Posts Tagged ‘Black Sea’

China eyes expanded business ties with Eastern Europe amid EU concerns

July 7, 2018

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang will offer the leaders of central and eastern Europe on Saturday expanded business ties at a summit in Sofia while seeking to reassure the EU that Beijing is not trying to divide the continent.

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Li, whose attendance at the seventh such “16+1” summit coincides with an escalating trade war between China and the United States, will also try to dispel growing doubts among some participants about the value of the annual meetings.

China has promised billions for development projects in the region as part of its Belt and Road strategy to carve out new export markets, but these deals are coming under greater scrutiny.

Li, whose country needs the European Union’s support in its trade battles with U.S. President Donald Trump, has been careful to stress China’s support for European integration and rules in trade and procurement.

“The 16+1 cooperation is by no means a geo-political platform. Some may say such cooperation may separate the EU, but this is not true,” Li told a joint news conference on Friday with the summit host, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov.

“We hope that through our cooperation we will improve the development of all countries involved and help them better integrate into the European integration’s process,” said Li, who will travel on to Germany from Bulgaria after the summit.

Analysts said Li would try to avoid issues that might annoy western European capitals, including the European Commission in Brussels that upholds the common rules that underpin the EU’s single market.

“I think that Premier Li Keqiang will adopt a low profile on issues that might infringe on community affairs of the EU this time around,” said Francois Godement, director of Asia and China program at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

More than 250 Chinese companies and 700 business people from central and eastern Europe are expected to attend an economic forum alongside the summit, seeking deals in trade, technology, infrastructure, agriculture and tourism.


Bulgaria hopes the summit will help secure much-needed funds to build new roads, highways and other infrastructure in eastern Europe, a region that still lags richer states in the western wing of the EU in terms of development and income.

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Belene Nuclear Plant Project

“We do not aim to divide the European Union. On the contrary, we aim to help eastern Europe and the Balkans which are lagging behind to catch up,” Borissov said.

Sofia hopes to lure Chinese funds for highway and railway projects to link ports in northern Greece on the Aegean Sea and in Bulgaria on the Black Sea with Romania and Serbia.

China has expressed interest in the plan and also confirmed it was willing to back Bulgaria’s Belene nuclear power project.

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Last month, Hungary finalised the construction timetable with China for a Budapest-Belgrade rail link, one of the biggest Chinese-backed infrastructure projects in the region.

Countries taking part include EU members Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia, and also non-EU states Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia.

The EU will have observer status at the summit. Greece will also attend.


Additional reporting by Angel Krassimirov; Editing by Gareth Jones


What’s in it for the Belt-and-Road countries?

April 20, 2018

How might the states of Central Asia and the Caucasus benefit from China’s grand new investment initiative?

The Economist explains

Apr 19th 2018

by M.L.

IN THE days when the Silk Road linked China to Europe, merchants would crisscross Eurasia, stopping at the caravanserais that had sprouted up across Central Asia and the southern Caucasus. But as trade came to rely more on shipping, land routes fell out of favour and many Eurasian hubs floundered. A stream of projects launched in 2013 by the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, may change that. The so-called “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI) aims to improve trading and transport links between China and the world, mostly through infrastructure investments. It promises to revive the fortunes of ex-Soviet states. But what do these countries stand to gain from a flow of what will be predominantly Chinese goods?

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The scale of the initiative is enormous. So far China is estimated to have underwritten over $900bn of loans—some on concessionary terms, many on commercial terms—in 71 countries, ranging from Poland to Pakistan. Many projects are under way. Kazakhstan has opened a massive dry port on its eastern border with China. Its seaports on the Caspian sea are also being expanded, and east-west rail and road connections are being upgraded. On the other side of the Caspian, Azerbaijan and Georgia hope to capture some of the flow of Chinese goods to Europe via the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway, which opened last year, and Georgia has secured $50m in Chinese investment in a proposed deep-sea port on the Black Sea. Other countries are jockeying to attract Chinese attention for BRI projects. Last November the Georgian government held its second biennial Tbilisi Belt and Road Forum, in which delegations from Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia presented historical trade route maps as part of their efforts to earn a place on this 21st-century Silk Road, with all the accompanying Chinese investment.

