Greece and Cyprus Begin Prep Work For Undersea Electric Service

[Israeli, Greek and Cypriot leaders to build a joint gas pipeline]

Greece-Cyprus sea cable route mapped out

The first phase of the reconnaissance study and seabed mapping to identify the optimum route for a proposed high-voltage subsea power cable, known as the EuroAsia InterConnector, connecting Cyprus to Greece, has been completed.

Odin Finder a 50-metre long research vessel, owned and operated by Italian company GAS S.r.l, set out to map out the best route for the cable, late January.

The vessel explored, mapped and gathered information on the exact route of the 518km-long subsea cable from Vasiliko to Crete and from there on to the Peloponnese and forward to Piraeus on mainland Greece.

Next, the Odin Finder will carry out a detailed mapping of one of the most “difficult” sections of the subsea ‘electricity highway’ between Cyprus and Israel. Specifically, it will be researching the sea zone south of Vasiliko – at a distance of 20 to 40 kilometres from the coast – an area known for its marked seabed dips, and seek the best spot from which the cable will pass through the Cyprus arc, an arcuate depression located in the southern reaches of the island, considered to be in collision between the African and Eurasian plates.

The EuroAsia InterConnector project is initiated by the DEI-Quantum Energy joint venture, a partnership between DEI, the public power corporation of Greece, and Quantum, operator of hydroelectric and power stations in the Republic of Serbia.

The project is included in the revised list of 195 Projects of Common Interest (PCI), issued on November 18 by the European Commission. It offers significant economic and geopolitical benefits to the involved countries and contributes to the EU target for 10% of electricity interconnection between member states.

Where the Middle East Goes?

Where the Middle East Goes?

valdai

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, center, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, left, and UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura, right, arrive for a news conference after the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) meeting in Munich, Germany.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, center, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, left, and UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura, right, arrive for a news conference after the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) meeting in Munich, Germany.
Luck or failure of the Syria settlement in a large extent would determine the fate of the entire region, because long ago the internal Syrian conflict acquired the regional and global status.
Despite the relevance of the question where the Middle East is moving, it is difficult to give a confident and convincing answer. The process of devolution of the Middle East region has gone too far. It is based on three historically caused crises. Firstly, there is a systemic crisis of the nation states, which could not withstand the challenges of globalization. Not by chance it has become a habit to speak about the end of the Sykes-Picot regional architecture, “engineered” by the European powers – Great Britain and France, who did not believe in the self-government ability of the former vilayets of the defeated Ottoman Empire.

Secondly, there is an identity crisis, which was the result of decades of internal contradictions accumulation. Finally, thirdly, it is the crisis of the world order, emerged after the end of the Cold war.

Many of the politically stagnant Middle Eastern regimes failed to adapt to rapidly changing conditions and to respond adequately to the new challenges. Especially difficult became the situation in those countries of the region, which are considered “deeply divided”. Not by chance, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Syria, became the scenes of a deep internal rift that split their sectarian, ethnic, clan, geographical, tribal links. In many ways, the intervention of Western and regional players contributed to sharp deterioration of the conflicts.

What awaits the Middle East states, sinking in internal conflicts: a peace settlement and the transition to the new development direction, the conservative stabilization, continuation or even escalation of conflicts, the disintegration and secession, formation of new states? Today, despite the enormous efforts of the local elites and the international community, the situation in many of these countries remains acute. And the most tragic result of the turbulent process was the seizure of a large part of the territory of Iraq and Syria by the most terrible and inhumane terrorist groups – ISIS (Daesh), Jabhat al-Nusra (affiliated with al-Qaeda), and some others. Virtually the whole international community now is strongly against ISIS.

However, if you focus on the bloody internal conflict in Syria, the question is which groups should be considered as terrorist and which are not. This issue continues to divide the participants of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG), including Russia and the United States. In recent months, Russian diplomacy has tried in vain to convince the Western and regional partners that such big and heavy- armed anti-government Islamist groups as Ahrar al-Sham and Jaysh al-Islam belong to terrorists. This met a consistent resistance from our partners. Representatives of those two groups were even invited to the Saudi capital Riyadh in December to the meeting of the Syrian opposition groups. Leader of Jaysh al-Islam Mohammed Alloush was among the members, elected to the Supreme Commission for Negotiations.

