Russia to give special care to the Arctic region

Nonprofit organization “association of arctic projects contractors “Murmanshelf” held the 10th international conference “arctic shelf development: step by step”.

The conference took place in Murmansk on the 13th – 14th of November 2017 supported by the government of the Murmansk region in the framework of the 6th Murmansk international business week.

Main issues of the conference were current condition, problems and prospects of oil and gas development of Russian arctic shelf: implementation of governmental programs of geologic exploration in the arctic; technological support of offshore oil and gas projects; ecological and industrial safety during development of hydrocarbon resources on the continental shelf. International cooperation in the field of oil spill response in the arctic also was one of the most important issues of the conference. Development of the northern regions during exploration of fields on the continental shelf of the Russian arctic seas and the improvement of regulatory and legal framework for development of oil and gas on the continental shelf as well as international cooperation in the arctic of partner countries were also discussed.

Traditionally, the conference is attended by more than 200 oil and gas companies which specialize in exploration, production and refinery of hydrocarbon raw materials, suppliers of oil and gas industry, scientific and research institutes, educational institutions, legislative and executive authorities.

Russia fully restores its presence in the Arctic

Russia has fully restored its presence in the strategic areas of the Arctic Ocean by creating a special force in the Arctic, the chief of the General Staff, Valery Gerasimov, said on Tuesday.

“Creation of the Arctic group has allowed for restoring Russia’s presence in strategically important areas of the Arctic Ocean and guaranteeing the safety of economic activity in the region,” Gerasimov said at the Defense Ministry’s board meeting on Tuesday.

He recalled that in 2014 Russia created a united strategic command of the Northern fleet, an air force and air defense army within the Fleet’s structure and a special Arctic mechanized infantry brigade for performing combat missions in rigorous climatic conditions.

“Over the past five years the Northern Fleet obtained twenty three ships, including the strategic submarine The Yuri Dolgoruky and the multirole nuclear-powered submarine The Severodvinsk. The guided missile cruiser The Marshal Ustinov has been upgraded and the nuclear-powered missile guided cruiser The Admiral Nakhimov is being upgraded at the moment”, the general noted.

The coastal defense forces received three battalions of the missile systems Bal and Bastion.

In the Arctic region, Gerasimov recalled, military airdromes are being built and upgraded on Franz Josef Land, the Novosibirsk islands, Cape Schmidt and near the city of Anadyr.

Venezuela Crisis: Washington is to Use Colombian Militants to Topple Maduro

Political turmoil and large-scale wave of protests hit Venezuela this year as the result of the discontent with state leaders’ policy, deficiency of essentials and a mass population impoverishment against the background of drop in oil prices – a crucial resource for this mineral-rich Latin American country. The opposition tries to seize power in Venezuela with broad political support of the USA. The term of the current head of state Nicolás Maduro ends in 2018, but protests organizers, as well as their American curators, do not want to wait, they demand to hold the elections immediately.

The White House makes all efforts to drive the “Bolivarian” regime from power in Venezuela. Latin America is a traditional sphere of influence of the USA since the end of the 19th century, and Washington extremely painfully reacts to loss of positions in its “backyard”. Taking into account the Venezuela situation, the main stake for Washington are oil fields since the American business lost access to them as a result of reforms of the president Hugo Chávez.

It should be noted that the Venezuelan question is under special control of the Secretary of State Tillerson, one of the most influential figures of an oil lobby. During the management of ExxonMobil “Texas T-Rex” proved to be the real predator able to take any measures for achievement of goals. For example, the similar situation has happened in 2011 when the company has begun oil development in the Iraqi Kurdistan counter with opinion of the Barack Obama Administration.

Such Rex Tillerson’s animal grasp should be expected also in a situation with Venezuela. The Secretary of State commenting the hearings in the House of Representatives on the difficult situation which had developed in recent months in Venezuela declared that “the USA has to continue pressure upon Caracas, and also give support of local opposition in this connection the White House needs to take steps through various organizations”.

The recent tour of the vice-president Mike Pens across Latin America also indicates the high priority Washington gives to “the Venezuelan question”. The trip resulted in the coalition of Latin American countries created for political support of Washington efforts to topple President Maduro. Colombia, Argentina, Panama and Chile act as the US allies.

