afghan Taliban Mullah Mohammad Omar to the Pakistani Taliban to end their infighting in South Waziristan is actually aimed at securing their support against foreign troops in Afghanistan to launch the annual spring offensive with full force which is about to begin with the end of the winter season.

 

As bloody clashes intensify between two major factions of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan led by Khalid Mehsud alias Said Khan Sajna and Sheharyar Mehsud alias Shahbaz to capture the command of the Taliban in South Waziristan, Mullah Omar has appealed to the militants in a pamphlet [written in Pashto and distributed in the Miramshah area of North Waziristan on April 14] to work out their differences and end their internal strife.

 

It is for the first time that such a pamphlet has been distributed in Pakistan on behalf of Mullah Omar who is the supreme leader of both the Afghan and the Pakistani Taliban.

 

The pamphlet states that all the Muslims and particularly the Mujahideen are informed about the serious differences and clashes between two Mehsud Mujahideen groups. Mentioning verses from the Holy Quran, Mullah Omar has been quoted in the pamphlet as asking the people to recite it 100 times a day so that the hostilities between the warring militant groups of Mehsud tribe could come to an end.

 

According to well-informed diplomatic circles in Islamabad, the ameer of the Afghan Taliban’s call to the Pakistani Taliban for a truce between the two key warring factions has confirmed earlier reports that Mullah Omar had used his influence to persuade the TTP ameer Mullah Fazlullah for initiating peace talks with the Pakistan government primarily to prevent a Pakistani military action in Waziristan before the withdrawal of the US-led Allied Forces from

 

Afghanistan. The ameer of the Afghan Taliban was of the view that instead of wasting their energies in battling with Pakistan Army, the Taliban on both sides of the Pak-Afghan border should prepare themselves for a decisive battle in Afghanistan after the American withdrawal for the revival of the Taliban Emirates of Afghanistan.

 

Mullah Omar had been influencing the Pakistani Taliban in the past as well by using his influence with TTP leadership to help broker numerous peace deals with the Taliban in the tribal belt. The authority of Mullah Omar, who has been in hiding ever since the fall of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in 2001, extends beyond the Pak-Afghan border as the Pakistani Taliban also recognize him as their supreme leader, being their Ameerul Momineen, just like the Afghan Taliban. Therefore, Mullah Omar’s anguish over TTP’s infighting is but natural which has forced him to ask the Pakistani Taliban to end their infighting in South Waziristan. The TTP leadership also realises the fact that the current infighting was weakening their position with every passing day at a time when they are holding talks with the Pakistan government being the representative of the Pakistani Taliban.

 

Diplomatic circles in Islamabad believe that the TTP’s ongoing talks with the PML-N government were a tactical ploy to ensure a short-term truce which would be used to whole-heartedly support the Afghan Taliban in their upcoming spring offensive against the US-led allied forces stationed in Afghanistan. A spring offensive is launched every year by the Afghan Taliban after the winter season is over. In fact, due to harsh weather conditions, the Taliban slowdown their military activities and resume it as the spring approaches and the weather conditions improve. As yet another spring approaches, another offensive is being planned. But the Afghan Taliban believe that unlike in the previous spring offensives since they were booted out of power from Afghanistan, they are better placed than before, especially when the US-led coalition forces are scheduled to withdraw from Afghanistan by 2014.

 

The Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan, led by Mullah Omar, are still a strong force and are openly mocking the Nato and Isaf troops by saying that they are fleeing their country in disgrace and humiliation. To recall, the TTP had struck a clandestine peace deal with the Pakistani establishment in January 2013, before the start of the spring offensive that year, as per which the Taliban had agreed that they won’t attack the Pakistani security forces in the Fata. The deal was motivated by Mullah Omar who wanted to unite all the Taliban groups in Waziristan on a single platform to reorient the direction of their battle away from Pakistan and towards the allied forces in Afghanistan.

 

Subsequently, the Shura-e-Muraqaba, an anti-US war body consisting of five key al-Qaeda-linked Afghan Taliban groups, was launched. The five members of the Shura included the Afghan Taliban led by Mullah Mohammad Omar, the Haqqani Militant Network led by Sirajuddin Haqqani, the Tehrik-e-Taliban led by Hakimullah Mehsud and two more groups of militants led by the South Waziristan-based Maulvi Nazir and the North Waziristan-based Hafiz Gul Bahadar. The TTP spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan had made public the formation of the Shura through a press release, saying all the militant groups have reposed their confidence in Mullah Omar’s leadership and accepted him as the consensus leader of Afghanistan. He had added that the unity among the militants came after a call by Mullah Omar, telling the Pakistani Taliban to stop fighting at home to join the battle to liberate Afghanistan.

 

Ehsanullah had said the TTP would send its fighters to Afghanistan after March for waging jehad against the US-led “infidel” forces.

 

“Convey my message to the Pakistani Taliban that you have forgotten the real purpose, which is to fight the US-led invading forces in Afghanistan and liberate it from their occupation. Forget all your differences and give us fighters to boost the battle against America in Afghanistan”, a reported statement by Mullah Omar had cautioned the TTP leadership at that time.

