The European Union is preparing to sanction Russia’s most senior spies and security officials as it seeks to step up its response to the conflict in Ukraine, where the premier quit after the ruling coalition broke apart. Alexander Bortnikov, director of the Federal Security Service which replaced the Soviet-era KGB, and Mikhail Fradkov, the head of the Foreign Intelligence Service, are on the provisional list of sanctioned Russian officials, according to a draft document obtained by Bloomberg News.
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The growing power of the ultra-hardline Islamic State means the Syrian army is now having to confront a group it has until now been reluctant to attack for political reasons. The emergence of the al Qaeda offshoot, formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), has so far allowed President Bashar al-Assad to present himself to the world as a bulwark against Sunni Islamist radicals. Now that Islamic State’s fighters have gained momentum in Syria, boosted by equipment seized in a rapid offensive next door in Iraq.
The conflicts raging today in Gaza, Iraq and Ukraine share some common features. Irregular belligerents — Hamas, ISIL/ISIS and Ukrainian separatists — are each aggressively shaping these conflicts in skillful ways to outmaneuver their more conventional adversaries. These irregular warriors seek creative and often indirect ways to accomplish their wartime ends, often without fighting in conventional fashion. Their tactics and equipment reflect a new and ever-varying combination of conventional high-tech weaponry.
Global conflicts are increasingly fuelled by the desire for oil and natural gas and the funds they generate. Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, South Sudan, Ukraine, the East and South China Seas: wherever you look, the world is aflame with new or intensifying conflicts. At first glance, these upheavals appear to be independent events, driven by their own unique and idiosyncratic circumstances. But look more closely, and they share several key characteristics, notably, a witch’s brew of ethnic, religious, and national antagonisms that has been stirred to the boiling point by a fixation on energy.
Boeing has disclosed an agreement with Iran to provide aircraft parts, relaxing a three-decade freeze in ties as part of a broader package of sanctions relief. US industry analysts say the sale of spare aircraft parts is seen as a diplomatic carrot for Iran, which for decades has relied on parts obtained on the black market or copied locally. Iran agreed in November to curtail nuclear activities for six months from January 20 in exchange for sanctions relief from Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States.
Norway’s colossal sovereign wealth fund is considering reducing its $7.6 billion portfolio of Russian investments as Russia stares down the barrel of tougher EU sanctions. EU ambassadors met to discuss sanctions drawn up by the European Commission, chief among which were proposals to ban European investors from buying new debt or shares in banks majority-owned by the state. Not being an EU member, Norway has no obligation to comply with EU sanctions, but the country’s sovereign wealth fund is nonetheless reviewing its Russian investments.
Recent increases in the frequency of Japanese military exercises suggest that the country is preparing for war, a think tank with close ties to China’s military said in a report released Wednesday. “Island landing” and other readiness drills conducted by Japan’s Self-Defense Forces “are not only provocative and confrontational, but also meant for war preparedness,” the China Strategic Culture Promotion Association said in its third annual report on Tokyo’s military capabilities.
Researchers in the US, funded by the US Air Force, Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), and the National Science Foundation, have managed to turn air into an “optical fiber.” This breakthrough allows the scientists to create an air waveguide, allowing for much better transmission of lasers through free space. As you might have guessed from the US military’s involvement, this could be big news for laser weapons — but there are repercussions for laser-based communications and scientific research as well.
Greece ranks first in the eurozone and fourth among the 28 members of the European Union for the percentage of its citizens living on or below the poverty line, according to a new report. The study, conducted by the Foundation for Economic and Industrial Research (IOBE), found that just over a third (34.6%) of Greeks – some 3,795,100 individuals – were living on less than 60% of the national median income in 2013.This percentage has risen steadily since 2010, when the country began implementing austerity measures.
Huajian’s 3,500 workers in Ethiopia produced 2 million pairs of shoes last year. Located in one of the country’s first government-supported industrial zones, the factory began operating in January 2012, only three months after Zhang decided to invest. It became profitable in its first year and now earns $100,000 to $200,000 a month, he said, calling it an insufficient return that will rise as workers become better trained. A combination of cheap labor and electricity and a government striving to attract foreign investment makes Ethiopia more attractive than many others.
The United States and its European allies have made a number of recent moves to bolster military cooperation with Georgia as tension continues to fester between Russia and the West. But Georgia’s ability to accommodate more U.S. military traffic has been hampered by delays to a new rail line that it, Azerbaijan and Turkey are building, known as the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway. Officials from Azerbaijan and Turkey have blamed Georgia for the delays, which have pushed back the projected date of inaugurating the railroad to the end of 2015.
“South Korea is sandwiched between China and the US. It has been playing a double dipping game of seeking security interests with the US, while pursuing economic interests with China… Seoul must pursue a policy of separating politics from economy. But it won’t be easy, as evidenced by the US opposition to South Korea’s efforts to cooperate with China on the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). The only way to get away from the dilemma is to improve inter-Korean relations, which would reduce Seoul’s military dependence on the alliance with the US.”