In turn, CIA director Mike Pompeo affirmed (link) the dialogue the agency leads with Colombian and Mexican authorities within the work against the Venezuelan government. The chief of CIA obviously dissembles, claiming that contacts with the Latin American partners are limited only to political consultations. Groups of the Colombian fighters are thrown in the country to carry out provocations against police officers during protests and organize murders of oppositionists in order to create an occasion to accuse Maduro’s government of use of lethal weapon against own people.

Interior Minister Nestor Riverol announced the arrest of several Columbians in Tachira state bordering on Colombia. They were dressed as Bolivarian national guards of Venezuela and took part at street clashes between the protesters and police (link). Moreover, the governor of Tachira state José Gregorio Vielma Mora reported about elimination of the Colombian fighters’ camp and added that the number of detainees reached 120 people (link).

 Washington has always comprehensively supported oppositional groups in the countries of Latin America with “inconvenient” regimes without hesitating in the choice of methods. Mercenaries recruited among political refugees and citizens of neighboring countries have always been one of the most widespread tools of the CIA arsenal if the Hawks wanted to change the government in such a country. As we can observe today, the style of CIA is invariable.

The situation in Venezuela is aggravated to a limit. The American oil business strongly intends to return the positions lost during the presidency of Chávez and Maduro. The USA will do everything to change power in Caracas and disrupt the upcoming presidential elections in Venezuela in 2018. Participation of fighters from Colombia against Maduro serves as the evidence of the White House intention to plunge this Latin American country into chaos of political turbulence and civil war.

Does America Need INF Treaty?

The Western mainstream media conduct an active information campaign blaming Russia for violating the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. According to the Chairman of the United States House Committee on Foreign Affairs Ed Royce the Russian side keeps prohibited missiles with nuclear warheads operationally available.
Washington constantly accuses Moscow of failing to comply with the agreement concluded in 1987 without providing concrete evidence. Moscow rejects the accusations and believes the US is looking for an excuse to expand sanctions and withdraw from the INF treaty.
Public accusations of violating the treaty on the elimination of medium-range and short-range missiles appeared in 2014 amid the introduction of sanctions due to the Ukrainian crisis. Nevertheless, Washington refrained from imposing any restrictive measures on Moscow within three years.
This June 23 members of the Democratic Party introduced a bill on military deterrence of Russia that refers to the need to develop a sanctions plan to punish Moscow for ignoring the INF treaty points.
The authors of the document urged the Pentagon to deploy high-precision weapons in Europe and give the president the right not to adhere to the terms of article 6 of the agreement that prohibits the production of banned launchers and missile stages.
It is noteworthy that Russia faced with the first accusations of INF treaty violation in 2014, and at the same time, Lockheed Martin Corporation got the Pentagon contract for the surface-to-surface ballistic missiles modernization.
The Department of Defense ordered to increase the missile range. June 26, 2017, the US Army published the information on the serial production of surface-to-surface ballistic missiles for the Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS). The range of new missiles exceeds 180 miles but there is no more accurate data.
The propaganda campaign around the INF treaty aims to discredit Russia and divert attention from the US deployment of missile defense near Russian borders. Moreover, the strengthening of the US Navy forces in Europe is also one of the main tasks of the information campaign launched against Russia.
The United States needs an information pretext to increase the number of ships and submarines equipped with non-nuclear weapons in the North Sea and other waters in Europe. For example, the presence of Florida or Georgia submarines in major European ports will become a serious increase in the military power of NATO in the region.
Thus, accusing Russia of violating the INF treaty the United States can unilaterally withdraw from the treaty and legitimately build up NATO’s military power near Russian borders in the shortest possible time.

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Should Washington cooperate with Moscow in Afghanistan?

   Amid revitalization of terrorists in Central Asia under the flags of the “Islamic state”, Russia and the United States are intensifying their efforts to resolve the crisis in Afghanistan.

   Nowadays, the Trump administration chooses a military way over a diplomatic one. Military advisors to the U.S. president lobby the plan to increase military contingent in the territory of the Islamic Republic. The White House, however, considers sending only about 3,000 to 5,000 solders.

   NATO allies would likely support this decision. U.S. Forces Afghanistan (USFOR-A) commander, General John Nicholson, believes that strengthening the contingent is to change the situation in the region. But there is a great skepticism in an expert community. If the Taliban withstood the massive deployment of foreign forces a few years ago, why would it yield now?