Underlying such machinations lies the assumption that the BRI will deliver a host of lucrative spillover effects to the transit countries. Many have underdeveloped or poorly maintained infrastructure. The economic benefits of a new motorway, railway or port for the hospitality, industrial or retail sectors seem clear enough. Such developments should make trading between neighbours easier—something that Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan have already been taking advantage of. And governments like to take credit for shiny new infrastructure projects without having to raise revenue to pay for them or subject themselves to conditions set by Western investors or multilateral organisations.

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But worries persist. China supplies the workers to carry out the projects, limiting the scope for local involvement. Transit countries are likely to keep trade tariffs to a minimum to stop China using different, cheaper routes for its goods, but this limits opportunities to raise revenue. Furthermore, BRI countries claim that their nascent manufacturing sectors can be integrated into the Chinese value chain so that, for example, machine parts made in China could be assembled in Kazakhstan. But manufacturing sectors across the former Soviet Union are uncompetitive and businesses complain of shortages of skilled labour. Most worryingly, perhaps, countries along the route are already heavily indebted. If the returns on BRI investment prove underwhelming, they could struggle to repay China’s loans and to pay for maintenance, and bilateral relations could sour. This modern Silk Road might end up being less renowned for the spread of prosperity than its forebear.



U.S., Turkey and Russia — U.S. Warships Cause Worry in the Black Sea

March 12, 2018


By Hakkı Öcal
Daily Sabah

We, the people of Turkey, look mostly into the cover rather than reading what’s inside. When the USS Carney (DDG-64), a guided-missile destroyer of the United States Navy, passed through the Istanbul Strait on Feb. 17, 2018 with the gunner’s finger on the trigger of his 12.7 mm caliber Browning Machine Gun (BMG) M2 (Ma Deuce) and when his picture with the picturesque Bosporus in the background was shared on social networks, we looked at it and wondered why a “friend and ally” America was doing the same thing the Russians did two years ago.

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USS Carney (DDG-64), a guided-missile destroyer of the United States Navy, passes through the Istanbul Strait to the Black Sea

Nowadays the Russians sail through the straits at ease, no gunner on the deck. On Twitter some anti-government and anti-American journalists expressed their opinion to the extent that Turkey should leave the NATO and declare war on them.

If we, the veterans of the old and the new media, paid a little more attention and saw the text next to the photograph, we would have noticed that the show of the finger-on-trigger was not meant us, but it was for the Russians.

Peter Halvorsen, commanding officer of the destroyer said, “The USS Carney entered the Black Sea to conduct maritime security operations and enhance regional maritime stability, as well as strengthen combined readiness and naval capability among NATO allies and partners. The U.S. Navy has a history of building relationships with our partners in the Black Sea, which both demonstrates our combined commitment to regional security and enhances overall peace and stability.”

What Halvorsen calls a demonstration of commitment to regional security and enhancing overall peace is actually an effort to “desensitize Russia” to the presence of U.S. military forces in the Black Sea, according to some anonymous military officials who talked to CNN. Those officials told CNN that “it is important to increase the frequency of U.S. activity in the area and desensitize Russia to the presence of U.S. military forces” in the Black Sea.

The very next day, Russia announced its own naval deployments to the area, and a Russian frigate and two patrol ships entered the Black Sea for a series of exercises. The unnamed U.S. naval officers continued to tease the Russians on CNN, “You get ships up in the Black Sea that makes the Russians feel more threatened.”

However all of this is no joke according to Tyler Durden of the Zero Hedge Report: it shows us that the Black Sea is the new area of contention for the U.S. and Russia. He reminded readers that since the military escalation in Ukraine in 2014, there have been several skirmishes between Russian and U.S. forces.

On the other end of the Anatolian straits lies the Mediterranean, as the majority of nations call it the middle sea (for Turks and Arabs, it is the white sea). According to Ardan Zentürk of the Star daily newspaper, the Congressional alliance between the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and the Hellenic-American Leadership Council (HALC) is now flexing its muscles after Turkey chased away some exploration vessels from its exclusive economic zone in the eastern Mediterranean region.

Mr. Zentürk sees cooperation budding between Israel, Greece and multinational U.S. corporations interested in the natural gas sources in the area. He writes that Cyprus and the eastern Mediterranean region is the next area that is going to get warmer.

After the USS Carney entered the deep and cold waters of the Black Sea, the U.S. 6th Fleet, headquartered in Naples, Italy, announced that some of its ships would conduct “a full spectrum of naval operations, in concert with joint, allied and interagency partners, to advance U.S. national interests and security and stability in Europe and Africa.” CNN had reported that the U.S. Navy’s ships were headed to the contented exclusive economic zones.