Before dawn on June 1, a group of U.S. special forces and Afghan army commandos arrived by helicopter to the east of Alizai, a farming hamlet in Andar district in Taliban-controlled territory in central Afghanistan. They moved from house to house, arresting any fighting-age men they found, while the local Taliban fighters, who had been sleeping in a mosque at the other end of the village, fled without a fight. By sunrise, the soldiers had gathered more than 100 men in the yard of a house belonging to a local man named Hajji Badruddin.
Recent shifts in the political landscape of the Middle East mean that Iraq’s Kurds will gain independence “sooner rather than later”, according to Steven Cook, an analyst for the US think tank the Council on Foreign Relations. “They are not committed to a unified Iraq, which they call a fiction. They are going through the political process in Baghdad to prove to everybody that they are not to be blamed for the breakup of Iraq. When this political process comes to an end – without anybody’s satisfaction – the Kurds will ultimately make moves to go their own way.”
The new Estonian state defence law that was sent for a round approvals to different state institutions will make the prime minister the highest military head in Estonia, reports LETA reffering to Postimees. The aim of the bill is to make Estonian state defence modern and guarantee leadership of the state with clear command lines. The current state defence basics are considered very outdated and compared to the pre-WWII era. According to the current Estonian laws, the president is the highest head of Estonian state defence.
“This neighborhood watch twosome … will be on the lookout for nefarious capability other nations might try to place in that critical orbital regime,” Gen. William Shelton, the head of Air Force Space Command, told reporters at the Pentagon. The launch comes at a time when China is rapidly improving its space and anti-satellite capabilities. Pentagon planners worry that in a future conflict, Beijing might shoot down or disable American military satellites that are critical for communications, intelligence-gathering, and targeting.
Militants from ISIS now control or threaten key facilities on the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, generating fears that the Al-Qaeda splinter group could turn off the taps to the Shiite south of Iraq, sparking a massive humanitarian crisis.Last month’s ISIS-led offensive across Iraq saw it overrun cities and battle for oil refineries as the national army melted away, but it has also been waging a war for water, trying to wrest control over rivers, dams and desalination plants in a bid to solidify its territorial gains.
Catalunya Bank, a victim of Spain’s economic crisis, has been sold to BBVA, the country’s second-largest bank. But Spain’s sale of Catalunya Bank — in which it owns a 66 percent share — for just €1.2 billion means the country lost €11.8 billion by propping up by the bank which teetered when thousands of borrowers defaulted on their loans. That is close to the €13.8 billion in cuts to education and healthcare imposed by the Spanish government in its austerity drive, Spain’s El País newspaper noted. Spain will now turn its attention to selling off another failed bank in Bankia.
In this politically charged climate, German and EU leaders may find a new political lightning rod for rising frustration toward the U.S. in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), an ambitious trade deal between the United States and the European Union slated to add $280 billion and 13 million jobs to the transatlantic economy. Germany is the EU’s economic center of gravity, making it the United States’ most important bilateral partner in the TTIP negotiations. German and EU politicians will have to sell TTIP to their people for it to pass.
The UAE knew in advance of Israel’s plans for an offensive in Gaza and even offered to fund the operation provided the militant Palestinian outfit Hamas was eliminated in the process, Israel’s Channel 2 claimed in a recent report, according to local Arabic daily Al Sharq. The daily says in a report published today that Israel’s leading national TV station (Channel 2 in Hebrew) disclosed details of secret parleys between the UAE’s foreign minister, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and his Israeli counterpart, Avigdor Lieberman, in Paris at the end of last month.
With the decision by Bulgaria to suspend construction of the South Stream natural gas pipeline, there is more pressure on Serbia, which is balancing its longstanding ties with Russia against its desire to join the European Union. “The Serbian situation is the most difficult because it ‘paid ‘ the entrance to the pipeline by giving to Gazprom low prices for NIS (Naftna Industrija Serbia – Oil Company of Serbia) and Banatski Dvor (and underground gas storage in Vojvodina),” Jelena Milic, director of the Centre for Euro-Atlantic Studies for Belgrade, told SETimes.
By any measure, this is a serious undertaking. It will involve 3,000 troops, headquartered in the Chadian capital N’Djamena, but spread out across Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. They will be supported by helicopters, fighter jets and, ominously, drones. France’s Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian described it as a “counter-terrorism” offensive, designed to ensure that there is no upsurge in terrorist activities from jihadist groups operating in the area. “The aim is to prevent what I call the highway of all forms of traffics to become a place of permanent passage.
Why the push to build railways criss-crossing South America? Part of the answer—besides the fact that China knows a thing or two about constructing long railways at high altitudes—lies in the region’s burgeoning trade with China, which needs raw materials to fuel its economy and new markets for its exports. Currently, the bulk of Chinese imports from South America have to travel through the Panama Canal, where the cost of transporting a ship through it has tripled over the last five years.
France has secured its first major military contract in Egypt in about 20 years with a 1 billion euros ($1.35 billion) deal to sell four naval frigates, a French diplomatic source said on Saturday. Paris and Cairo have enjoyed close economic ties in the past but turmoil in the north African state since former president Hosni Mubarak was ousted has left Western governments wary of signing contracts, especially in the defence sector. The DCNS company, in which the French state has a majority stake, won the contract to provide four corvette frigates to the Egyptian navy.