 

However, what remained hidden was finally made public by Commander Sirajuddin Haqqani, the chief operational commander of the Haqqani network who conceded the existence of a peace deal with the Pakistani security establishment as per which the Pakistan Taliban, Afghan Taliban, Haqqani network and Maulvi Nazir and Hafiz Gul Bahadur groups won’t attack the Pakistani troops and instead they would focus their attention on the Allied Forces. The revelation came in a statement by Sirajuddin Haqqani, directing the Pakistani Taliban to stop attacking the Pakistani security forces in accordance with a peace deal, thus giving credence to media reports that the militants and the military have struck a clandestine ceasefire. Sirajuddin had issued these directives as the ameer of the Shura-e-Muraqaba.

 

Shortly afterwards, the spring offensive was launched with multiple attacks targeting Western embassies, the Nato force’s headquarters as well as the parliament building in Kabul. As the spring of 2014 has almost approached, the TTP is already busy holding talks with the Pakistan government amid reports that the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan have secretly agreed to focus on carrying out operations in Afghanistan, with Pakistani militants announcing a ceasefire with their government in order to preserve militant bases used to stage cross-border attacks. An Afghan military commander Major General Sharif Yaftali has already blamed Pakistan on April 12 for exporting terrorism to Afghanistan.

 

The current level of relationship between the Pakistani Taliban and the Afghan Taliban was well-described by TTP spokesman Shahidullah Shahid on October 6, 2013 in these words: “The Afghan Taliban not only financially support the Pakistani Taliban in their war with Islamabad but they also provide them sanctuary in Afghanistan. The Afghan Taliban are our jehadi brothers. In the beginning, we were helping them. But now they are strong enough to support us financially”, said Shahidullah Shahid while conceding that Mullah Fazlullah is being given shelter in Kunar province by the Afghan Taliban.

 

Prince Bandar of Al-Qaeda, Quits In Enbarrassment Over His Islamization of Syrian War

Saudi replaces veteran intel chief Prince Bandar

daily star LEB

PrinceBandar

Bandar’s final word to Obama.

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has replaced intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the kingdom’s pointman on the Syrian conflict, “at his own request”, official news agency SPA announced Tuesday.

In a royal decree, the powerful official was “exempted… from his position at his own request” and replaced by his deputy, Yousef al-Idrissi.

Bandar, a former ambassador to the United States, is widely regarded as among the most influential powerbrokers in the Middle East.

But the veteran intelligence supremo went abroad for several months for health reasons, with diplomats saying he had been sidelined in Saudi efforts to support rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

They said the file has been transferred to the interior minister, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who cracked down on Al-Qaeda following a wave of deadly attacks in the Gulf state between 2003 and 2006.

Bandar’s management of the Syria file had triggered American criticism, diplomats said.

The prince himself reproached Washington for its decision not to intervene militarily in Syria, and for preventing its allies from providing rebels with much-needed weapons, according to diplomats.

Media run by the Syrian regime and its allies in Lebanon have repeatedly lashed out at Bandar, accusing him of supporting Sunni Islamist radicals in Syria.

The Insanity of American Political Leadership and the Financial “Nuclear Option”

Financial Sanctions Against Russia: The Nuclear Option

Epochtimes_logo

By Valentin Schmid | Economic Sense

So far, the West’s reaction to Russia’s annexation of Crimea has been rather chivalrous. Freeze a few assets here, travel restrictions for a dozen people there, and of course have Visa and MasterCard stop providing services for a few Russian banks.

Putin then said Russia will explore launching its own credit cards, similar to Japan’s JCB and China’s UnionPay. Nice try. While these two companies have pretty good traction in their home market, they are dwarfed by American plastic.

According to an analysis by research firm Nilson, MasterCard processed more than $8 trillion of the world’s credit card transactions in 2011. Visa came second at around $3 trillion and UnionPay third with a little more than $2 trillion. The reason: MasterCard and Visa are accepted everywhere in the world, where the other two are pretty much local only.

Either way, banning a few Russian banks from processing Visa or Master for a while or Russia launching its own alternatives won’t change a lot in the grand scheme of things. However, the direction where this conflict is going is interesting.

The Nuclear Option
International payments between banks are processed via the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), a little known member-owned cooperative based in Belgium.

If you have ever sent an international wire transfer, you will likely have entered a so-called Business Identifier Code, or BIC in short. It is part of SWIFT’s system for processing payments.

Despite its opaque existence, this organization has the power to completely cut off banks from its network, preventing them from receiving and makingpayments in foreign currency—a financial death sentence.  The good news: until now, the West has almost complete control over it and
theoretically could use this nuclear option to exert power.

How? SWIFT said it is member-owned, so that means foreign banks also have a part. But if one looks at the location of its headquarters (Belgium) and the composition of its executive committee (four Belgian, three American, two Dutch, and one Spanish) it becomes pretty clear that Russians and Chinese don’t have much of a say.

Why Not Use It? 

So if this power rests in the hands of the West, why has no Western leader ever threatened to use it? That’s because it is the financial markets equivalent of the nuclear bomb. You only want to use it if there is no other alternative.

And while the West and Russia both have nuclear weapons in real life, so far only the West controls this financial weapon of mass destruction. Putin’s credit card plan might very well just be the first step of getting even in this arena as well.