We, the people of Turkey, are now reading the subtext buried in this picture. The friend, an ally, is putting his finger on a much larger trigger this time around.

Putin Launches Hybrid War of ‘Pure Evil” on the West

March 5, 2018
Reuters via Haaretz

Vladimir Putin’s Russia did not, it must be said, invent hybrid warfare as Israel, Iran and the Gulf states have long employed common hybrid tactics

This video grab provided by RU-RTR Russian television via AP television on Thursday, March 1, 2018, a computer simulation shows Russia's new Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile flying over the globe
This video grab provided by RU-RTR Russian television via AP television on Thursday, March 1, 2018, a computer simulation shows Russia’s new intercontinental ballistic missile flying over the globeRU-RTR Russian Television via AP

This month marks the fourth anniversary of Russia’s March 2014 annexation of Crimea, an event that shocked the world and shook European faith in the post-Cold War security order. In retrospect, it has become clear that, for Putin, annexing the peninsula was not so much an end goal as a declaration of future intent, an early escalation in a broader and more ambitious effort that Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko recently termed, with little obvious exaggeration, Russia’s “World Hybrid War” on Western democracy itself.

In an unusually bellicose speech on Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin put Moscow’s remilitarization and its confrontation with the West at the heart of his pitch for re-election. His approach to this confrontation, which many now term “hybrid warfare,” mixes nuclear posturing and cutting-edge technology with covert action, and was deliberately designed so as to make it very difficult for the West to respond.

President Vladimir Putin’s Russia did not, it must be said, invent hybrid warfare. Combatants have always looked for innovative ways around the rules and conventions of conflict, and Israel, Iran and the Gulf states have employed common hybrid tactics – including cyber attacks, and the use of armed proxy groups – for years. China’s leaders, too, have found increasingly unorthodox ways to push back against the United States and its allies in their immediate neighborhood; it recently emerged that, while Western nations were distracted by North Korea’s nuclear program, China artificially expanded islands in the South China Sea in support of its territorial ambitions.

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What Moscow has successfully done, however, is to refine a variety of old and new techniques to a higher level, and to employ them in a wider range of ways. As with China and Iran, Russia’s aim in developing and perfecting its hybrid warfare capabilities is to weaken and undermine the United States and its allies without sparking all-out war.

Target in Putin’s nuke video looks like FloridaCNN

It’s a dynamic that brings with it some very real dangers, not least of accidental conflict. The American air strikes that killed dozens, if not hundreds, of Russian mercenaries in Syria last month marked the bloodiest confrontation between the two nations in decades. U.S. prosecutor Robert Mueller’s decision to charge 13 Russians and several Russian companies with interfering in the 2016 election also amounts to a significant escalation.

Exactly what prompted Russia’s interest in reheating Cold War-era animosities remains a subject of much debate among Western security analysts. Many, however, see its roots in the anti-government protests that rocked Russia in 2011 and 2012, the most serious such unrest since the breakup of the Soviet Union. Putin was widely believed to be furious that American diplomats had wooed pro-democracy and anticorruption activists, and to have concluded that Washington hoped to subvert his power.

When Russia invaded Crimea early in 2014, and when a wider conflict erupted in Russian-speaking Ukrainian regions later that year, it acted with ruthless efficiency. By using troops wearing uniforms without insignia or identification – who became known universally as “little green men” – Russia achieved surprise and dominance on the ground before authorities in Kiev, let alone Washington, really knew what was happening.

It would be hard to overstate how much this took U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration by surprise. The Pentagon’s Quadrennial Defense Review, published only days before the Crimea annexation, barely mentioned Russia and prioritized the risk of war with China as well as ongoing action against Islamist militant groups in the Middle East and beyond.

Russia’s seizure of the strategically important Crimean peninsula, and its apparent role in shooting down a Malaysian Airlines flight over eastern Ukraine in July 2014, forced the United States and its European allies to urgently reconsider their beliefs about Russia’s intentions. Since then, NATO has deployed battle groups to Eastern Europe and the Baltic States (in case Moscow is tempted to try out the techniques it used in Ukraine against NATO members).

In some ways, this resembles the Cold War, but it is in many respects a much more dynamic confrontation. Russia is now far more closely intertwined with the West, through investments and business deals, and this gives it new vulnerabilities – to sanctions, for example.