Our partners argue that Ahrar al-Sham and Jaysh al-Islam are not homogeneous and their inclusion into the list of terrorist organizations leads to their further radicalization, and thrust them into the arms of ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra. At one of the “round tables” one prominent Saudi journalist said that without Ahrar al-Sham and Jaysh al-Islam Syrian opposition simply would not exist. Western states and regional powers are insisting on their support. Now, it seems, Russia no longer insists on its previous assessments. Manifestation of Moscow’s flexibility was the inclusion into the US-Russian statement on Syria of 22 February of the formula of the complete exclusion from the ceasefire regime of ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra and “other terrorist organizations, recognized as such by the UN Security Council.” But the chances that the US would “miss” the recognition of the UN Security Council of Ahrar al-Sham and Jaysh al-Islam as terrorist organizations, are close to zero.

Let’s note, that the US always comes down hard with criticism against Russia for alleged attacks against moderate opposition instead of ISIS. However, as Aron Lund reminds in an article published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, most recently in Iraq the US indiscriminately launched missiles and bombed al-Qaeda and other oppositional Sunni groups that did not have any relation to it, branding them all as “terrorists”.

There is the question of what to do, if among the moderate opposition forces would be groups of Jabhat al-Nusra, which are often mixed with other opposition units. It can benefit from the fact that there are less foreign jihadists (about 20%) than in ISIS. Can the US and Russian experts jointly define the territory held by ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra? Is it possible to make it with the required degree of accuracy? It is necessary, because the peace process is at stake.

At the same time from the cease-fire regime could be excluded not only the two above-mentioned terrorist groups, but also those groups of the moderate opposition, which by the deadline won’t inform about their readiness to join the ceasefire. The Syrian army and its allies, including Russian Aerospace Forces, can continue fighting against them. The main opposition groups have already confirmed their readiness for a ceasefire, but they have put a number of preconditions, in the spirit of UN Security Council Resolution #2254 of 18 December 2015: removal of cities sieges by government forces, ensure humanitarian help access, termination of shelling of civilians, release of prisoners. The Syrian government does not put forward preconditions, although the opposition also laid siege of towns and villages. Among the loyalists there is a wide-spread opinion that the armed opposition can take advantage of the removal of the sieges to regroup their forces and then to resume fighting against the Syrian army. In this context, particular importance has the monitoring of mutual cessation of hostilities.

Of particular importance is the cooperation between Russia and the United States in the framework of the so-called ISSG Ceasefire Task Force. Not less important is monitoring of unhindered delivery of humanitarian aid to suffering peaceful population. This aid is supplied by Russia in considerable quantities. Of 7 districts where by the ISSG decision the humanitarian aid should be delivered, two are under siege by ISIS, two more – by rebel groups, supported by the West, the Arab Gulf States and al-Qaeda, and the rest three – by government forces and their allies, including Hezbollah.

In general, cooperation between Russia and the US on Syria is one of the major achievements of the process which has received a sensational development. There are concessions not only by Moscow but also by Washington. Even when adopting the UN Security Council Resolution #2254 of 18 December, on the insistence of Russia and China references to president Bashar al-Assad were excluded from the text. He also was not mentioned in the joint statement.

It seems that luck or failure of the Syria settlement in a large extent would determine the fate of the entire region, because long ago the internal Syrian conflict acquired the regional and global status. Can the fragile agreements between Washington and Moscow develop into full-scale cooperation with the plague of the XXI century – international terrorism?

Vitaly Naumkin is President of the Institute of Oriental Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS); Professor; Corresponding Member, RAS.

Russia Pours $200 Million Heavy Weapons Into Armenia—(eat that, Turkey)

Russia details USD200 million arms sale to Armenia

Jane's

Russia is exporting the TOS-1A to Armenia as part of a USD200 million export package detailed on 18 February. Russia has also sold the TOS-1A to Armenia’s regional arch-rival Azerbaijan. Source: Russian MoD

The Armenian military will receive artillery, anti-tank and air-defence systems, and other equipment valued at USD200 million, according to documents published by the Russian government on 18 February.