Putin Side-stepping Obama’s Sanctions Regimes

Russia And China About To Sign “Holy Grail” Gas Deal

zero hedge

Tyler Durden's picture

Several weeks ago we reported that in response to ongoing alienation of Russia by the west Putin was aggressively setting the stage for Russia’s eastward expansion, set to culminate with a “holy grail” gas deal with China. We said that “while Europe is furiously scrambling to find alternative sources of energy should Gazprom pull the plug on natgas exports to Germany and Europe (the imminent surge in Ukraine gas prices by 40% is probably the best indication of what the outcome would be), Russia is preparing the announcement of the “Holy Grail” energy deal with none other than China, a move which would send geopolitical shockwaves around the world and bind the two nations in a commodity-backed axis.”

Reuters added, reflecting on the recent trip of Rosneft executive chairman to Asia, that “the underlying message from the head of Russia’s biggest oil company, Rosneft, was clear: If Europe and the United States isolate Russia, Moscow will look East for new business, energy deals, military contracts and political alliances.  The Holy Grail for Moscow is a natural gas supply deal with China that is apparently now close after years of negotiations. If it can be signed when Putin visits China in May, he will be able to hold it up to show that global power has shifted eastwards and he does not need the West.”

It’s time for an update. According to Itar-Tass, “Russia’s Gazprom and China are poised to conclude a gas supply contract in coming weeks, the first in a series of energy projects planned between the two countries. “We’re working now to sign a gas contract in May,” said Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich. “Consultations are continuing and Gazprom’s leaders are holding talks with Chinese partners on the contract terms. We hope to conclude the contract in May and believe it should come into effect by the year end.”

The key sticking point remains the price: “Base price is the only problem to be solved,” Dvorkovich said on Wednesday at a session of a Russia-China intergovernmental commission on energy co-operation, co-chaired by Chinese Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli.” However, even if Russia concedes the topline to China, it will surely “more than make up for it in volume” to borrow a line from Amazon, and furthermore the geopolitical implications from such a deal, not to mention the increase in national leverage vis-a-vis its dealings with Europe and the West, will more than make up for any immediately revenue shortfalls.

But wait – there’s more in the rapidly shifting geopolitical axis which increasingly positions Russias as a key commodity source for China:

In other plans, Russian company Novatek’s Yamal region LNG (liquefied natural gas) project was near ready for signing, Drovkovich said. Russia’s Rosneft had several interesting plans “seeking to increase maritime supplies by several million tonnes per year,” he said.

 

“Russia and China have agreed to jointly develop gas fields in (Russia’s far eastern) Sakhalin and East Siberia,” Dvorkovich said. “We have discussed co-operation in the coal sphere, agreeing to develop deposits, supply equipment and build electric power plants as well as providing China with additional electricity supplies”.

 

“We’re finding mutually advantageous decisions on certain projects that will allow us to implement them in the shortest period of time,” Dvorkovich added. Conditions were right to speed the Tianjin oil refinery project and to build a petrochemical facility, he said.

This is happening as Ukraine announced overnight that it won’t import Russian gas in April due to the surge in price that Gazprom is demanding from the US proxy state, and following ongoing Gazprom invoiving of how much Ukraine owes it which at last count was well over $2 billion – an amount which we be funded from the still to be finalized western aid to be provided for Ukraine.

Of course, at this pace, Ukraine and even Europe, will become far less meaningful markets to Russia as Putin prepares to announce what indeed would be the holy grail of gas supply deals, one that reduces Russia’s reliance on European energy imports and substantially raises Russia’s relevance to China as the two countries increasingly become the bestest of buddies.

Which certainly is also why, as Bloomberg reported this morning, “in the talks between China and U.S.’s Hagel overnight, the Chinese are taking a different tack. Rather than argue the merits of the disputed islands/history, they seem instead to say that it’s none of the U.S. business to get mixed up in something in another part of the world and between two sovereign nations.

Bloomberg’s conclusion: “Not only is this probably music to Putin’s ears, it also serves to ratchet up the tensions.”

Just wait to see how “ratcheted up” tensions will be once Russia and China are finally locked into a bearhug of mutual codependence.

Did Jet Filmed Trailing Smoke Over Kramatorsk Crash Near Astrakhan, Russia?

 

[In a possible connection to the ongoing air intrigues over Eastern Ukraine, we have a possible jet shoot-down nearby in Southern Russia (SEE: Astrakhan region crashed military plane).  The report claims that the jet was a trainer, but the timing and location tells us that it may well have been the jet hit over Kramatorsk.  Akhtubinsk, Russia crash site, on 4-15-2014, is approximately 400-500 miles from Kramatorsk, Ukraine.]

Astrakhan region crashed military plane

itar tass

April 15, 19:17
One pilot ejected, the second – Killed

© ITAR-TASS/Marina Lisceva

MOSCOW, April 15. / ITAR-TASS /. In the area Ahtubinska crashed combat training aircraft Yak-130 Russian Air Force.

One of the two crew members died, the second pilot of life is not in danger, ITAR-TASS reported head of the press service of the Defense Ministry and Information Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov.

