U.S. sanctions won’t affect Crimea bridge construction, Russia says

The Kerch Strait bridge will connect the eastern Crimean Peninsula with Krasnodar Krai in southern Russia, allowing Russia land access to Crimea without having to travel through Ukraine. Photo courtesy of the Russian government

MOSCOW, Sept. 2 (UPI) — New U.S. sanctions imposed on Russia will not affect progress on the Kerch Strait bridge, which will connect Crimea to southern Russia, authorities said.

Russian Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov said construction will continue despite pressure on Russia to withdraw military personnel from Ukraine. Companies that include gas and oil contractor Stroygazmontazh, bridge builder Mostotrest and road construction company DSK were among the 37 entities named as subjects of U.S. sanctions Thursday.

“I want to underline that this will neither affect the terms of the project’s implementation nor the order or amount of financing, nor the materials used nor their supplies as these technologies and materials are ‘import-replacing’ and their major part is manufactured on the territory of this country,” Sokolov said.

Russian energy giant Gazprom said the new sanctions will have little effect because the company is already under previous U.S. sanctions.

“The announcement … does not change anything in the actual state of affairs neither for the Gazprom bank nor for the mentioned enterprises,” a company representative said.

The $3.2 billion, 12-mile bridge, widely known as Putin’s bridge because it has been viewed as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s pet project, began in May 2015. The road and rail bridge will connect the eastern Crimean Peninsula with Krasnodar Krai in southern Russia, eliminating the need to travel through Ukraine to reach Crimea by land. It is expected to open in December 2018.

When the Terror War Ignites the Black Sea Region

Armed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) members. AP file photo.
Armed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) members. AP file photo.

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region– Kurdistan Workers’ Party’s (PKK) recent attacks on army installations around the Black Sea areas, north of Turkey, are marking a new trend in the group’s urban warfare.

PKK’s attack on the convoy of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kiliçdaroglu on August 25 in the area, sent shock-waves in Turkey as many interpreted the drive by shooting as a new form of guerrilla actions in new territories far away from the Kurdish southeast.

The PKK quickly “regretted” the attack and said that Kiliçdaroglu was not the aim of the operation, but the military convoy escorting him was.

At least three bloody attacks, including the August 19 bombing in Trabzon, have been carried out by a group that is presumably supported by the PKK, called the United Peoples Revolutionary Movement (HBDH). The new umbrella group, which includes 9 other leftist factions, was formally declared last March.

“The PKK’s influence in this area is limited to small actions since Turkish national sentiments are considerably higher here and prevent the PKK to have grassroots support,” says Ali Kucuk Dursin, a former member of the PKK with knowledge about Karadeniz area near the Black Sea.

Kucuk Dursin says the PKK has long tried to “exhaust” the army by spreading the war to other areas in the country.

“This was a strategy clearly followed in the mid-1990s but with various degrees of success in different regions,” he explained.

Karadeniz region is a relatively vast area that encompasses dozens of small and larger cities including Samson and Trabzon.

“The PKK is unlikely to find a base in this area but its ties to the HBDH can change the state of affairs rather swiftly,” said local journalist Ercan Kantemir. “No one becomes a PKK here, but many are already with the new group.”

“To counter the PKK, the government has hired over 750 local village guards which basically patrol the area against PKK attackers,” Kantemir explained.

According to Kucuk Dursin the groups affiliated with the HBDH are “too small” and “too disorganized” for any major clashes.

“But the fact that the government has hired so many village guards shows the PKK has made some impressions,” Dursin said.

US Criticizes Wahhabi Evangelism In Africa, But Embraces It Everywhere Else

all africa

The United States is engaging with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states on the spread of radical Islam in East Africa, a State Department official said last week.

“Saudi Arabia has been what we call a country of particular concern,” David Saperstein, US ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, acknowledged in an August 16 press briefing.

Practitioners of the ultra-conservative Salafist Islam rooted in Saudi Arabia have sought to win followers in East Africa and other parts of the world by funding mosques and schools that promulgate their views, Mr Saperstein said.

Imams preaching Salafist beliefs “are trained and sent to those areas,” the US envoy added.

Mr Saperstein made the remarks in response to a question about a recent report on Salafism in East Africa issued by a US Defence Department think tank.

The analysis by the Pentagon’s Africa Centre for Strategic Studies says Salafist proselytising efforts financed by Saudi and Gulf religious foundations have been underway for decades.

This brand of Islam stands in contrast to what the report describes as “East Africa’s historical tradition of infusing religious customs with local traditions.”

The Salafist interpretation of Islam “forbids most aspects of modern education, requires strict dress codes, abides by ancient traditions of social relations and disregards many basic human rights, particularly for women,” the analysis states. “Rooted within a particular Arab cultural identity, this ideology has fostered more exclusive and polarising religious relations in the region, which has contributed to an increase in violent attacks.”

The slaughters at the Westgate shopping mall and Garissa University College in Kenya were carried out by militant Islamists affiliated to Somalia’s Al Shabaab whose beliefs are based on Salafist teachings.

The Westgate attack is said to have “required support from multiple local Kenyan sympathisers,” the report said.

The impact of Salafist ideology has been felt in Tanzania and Uganda as well, adds the study written by Abdisaid Ali, a political advisor to the European Union special representative for the Horn of Africa.

Burning churches

Sheikh Ponda Issa Ponda and his group Jumuiya ya Taasisi za Kiislam (Community of Muslim Organisations) have been accused of inciting riots and burning churches in Dar es Salaam, the study said.

“Mr Ponda’s network, which has been active since the 1990s, includes hundreds of mosques and dozens of Islamic schools across Tanzania,” Mr Ali writes.

“Extremist interpretations of Islam and notions of a religious divide and persecution by the state have crept into the sermons of other Tanzanian Islamic preachers as well.”

The report also cites a warning by Tanzanian Defence Minister Hussein Ali Mwinyi that increasing numbers of citizens are joining the Islamic State and Al Shabaab.

The study advises governments in East Africa to adopt a more judicious approach in responding to the threat posed by the spread of Salafist ideology.

Muslim communities in the region should be given a greater sense of political and economic inclusion, the report suggests. It also calls on authorities to abide by principles of due practice in their handling of persons suspected of involvement in Islamist violence.