The deal is seen as an effort to partially offset earlier Russian weapons sales to Azerbaijan, with which Armenia is engaged in a protracted territorial dispute and ‘frozen conflict’.

According to a Russian-Armenian export credit agreement made public on February 18 the purchase list includes BM-30 Smerch 300 mm multiple rocket launchers (MRLs); TOS-1A 220 mm thermobaric MRLs; 9M113 Konkurs (AT-5 ‘Spandrel’) anti-tank guided missiles; RPG-26 shoulder-fired anti-tank rockets; Igla-S (SA-24 ‘Grinch’) manportable air defence systems (MANPADs); and Avtobaza electronic warfare systems.

The deal will also allow Armenia to upgrade its T-72 tanks with 1A40-1 fire control systems; new B-84 and UTD-20 engines for its tanks and infantry fighting vehicles; and acquire additional engineering, communications, and transportation equipment.

Qatari Taliban (Mansour’s Gang) Waiting For Invite To Play Nice

Afghan peace process: Taliban await invite to Islamabad talks 

express tribune

PHOTO: AFP

PHOTO: AFP

ISLAMABAD: The Afghan Taliban said on Wednesday the group is awaiting a formal invitation for direct talks with officials of President Ashraf Ghani’s administration. A day earlier, the so-called Quadrilateral Coordination Group, which is composed of top officials from Pakistan, Afghanistan, China and the United States, said that Islamabad would host direct talks between Afghan government and Taliban representatives by first week of March.

“We’ve seen reports in the media about [direct] talks, but the Political Office and the Islamic Emirate have no information about this,” said Dr Muhammad Naeem, a spokesperson for the Taliban’s Political Office in Qatar.

The Taliban spokesperson, Zabihullah Mujahid, endorsed Dr Naeem. “We’ve not received anything officially; we only heard it from the media,” he told The Express Tribune by phone.

President Ghani and Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani had extended a formal invitation to Taliban groups and Hizb-e-Islami to come to the negotiating table. But the Taliban said they have not received any such invitation.

“Since we do not have any information, anything [comment] about our formal response to media reports will be premature,” Dr Naeem told The Express Tribune by phone from Doha.

Asked if the Afghan Taliban still insisted on their pre-conditions for talks, Dr Naeem said their demands were genuine. The group has called for reopening of their political office in Qatar; lifting of international sanctions on their top leaders; release of prisoners; and an end to propaganda in Afghanistan.

“These are not conditions. These are are realities, and problems could not be solved without this [meeting these demands],” Dr Naeem said.

He described the presence of ‘foreign invaders’ as the real problem and said the Taliban have always said that the basic solution to the problem was to an end to the invasion and enforcement of the Islamic system. He warmed that the situation could further complicate if the issue of invasion persisted.

Meanwhile, sources close to the Taliban’s Qatar office said the group’s political negotiators have expressed serious reservations over the use of the term ‘Taliban groups’ in the statements issued after Tuesday’s quadrilateral talks.

“If they [quadrilateral group] use ‘Taliban groups’ it means they want to create rifts in the ranks of the Islamic Emirate,” they said.

Further, the negotiators have reacted angrily to the ‘threatening posture’ adopted by some Afghan government leaders including fresh remarks by Afghan National Security Adviser Hanif Atmar. Atmar said on Wednesday that the “Taliban have limited time to take a decision on joining peace talks.”

Hizb-e-Islami considering invite

While the Taliban say they have not received an invite to the Islamabad talks, The Express Tribune has learnt that a formal invitation has been sent to Hizb chief Gulbuddin Hekmatyar who is weighing up the offer.

“We are considering the offer,” Hizb’s political affairs head Dr Ghairat Baheer told The Express Tribune.  Diplomatic sources revealed that Rabbani has spoken with Baheer and an invitation was extended.

Mullah Mansour Taliban Sneak Back Into Kunduz—14 Dead

Taliban and security forces in Kunduz

Syrian Ceasefire Possible By Weekend

Obama cautious on Syria plan as opposition yet to commit (Updated)InternationalA boy carries an opposition flag as rebel fighters and civilians gather during the arrival of an aid convoy of Syrian Arab Red Crescent and United Nation (UN) to the rebel held besieged town of Kafr Batna, on the outskirts of Damascus

Obama cautious on Syria plan as opposition yet to commit (Updated)

Cyprus mail

 

By Jeff Mason and Tom Perry

US President Barack Obama expressed caution on Wednesday about a plan to stop fighting in Syria, while the main opposition group said it had yet to commit to the deal.