“Today at 17:50 MSK 25 kilometers south-east of Ahtubinska runtime routine training flight when landing crashed Yak-130 Borisoglebskogo branch VUNTS BBC BBA – Konashenkov said. – The crew, consisting of two persons, managed to eject. According to a report from the crash, one pilot was killed, the second life and health is not in danger. “

“On the ground, no casualties or damage,” – said Konashenkov. According to him, the place of the crash flew Commission Ministry of Defense.

Incidents reasons set.

Su-27 Sukhoi Fighter Taking Fire Over Kramatorsk Airfield, on 15 April 14

истребитель Краматорск 15 04 14

Su-27 Sukhoi Fighter Taking Fire Over Kramatorsk Airfield, on 15 April 14

Eyewitnesses: Kramatorsk hit fighter at the local airport there are victims

itar tass

April 15, 18:31
In a landing aerodrome

© ITAR-TASS/Mihail Pochuev

KIEV, April 15. / ITAR-TASS /. At the airport Kramators’k goes shooting, hit him over the fighter. This is reported by witnesses from the scene.

In particular, they report that flew over Kramatorsk four fighters, Su-27, allegedly opened fire at a local airfield. Whose planes and fighter who knocked out is still unknown. Eyewitnesses said that at the airport there are victims on the scene sent an ambulance.

According to the newspaper “News Kramators’k” circling over the airport three helicopters. According to her, near the airfield has accumulated a lot of people, some of them – in camouflage, many locals have children. According to preliminary data, in a shooting at an aerodrome injured one person.

Eyewitnesses reported that landed near the airfield landing, on the number of which is still unknown.

The situation in Ukraine. Chronicle of events. April 15

 

The Evil That We Leave Alive In AfPak

CHELLANEY: Lingering too long in Afghanistan

washington times

The endgame for U.S. presence has become a new game

Afghan Election Soldiers Illustration by Greg Groesch The Washington TimesAfghan Election Soldiers Illustration by Greg Groesch/The Washington Times

Afghanistan’s presidential election — now set to enter the runoff stage — will mark the first peaceful transition of power in the history of that unfortunate country, ravaged by endless war since 1979. Afghans, displaying courage in the face of adversity, braved Taliban attacks and threats, and voted in large numbers on April 5 to bring about a peaceful transfer of power.

After almost 35 years of bloodletting, Afghans are desperate for peace. President Hamid Karzai’s successor has his work cut out for him, including promoting national reconciliation by building bridges with the country’s disparate ethnic and political groups, strengthening the still-fledgling, multiethnic Afghan Army, and ensuring free and fair parliamentary elections next year.

The role of external players, however, overshadows internal dynamics. Two external factors will significantly influence Afghanistan’s political and security transition: the likely post-2014 role of U.S.-led NATO forces and the level of interference by Pakistan, which still harbors sanctuaries for militants and the command-and-control structure for Afghan insurgency.

Pakistani noninterference in Afghanistan’s internal affairs can occur only if President Obama’s administration finally makes that a condition for continuing its generous aid to cash-strapped Pakistan — a remote prospect.

Mr. Obama, meanwhile, has made a U-turn on U.S. and NATO military presence in Afghanistan and is now seeking bases there for a virtually unlimited period. He had declared in Cairo in 2009, “We do not want to keep our troops in Afghanistan. We seek no military bases there.”

However, in a change of heart, Mr. Obama now wants bases there to house a fairly sizable U.S.-led NATO force armed with authority to “conduct combat operations.” What was supposed to be an endgame for Afghanistan has turned into a new game over a long-term basing strategy.

Mr. Obama, however, is under political attack at home for having failed to persuade Mr. Karzai to sign a bilateral security agreement, which is to provide the legal basis for keeping U.S. bases. The fact that the United States left no residual forces in Iraq when it ended its decade-long occupation of that country has made the appeal particularly strong in Washington to maintain bases in Afghanistan, where America is seeking to terminate the longest war in its history.

Although Kabul and Washington have finalized the terms of the bilateral agreement, Mr. Karzai withstood intense U.S. pressure to sign the document, leaving that critical decision to his successor. In truth, Mr. Karzai was afraid that if he signed a pact allowing foreign military bases indefinitely, he could go down in Afghan history as the second Shah Shuja. A puppet ruler installed by the British in 1839, Shah Shuja was deposed and assassinated three years later, but not before precipitating the First Anglo-Afghan War.

Mr. Obama now has little choice but to wait and try to persuade the next Afghan president to sign the accord.

Mr. Obama, however, has not grasped the main reason why America’s 13-year war in Afghanistan has foundered — the failure to reconcile military and political objectives. From the time it invaded Afghanistan, America pursued a military surge in Afghanistan, but an aid surge to the country harboring terrorist havens and the “Quetta Shura,” as the Afghan Taliban leadership is known. The war was made unwinnable by U.S. refusal to target Pakistan for actively abetting elements killing or maiming American troops.

Terrorism and insurgency have never been defeated in any country without choking transboundary sustenance and support. Afghans have borne the brunt from two fronts — U.S. military intervention and Pakistan’s use of surrogate militias.