Mueller’s prosecution of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort – who has a long history of business interests to the former Soviet Union – has drawn attention to just how convoluted some of these dealings have become. Russian money has been essential to the success of many Western businesses, possibly including those of President Donald Trump. But many powerful Russians are similarly beholden to the West – which is one reason so many of them have been frantically lobbying Congress to ensure their names aren’t included on upcoming sanctions lists.

NATO members concerned about Russian political interference have recruited armies of bloggers and social media activists to push back against Russian messaging, and established new monitoring bodies to track Russian disinformation efforts. But, in hindsight, they may have interpreted that threat too narrowly. Rather than simply concentrate its efforts on spreading subversion on Europe’s vulnerable periphery, Moscow appears to have concentrated on destabilizing the West’s most powerful countries. The most recent Mueller indictments allege that, by mid-2014, Russia’s preparations for its interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections were well underway, and that it had already made significant progress with plans to boost its political influence in Europe. (These plans, the indictment suggests, included paying off the so-called “Hapsburg group” of well-connected former European politicians.)

Meanwhile, the ongoing fighting in Ukraine – as well as Russia’s post-2015 military intervention in Syria – has prompted a major Western reappraisal of Russia’s military capabilities. In addition to its newer hybrid warfare tactics, Russia has proved increasingly adept at combining the use of drones, electronic warfare and more conventional heavy artillery to lethal effect against Ukrainian forces using more traditional Western equipment and tactics.

The seizure of Crimea prompted NATO to deploy a significant, and permanent, ground force to the Baltic countries and Poland. New fronts continue to erupt, and Western analysts increasingly worry over Russian activity in the Western Balkans. Putin’s explicit nuclear threats this week will likely cause the United States and its European allies to reconsider their own nuclear postures. It seems far from impossible that the United States would decide to increase its nuclear footprint in Eastern Europe.

Just over a century ago, a similar welter of international anxiety and confusion formed the base of dry tinder that World War One would set alight. Russia and its rivals must take great care not to allow history to repeat itself.

Peter Apps is Reuters global affairs columnist. The opinions expressed here are his own.

Russian jet flies within 5 feet of US Navy plane, Pentagon says

January 29, 2018

Washington (CNN) — A Russian Su-27 jet performed an unsafe intercept of a US Navy surveillance plane while it was flying in international airspace over the Black Sea Monday, three defense officials told CNN.


The American pilots reported that the Russian jet came within 5 feet of the US plane, according to two of the officials.
The Russian jet’s action forced the US Navy aircraft to end its mission prematurely, one of the officials said.
US Naval Forces Europe, which oversees US operations in the region, later confirmed the incident in a statement.
“This interaction was determined to be unsafe due to the SU-27 closing to within five feet and crossing directly through the EP-3’s flight path, causing the EP-3 to fly through the SU-27’s jet wash,” Capt. Pamela Kunze, a spokesperson for US Naval Forces Europe told CNN.
Kunze said the intercept lasted for a total of two hours and 40 minutes.
“Unsafe actions‎ increase the risk of miscalculation and midair collisions,” Kunze said, adding, “The US aircraft was operating in accordance with international law and did not provoke this Russian activity.”
The Russian Defense Ministry said its fighter jet flew “strictly in accordance with international rules” when it intercepted the US surveillance plane.
In a statement, the Defense Ministry said that an “unidentified air target” was detected approaching Russian airspace at about midday over the neutral waters of the Black Sea.
“A Su-27 fighter was sent to intercept the target and approached the aircraft at a safe distance and identified it as an ER-3E (Aries II) US reconnaissance aircraft,” the statement said. “The crew of the fighter jet reported the identification of the American reconnaissance aircraft and accompanied it, preventing it from violating Russian airspace, observing all necessary security measures.”
“The entire flight of the Russian Su-27 was strictly in accordance with international rules for the use of airspace and there were no extraordinary events,” the statement added.
Several unsafe interactions between Russian and US military forces have taken place near the Black Sea.
Russian, US and NATO forces operate in close proximity to one another in the area, particularly since Russia boosted its military presence in the region following its annexation of Crimea in 2014.
The US Navy has upped its presence in the area in recent years.
CNN military analyst John Kirby said the Russian jet’s action was “Inexcusable, provocative & potentially fatal.”
He added that “while it is difficult to determine the degree to which senior levels in the chain of command are involved in the specific conduct of any particular intercept, one thing is absolutely clear: The Kremlin desires to challenge US military patrols in and above the Black Sea and elsewhere.”
“It’s a policy we must presume the Russian defense establishment is acting concertedly and aggressively to pursue. Russian military leaders are known for a lot of things. Independent thinking is not one of them,” he said.
A Russian Su-30 fighter jet made an “unsafe” intercept of a US P-8A Poseidon aircraft in November while it was flying over the Black Sea.
The Russian jet’s actions were deemed unsafe because the aircraft crossed in front of the US plane from right to left while engaging its afterburners, forcing the P-8 to enter its jet wash, an action that caused the US plane to experience “a 15-degree roll and violent turbulence,” according to Lt. Col. Michelle Baldanza, a spokeswoman for the Pentagon.
The last reported incident between US and Russian aircraft occurred in December in the skies over Syria, when US F-22s intercepted Russian attack jets after they flew over the de-confliction line intended to ensure safety.
The US jets fired warning flares during the intercept of the two Russian Su-25 close air support jets after they crossed the de-confliction line multiple times, US officials said.
The Russian Ministry of Defense issued a statement denying the incident took place west of the de-confliction line, accusing the F-22s of interfering with the flight of the Su-25s while they were operating along the western bank of the Euphrates River in the vicinity of the town of Mayadin.
This article has been updated to include statements from US Naval Forces Europe and the Russian Defense Ministry.