   The former United States Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs (2009-2011) Philip J. Crowley believes that the administration of Donald Trump should move away from the strategy of military intervention as soon as possible. Undoubtedly, such a strategy is theoretically justified, but it does not work in the real state of affairs. The United States and NATO partners are looking for the opportunity to get out of this “swamp” for at least a decade. Trillions of dollars have been already spent, but the desired result is still unreachable. The sad experience of military campaigns led by the US, NATO and Russia should force the current American leadership to develop a new plan as soon as possible.

   The resumption of cooperation with Russia might become a solution. According to Mr. Crowley, Russian interests in Afghanistan are similar to those in the US. “Nobody wants the Afghan government to fail, and the Taliban succeeded,” the analyst explained.

   During an interview with American director Oliver Stone, Russian President Vladimir Putin said, “cooperation with the United States on Afghanistan meets the national interests of Russia. This is an area where the countries should unite their efforts”.

   Does this mean that in the midst of a phenomenon called the “Cold War 2.0”, Afghanistan can become a springboard, a starting point for renewing cooperation? Moreover, Washington and Moscow have experience in such cooperation.

   However, the reluctance of the White House to show its weakness can become an obstacle. The fact is that Washington’s refusal of military intervention will mean the failure of US foreign policy in the region. The lives of American soldiers and huge amounts of money will be wasted. At the same time, such actions by the Trump Administration could become an extremely important and serious step on the way to political settlement of the Afghan crisis.

   The experience of recent military conflicts in various parts of the world shows that the use of force only aggravates the situation. The United States have already been involved in so many local wars. Perhaps, Afghanistan is to become the country where the White House can protect its interests not by military but political means.

Trump’s new sanctions targeted Iran

On Friday, the Trump administration announced an expansion of sanctions against Iran, its first action after a previous warning that it was putting Tehran “on notice” after the country tested a medium-range ballistic missile the weekend before.

You’d expect Iran to react angrily. But the move also sparked criticism from a source you might not have expected: China.

That’s because the sanctions weren’t targeted at Iran’s government, but rather specifically designed to strike people and organizations that either aid its ballistic missiles program or help Tehran provide support to militant proxy forces in the region — and China got caught in the crosshairs.

Two Chinese companies and three Chinese individuals that fit the criteria have been added to the sanctions list, which means they’re barred from doing business with US companies, and that companies around the world will be blacklisted by the US if they do business with the them. The US measures also prevent the sanctioned Chinese firms and citizens from using the US financial system.

It seems entirely in keeping with the Trump administration’s general hard-line with China to use any opportunity it has to prod Beijing. But it’s not clear that this was a deliberate Trumpian swipe at China. Richard Nephew, a sanctions expert at Columbia University who coordinated sanctions policy at the State Department under Obama, told me over email that he’s “very confident that these were prepared under Obama,” and that “Obama hit the Chinese companies too, with some frequency.”

That being said, the measures would’ve been perceived a bit differently under Obama than Trump. Despite differences with China, Obama made many efforts to cooperate with Beijing, in part to make sure China kept sanctions on Iran in the run-up to the landmark nuclear deal in 2015. Trump, by contrast, has deemed China one of the US’s foremost adversaries, and so his pressure tactics likely appear much more threatening to Beijing.

The new US sanctions are not formally tied to Iran’s nuclear program in any way — they are for other activities that Iran has long been sanctioned for by the US. But it’s hard to compartmentalize them diplomatically, and China’s critical response is a reminder that Trump’s shoot-first style could make it harder for the administration to persuade China to cooperate with new sanctions on Iran if Tehran restarts its nuclear program.

There’s a reason why the new measures ensnared China: Some companies and people there have a history of covertly shipping materials to Iran that support its missile program, a quiet workaround that helps Iran since international restrictions currently ban the country from obtaining these goods. In other words, there’s good reason to think this isn’t all a total contrivance designed to lash out at China.

But that doesn’t mean it’s not a message to China all the same — and understood in advance by the White House to be something that would rankle Beijing, which indeed it has. On Monday, China lodged a formal protest against the sanctions, and warned that it will increase challenges for the international community’s coordination on Iran.

“We have consistently opposed any unilateral sanctions,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said at a news conference. “The sanctions will not help in enhancing trust among the different parties involved and will not help in resolving international problems.”

The Washington Post reports that “the state-run Xinhua news agency said the sanctions cast a shadow over the prospects for a peaceful settlement of the Iranian nuclear issue and called them a ‘ticking time bomb’ for peace and stability in the entire Middle East.”

China’s response to the sanctions is a reminder that the degree to which the US and China get along has real consequences for the rest of the world.