Mr. Obama’s basing strategy could presage a shift from a full-fledged war to a low-intensity war, but without fixing the incongruous duality in America’s AfghanistanPakistan policy.

A smaller U.S. force in Afghanistan indeed would only increase Washington’s imperative to mollycoddle Pakistani generals and cut a deal with the Taliban in order to secure American bases.

Washington plans to gift Pakistan its surplus military hardware in Afghanistan, including several hundred mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles. It has also agreed to taper off drone strikes in Pakistan. The number of U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan actually declined from 122 in 2010 to 26 in 2013, with no attacks occurring since last December.

Even more revealing is what the drones have not targeted. To preserve the option of reaching a Faustian bargain with its main battlefield opponent — the Afghan Taliban — the United States has not carried out a single air, drone or ground attack against that militia’s leadership, which is ensconced in Pakistan’s sprawling Baluchistan province. U.S. drone strikes have been restricted to the Pakistani tribal region to the north, Waziristan, where they have targeted the nemesis of the Pakistani military — the Pakistani Taliban.

A continued U.S. approach based on reward for Pakistan and punishing airstrikes in Afghanistan, even if less frequent, would make the latter’s future more uncertain than ever. To make matters worse, the U.S. plan to start significantly cutting aid to Kabul from next year threatens to undermine a key requirement to keep the Afghan Taliban at bay — strengthening Afghanistan’s security forces.

Last May, Mr. Obama recalled the warning of James Madison — America’s fourth president — that “no nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.” Yet he now seeks a long-term military engagement in Afghanistan, which is good news for the Pakistani generals, but not for U.S., Afghan or regional interests.

There are admittedly no good options on Afghanistan. However, an indefinite role for foreign forces would be the equivalent of administering the same medicine that has seriously worsened the patient’s condition.

It is past time for Afghanistan to take charge of its own security and destiny. Outside assistance should be limited to strengthening the Afghan government’s hand.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and the author of “Water, Peace, and War” (Rowman & Littlefield).

Pakistan Continues To Live In “American Dream” Land

[The following is a concise, well-written, semi-lucid explanation of the current “iffy” state of affairs in South Asia, but the writer is completely delusional, as are ALL analysts associated with any of the major Pak news outfits.  He does not hesitate to detail the dire situation in Afghanistan, but neither does he miss a beat in broadcasting the Army’s message of reassurances: “It is unlikely that Washington will let the Taliban grow again.”  Like all Pak writers, this one assumes that the US is seeking to stabilize the region, despite ALL the evidence to the contrary, proving that the CIA and Pentagon are engaged in a perpetual effort to DESTABILIZE the world, so that they might have a free hand to murder and maim, at will.  Washington could care less (except for all of the political game-players within the Democratic-Republican war party) what happens to the people of either country, once they get clear from the mess that they have created there.  Afghanistan is doomed to the same fate as Iraq, to suffer another civil war…Pakistan is just doomed.] 

The only way

the news pak

Yasir Masood Khan

There are many speculations and assumptions running through the region about the US retreat and its repercussions on Afghanistan and its neighbouring countries.

It seems obvious, without a shadow of a doubt, that Afghanistan will be dragged again into a state of chaos, turbulence and anarchy. History has so far been unkind to that troubled country and every now and then it is dragged back to square one.

One wonders whether or not the US will be quitting Afghanistan for good. If so, then what’s next in the kitty of US strategies? Many scholars, intellectuals and think tanks anticipate a purely Afghan civil war. On top of that, the time spent there by the US with all its underlying motives will have been in vain. What that simply means is that it was a waste of time, energy, lives and resources on the part of the US.

Half of the game plan is already on the move — I refer of course, to the election’s outcome, which is just around the corner. So far Karzai has acted wilfully to his whiplashing master and will continue to do so. Nonetheless, recent resentment against US demands could prove to be expensive for Kabul. More likely still, the next government will be another dummy setup (Dari speaking), installed on the dictation of the US. Even if Karzai, otherwise, uses his own political influence in the presidential elections, the fate of the Afghan people will remain the same.

It is unlikely that Washington will let the Taliban grow again. A 60 percent turnout in the elections already assures the downfall of the Taliban. Still, the Taliban could get hold of the Pakhtun belt. Restricting the Taliban would be more conducive for US strategists, while preventing any backing or fuelling towards Taliban simultaneously.

The US departure could also have drastic implications for Pakistan. Unfortunately, Islamabad as usual seems to be in a whirlpool of ifs and buts, and no firm stance is appearing at the surface. Savvy foreign policymakers, political scientists and the military establishment must come up with visionary goals to cope with such an alarming situation.

India’s elections could also play an important role and one has to wait and see how Indian influence in Afghanistan is going to shape up. India is the fifth biggest donor in the reconstruction and rehabilitation process in Afghanistan. This can bring a double advantage to India — economic stability and alliance against Pakistan. For national security measures, Islamabad must remain vigilant to secure its north-west border to sustain peace and avoid cross-border terrorism.

China’s foreign policy in case of a civil war in Afghanistan is still unclear. Meanwhile, Beijing is busy promoting economic cooperation and continues to build infrastructure and roads. Even a continuation of bilateral trade depends on the volatility there; unrest in Afghanistan can put an end to China’s successful economic ascension.