Combatants are required to say whether they will agree to the “cessation of hostilities” by noon on Friday (1000 GMT), and to halt fighting at midnight Saturday.

The United Nations hopes the planned halt in the fighting will provide a breathing space for Syrian peace talks to resume.

The last round in Geneva broke up earlier this month without progress after the Syrian government launched a Russian-backed offensive on the city of Aleppo, where more fighting was reported on Wednesday.

Obama told reporters in Washington that if some progress was made in Syria, that would lead to a political process to end the five-year-old war there.

Although U.S officials have raised the question of a political transition in Damascus, President Bashar al-Assad, backed by Russia, shows no sign of stepping aside.

The Saudi-backed HNC, which groups political and armed opponents of Assad, said on Monday it had “given its acceptance of international efforts for a cessation of hostilities”.

But HNC chief negotiator Mohamad Alloush said on Wednesday that the council had not yet decided whether to commit to the deal, underlining rebel doubts over a deal they fear will not prevent Russian air strikes against them.

The deal does not include Islamic State or the Nusra Front, an al Qaeda affiliate which is widely deployed in opposition-held areas.

“How can (Russia) offer guarantees while it is part of the problem?” said Alloush, who heads the political office of the Jaish al-Islam rebel group, in an interview with the pro-opposition Orient TV station.

The Syrian government, its war effort buoyed since September by the Russian air force, has accepted the cessation of hostilities agreement announced on Monday.

Assad told Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday that his government was ready to help implement the deal.

Putin and Assad, who held a telephone conversation, stressed the importance of a continued “uncompromising” fight against Islamic State, the Nusra Front and other militant groups.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he had spoken to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and their teams would meet in the next day or so to discuss the planned ceasefire.

“I am not here to vouch that it’s absolutely going to work,” Kerry said in Washington. While there had to be a diplomatic solution at some point, the question was whether the time is ripe, he added.

He asked whether Russia and Iran would work “in good faith” to bring about a political transition in Damascus.

TELEPHONE DIPLOMACY

Putin has embarked upon a round of telephone diplomacy, speaking to Assad, the Saudi king, the Iranian president and the Israeli prime minister. The Kremlin described the calls as an effort to explain the substance of the US-Russia-brokered ceasefire.

The Russian Defence Ministry said it had significantly reduced the intensity of its air strikes in Syria in the past two days in areas where armed groups had expressed their readiness to join the ceasefire.

Russian state media have presented the fact that Moscow helped broker the potential ceasefire as a sign that Russia matters again on the world stage and has shrugged off what it has cast as U.S.-led efforts to isolate it over the Ukraine crisis.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said he feared the ceasefire plan would do little more than benefit Assad.

Turkey has grown increasingly frustrated by the international response to the Syrian war, incensed by a Russian intervention which has tipped the balance of power in favour of Ankara’s arch-enemy Assad and by U.S. support for a Kurdish militia it sees as a hostile insurgent force.

“If this is a ceasefire that is up to the mercy of Russia, which has brutally attacked the moderate opposition and aligned with Assad under the pretext of fighting Islamic State, we fear that the fire pouring over innocent people will never stop,” Erdogan said in a televised speech.

The United Nations said it was ready for a huge aid effort if the fighting stops.

“We are now standing by … waiting for the signal,” a UN spokesman said.

The war has killed more than 250,000 people and left 4.5 million hard to reach with humanitarian aid, the U.N. says.

The United Nations carried out its first airdrop of humanitarian aid to the Syrian city of Deir al-Zor on Wednesday, delivering 21 tons of relief to civilians besieged by Islamic State.

The Syrian army and Islamic State fought fierce battles on Wednesday near Aleppo, where an attack by the jihadist group has cut the main land route to the city.

A government military source denied reports the town of Khanaser had fallen to Islamic State, although its fighters were firing on it from nearby positions.

Islamic State is escalating its assaults on government-held areas. The attacks appear to be a preemptive move, the military source said, because the militants expect to come under more pressure from the Syrian army soon.