Iran, as a neighbouring state, is highly concerned about the post-withdrawal scenario in Afghanistan. It has vowed nearly $1 billion in aid at international aid conferences held to help Afghanistan. Its aid in the first decade after the Taliban’s ouster was estimated at about 12 percent of the total assistance for reconstruction and development.

Tehran and Kabul have multiple disputes over water, Afghan refugees and drug trafficking. Tehran equally blames Kabul and Washington for not shutting down the production of opium. One should remember that Iran is a major corridor for narcotics smuggling to Middle Eastern and other European countries. Since the 1979 revolution, Iran claims to have lost more than 3,700 members of security forces fighting drug traffickers, many of whom were heavily armed. Tehran estimates that it spends around $1 billion annually on its war on drugs.

Washington has to play an anchor role before walking out; it must leave behind peace, tranquillity and stability in Afghanistan. This chiefly depends on whether the economic aid would be sufficient for Afghanistan to run its military affairs and secure the state from insurgency and internal turmoil.

As for the neighbouring states, Afghanistan would require them to pursue their foreign policies with utmost care. India, China, Pakistan and Iran will need to bury their animosities and grudges and stand together to avoid another conflict in the region. Peace is the only way forward for a prosperous and stable South Asia.

The writer is a research officer at the Institute of Regional Studies, and part of the visiting faculty at Quaid-e-Azam University.

Email: yasirmasoodkhan@gmail.com

Lebanon objects to Arab League Sell-Out of Palestinian “Right To Return”

Lebanon objects to Arab League final statement

daily star LEB

Minister Gebran Bassil speaks during a press conference in Beirut, Monday, April 14, 2014. (The Daily Star/Dalati Nohra, HO)

BEIRUT: Foreign Affairs Minister Gebran Bassil Monday voiced his country’s reservation and opposition to a recent resolution by the Arab League that he said failed to mention the Palestinian right of return, a crucial item for Lebanon.

During a news conference, Bassil said the ministry sent a letter of objection to the regional organization and held contacts with its head, Nabil Arabi, and the Palestinian Foreign Affairs Ministry to amend the statement, which was released on April 9.

“We gladly accepted the Arab League invitation to listen to the president of Palestine on developments in the negotiations with the Israeli side under the sponsorship of the U.S.,” Bassil told reporters.

“In that ministerial meeting, we supported the decisions which were expected to be in the final statement because it preserved the tripartite formula of the Arab Peace Initiative,” he said, referring to the need for Israel to withdrawal to the 1967 borders, the establishment of a Palestinian state and the right of refugees to return.

However, he added: “We were surprised to see that the right of return, or at least rejection of nationalization in Lebanon, was dropped from the final statement … therefore, we announce our reservation and opposition against what happened.”

Lebanon hosts more than 500,000 Palestinian refugees, many of whom live in a number of camps across the country.

“The right of return is a permanent Lebanese stance and that position can change if [Palestinians] abandon such a right. Lebanon’s stance, then, will be outright rejection of nationalization,” he said.

Bassil argued that the right to return is guaranteed on the domestic, regional and international levels, citing decisions and agreements that oppose such a move.

The Lebanese Constitutional forbids nationalization, Bassil said, adding that such a move would damage the country’s demography.

He also cited Articles 2 and 4 of the Arab Peace Initiative, which he said guaranteed an opposition against attempts to nationalize Palestinians.

“Internationally, Article 11 of U.N. General Assembly Resolution 194 stipulates that refugees seeking to return should be allowed to, and compensation would be paid for those who decide to stay,” Bassil said.

“This represents the biggest obstacle for people attempting to impose nationalization in Lebanon. There is no power in the world that can change the will of two peoples [Palestinian and Lebanese] in solidarity over a rightful issue

“This also means that Lebanon is not concerned with any other agreement between Palestine and Israel,” Bassil said, adding that international law stipulates that any agreement between countries cannot be imposed on a state that is not a signatory party.

“The world will never understand the right to return in light of Israel’s stubbornness unless it threatens international peace and stability. Consequently, If Israel continues as such then the goal of the United States for stability in Lebanon will not be achieved,” he said.

Pentagon says Russian jet buzzed U.S. warship

Pentagon says Russian jet buzzed U.S. warship

usa_today_long

 

The donald cook Guided missile destroyer U.S.S. Donald Cook

(Photo: Morgan Over, U.S. Navy)

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon said a Russian aircraft made about a dozen low level flights near a U.S. Navy warship in the Black Sea, calling the actions “provocative.”

The U.S.S. Donald Cook, a guided missile destroyer, was conducting routine operations in the western Black Sea when the Russian attack aircraft flew near the ship and did not respond to multiple warnings from the American warship.

The incident comes amid heightened tensions between the United States and Russia over Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

The Russian Su-24 flew close by but not directly over the American ship, the Pentagon said.

The incident took 90 minutes during which the Americans repeatedly queried the Russians but received no response.

The Pentagon said in a statement that the Russian aircraft was unarmed and never posed a threat to the American warship, but the actions were “unprofessional” and “provocative.”

Everybody Plans Their PsyOps Around ISIS

[The Middle East is a boiling cauldron of intrigue.  Maliki maintains power in the traditional ways, balancing forces, or perhaps managing to keep all deadly forces at bay.  With the preponderance of strategic deceptions being played-out by everybody’s intelligence agencies, in addition to Iraqi political games, it is easy to see how some Sunni extremist types could make a semi-plausible argument that ISIS works for Maliki.]

Iraq is caught in yet another impasse

daily star LEB

By Myriam Benraad

As the next national elections approach, officially scheduled for April 30, 2014, Iraq finds itself embroiled in another political and military impasse similar to those of 2004 and the sectarian bloodshed of 2006.

In December of last year, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered the brutal evacuation of a protest camp near Ramadi. This triggered a new standoff between Sunni demonstrators and insurgents and the central government. This episode was skillfully exploited by the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) as it was seeking to regain control over the western province of Anbar. In January, the Salafist-jihadist organization launched coordinated attacks, including an assault on Fallujah, which has now turned into a crucible of anti-government sentiment. Maliki launched an all-out offensive on the restive Anbar province. Ever since, violent incidents have been taking place on a daily basis. Yet, and perhaps because of these difficult circumstances, Maliki seems set to win a third term.

Such developments are a reminder, if one is needed, of Iraq’s extremely fragile trajectory more than two years after the final American military drawdown. In 2013, the country saw its highest death toll since 2008, according to United Nations, with nearly 9,000 killed. Beyond chronic violence, a number of questions pertaining to Iraq’s identity, its new political arena, and the pillars of its socioeconomic reconstruction remain unresolved. The enduring alienation of the Sunni population, which is still a fundamental point of contention, has worsened in the past few years due to Maliki’s overtly sectarian rhetoric and policies, as well as his targeted maneuvers against Sunni politicians. The Sunnis, in general, continue to demand their full institutional reintegration and denounce their oppression at the hands of the Iraqi army and security forces.

Overall, the political process has proved persistently unable to produce any kind of agreement – not even to set up mechanisms for dialogue, compromise and conflict resolution between various stakeholders. The population shows fatigue, disaffection, and disinterest in politics and the next legislative polls in particular.

So far, each election, which was supposed to consolidate democracy and bring well-being, has been marred with sectarian violence and instability. This has led to an ever-growing estrangement of the Sunnis, a pattern that the coming April elections, if maintained, are unlikely to change. Besides, continued de-Baathification, the banning of dozens of candidates on alleged crimes (including homosexuality) and the complex bargaining around government formation are all factors that have contributed to discrediting the electoral system and the new political order as a whole.

Voting procedures themselves have become heavily contested between rival actors, as illustrated in 2013 by the prolonged deadlock around the adoption of a new electoral law that replaced the one declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2010. This legislation, passed last November, increased the number of parliamentary seats from 325 to 328 and changed the method of their distribution in favor of smaller parties, so far marginalized by broader coalitions. This will allow for wider parliamentary representation, in particular of minorities and provinces. While the open-list system was kept, the idea of a single-district electoral constituency, used in the 2005 elections and which Kurds had called for, was dropped.

Against this backdrop, the Sunni reaction – both peaceful and armed – is portrayed by its leaders as the last safeguard against Iraq’s return to full-blown authoritarianism if Maliki wins a third term. However, the Sunnis lack a united leadership and vision. Maliki has succeeded in exploiting their divisions to thwart political remobilization and prevent the emergence of a new, strong, Sunni coalition on the model of the Iraqiyya list in 2010.

The prime minister has also managed to attract a number of Sunni sheikhs, some of whom used to belong to the tribal Sahwa Movement in 2007, to fight ISIS and insurgents alongside the army and security forces. With the end of the large blocs that characterized the past elections, his Daawa Party is now among the chief competitors; a position that does not weigh in favor of softened tone and action on Maliki’s part, but rather more repression and autocratic rule if he is re-elected. Such a scenario would increase resentment toward Maliki’s government.

Maliki may be the primary reason for the radicalization of the Sunnis and growing sectarian reflexes, but the Anbar standoff is not likely to weaken him electorally. Indeed, renewed violence over the last three months, the absence of Sunni unity (some tribes are even calling for a boycott of the elections), and the fragmentation of the Shiite political landscape (Moqtada al-Sadr announced his withdrawal from politics in February) all create favorable conditions for another term for Maliki.

This will be even truer if the elections are marked by low turnout from the Sunnis because of their disillusionment with the transition. In a context of security vacuum, Maliki depicts himself as the only viable and legitimate leader for the country, the “strong man” that Iraqis need. During his visit to Washington in January, parliament Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi, himself a Sunni, emphasized how deteriorating security conditions will likely be used by Maliki to postpone the elections in some provinces (voter ID cards have not yet been distributed by the electoral commission in Anbar) and further sideline the Sunnis while ensuring his re-election.

Obviously, the instability borne out of the 2011 Arab uprisings and the spilling of the Syrian crisis into Iraq also exacerbate the logic of violence. In addition to ISIS and its armed operations in the west and the north of the country, as well as in Baghdad, several Iraqi Shiite militias, such as the Iranian-backed Asaib Ahl al-Haq (a group that broke away from Sadr’s Mehdi Army), Kataeb Hezbollah, and the Badr Organization, have been fighting in Syria in support of the Assad regime. These militias have begun to remobilize inside Iraq and are said to have infiltrated the security forces. While their first targets remain the Salafist-jihadist groups, they have also been responsible for a series of attacks against Sunni civilian populations, which raises risks of a new and all-out sectarian conflict.

In an interview with France 24 on March 8, Maliki declared that Saudi Arabia and Qatar were at war with Iraq through their incitement of Sunni terrorism against his government and their provision of political, financial, and media support to Sunni combatants. Such a statement can only inflame existing tensions, both domestic and regional. The Saudi kingdom responded by slamming these accusations as “aggressive and irresponsible,” while the United Arab Emirates condemned Maliki’s words and summoned his ambassador. Meanwhile, the United States has accelerated the delivery of missiles and drones to the Iraqi armed forces.

Regardless of whether the April elections take place on time or are delayed, the use of force will not resolve the current stalemate. In mid-February, as a goodwill gesture, Maliki met with leaders and tribes in Anbar and pledged $83 million for the province’s development. Yet this visit was not enough, and the fighting continues between ISIS, local tribes, and the government. Beyond words, tangible action is needed. Any form of sustainable progress would first and foremost require an effective political rehabilitation of the Sunnis.

Myriam Benraad is a Middle East and Iraq specialist at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques in Paris and a policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR). This commentary first appeared at Sada, an online journal published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (www.carnegieendowment.org/sada).

Warnings of “False Flag” Provocations, Possibly Initiated by “Blackwater” Clones In Ukraine

[SEE: “Blackwater” Shock Troops In Direct Confrontation With Putin’s Proxies In Donetsk]

Kiev prepares ‘armed provocations’ to discredit pro-federation forces, Russia

Russia-Today
Pro-Russian supporters rally in front a barricade outside the regional state building in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on April 12, 2014 (AFP Photo / Alexander Khudoteply)

Pro-Russian supporters rally in front a barricade outside the regional state building in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on April 12, 2014 (AFP Photo / Alexander Khudoteply)

The self-imposed govt in Kiev is preparing provocations in Eastern Ukraine on the border with Russia in order to discredit the popular uprising, former Ukrainian interior minister said. The information was also confirmed by other sources in the ministry.

“According to our information, in eastern regions of Ukraine provocations are being planned near the border in order to discredit the military personnel of the Russian Federation,” Vitaly Zakharchenko said in Rostov on Don during a press conference with ousted President Victor Yanukovich.

He called on the security forces in Ukraine not to obey orders from Kiev, reminding them that such actions would be illegal, and condemned Kiev’s coup-imposed leadership for giving such orders.

“From the legal point of view illegal orders are given out the illegitimately appointed Turchinov, Avakov, Nalivaychenko, Makhnitsky,” Zakharchenko said.

The information of a planned staged attack and provocations by Kiev are also being confirmed by sources in the Ukrainian Interior Ministry on condition of anonymity.

“Kiev authorities are preparing a big provocation, with a purpose to discredit the people of Donetsk and Lugansk regions who are committed to holding a referendum and federalization of the country,” the source told Ria Novosti.

“An order arrived at the management of divisions of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the armed forces of Ukraine deployed in Donetsk region, to use fighters from the Right Sector to simulate armed attacks on the these divisions,” source added.

 

Ukrainian internal troops soldiers patrol on the territory of a military base in Donetsk (AFP Photo / Alexander Khudoteply)

Ukrainian internal troops soldiers patrol on the territory of a military base in Donetsk (AFP Photo / Alexander Khudoteply)

Another ministry source told Itar-Tass that according to its information, after the completion of the attack, the special team is to collect the bullet casings from the scene and transfer them to Kiev, so that authorities there could use this fake evidence and blame the attack on the so-called provocateurs in the eastern region of the country.

Some commanders of the military units, fearing that weapons depots in the region could fall into the wrong hands, started to transfer them to heavier populated areas.

“According to information received, some [law enforcement] chiefs, being afraid that buildings storing ammunition could be captured, made the decision to transport it to larger human settlements,” the source said, providing no further details.

Earlier in the day, Kiev announced that it will launch “a large scale” operation, “with the involvement of the military,” Ukraine’s coup-imposed president, Aleksandr Turchinov, said in a televised address. He gave anti-Maidan activists a 9 am Monday morning deadline to lay down their arms and abandon the administrative offices they have occupied.

However, a special operation against protesters in Donetsk region may start as soon as tonight, acting head of the Security Service of Ukraine, Valentin Nalivaichenko has said on “1+1” local channel. The “full-scale operation” will involve “serious engagement of military forces, anti-terrorist forces and law enforcement of Ukraine.”

Ukrainian authorities have already tried to launch what they called an “anti-terrorist operation” in the eastern city of Slavyansk, Donetsk region. Gunfire broke out there on Sunday, after troops in black uniforms supported by armored vehicles and several helicopters approached the roadblock set up by the locals. There were rumors that among the troops besieging Slavyansk are members of the radical ultranationalist Right Sector movement, who were mobilized to take decisive steps to “defend Ukraine’s sovereignty.”