Former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili: Escaped From Police Abduction Yesterday; Protesting at Ukrainian Parliament Today

December 6, 2017


© AFP / by Dmitry ZAKS | Former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili, right, with one of his wounded supporters at a barricade in front of the Ukrainian parliament in Kiev on Wednesday

KIEV (AFP) – Former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili has become in recent years one of the former Soviet Union’s most colourful and polarising politicians.He brought down one government at home and is now trying to do the same in Ukraine.

The charismatic 49-year-old dramatically made his way out of a police van on Tuesday after it was swarmed by supporters angered over Saakashvili’s arrest on charges of plotting a coup sponsored by Russia.

It was the latest chapter in the dizzying career of a man who spearheaded a pro-Western “Rose Revolution” in Georgia in 2003 and fought a disastrous war with Russia five years later that eventually prompted him to flee the small Caucasus country.

He seized back the spotlight as a vocal and energetic champion of the three-month street uprising in Kiev that toppled a Moscow-backed government in 2014 and turned Ukraine on a pro-EU course.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko rewarded Saakashvili for his efforts by appointing him governor of the important Black Sea region of Odessa in 2015.

But an ugly falling out between the two saw Saakashvili stripped of his Ukrainian passport — only for him to defy the authorities and force his way back into the conflict-riven country with the help of supporters in September.

Few know what will happen to Saakashvili next as he continues leading small protests in Kiev aimed at impeaching Poroshenko on claims he has failed to fight state corruption that has made Ukraine into one of Europe’s poorest states.

But some say the only winner of the latest political standoff in Kiev was the Kremlin.

“The conflict between Saakashvili and the Ukrainian authorities only benefits Russia,” former US deputy assistant secretary of defence Michael Carpenter told the Atlantic Council think tank.

“Fighting Moscow’s aggression in (the east), the country needs internal peace and reform,” added Ukraine’s former US ambassador John Herbst.

Russia rejects all evidence of its involvement in a nearly four-year war that has claimed more than 10,000 lives.

– Tapping into discontent –

The idea of Saakashvili working with Russia to oust Poroshenko would — on the face of it — seem implausible.

Saakashvili, educated in the US and Ukraine, pulled Tbilisi out of Moscow’s orbit by toppling the government of the late Eduard Shevardnadze in 2003, the first “colour revolution” to hit Russia’s periphery.

His fans hail Saakashvili as a promoter of Western democratic and economic principles who rolls up his sleeves when tackling graft.

One of Saakashvili’s most celebrated achievements in Georgia was his ability to clean up the bribe-happy police force by disbanding the existing one and creating a new one from scratch.

But his critics view Saakashvili as a self-promoter who has developed a knack for seeking out attention and pulling headline-grabbing stunts.

The raids on his home on Tuesday saw Saakashvili climb on his apartment block rooftop and accuse Poroshenko of being a thief and “a traitor to the people of Ukraine”.

Some analysts say they believe Saakashvili is simply tapping into public discontent over corruption for little more than personal political gain.

“He likes to be followed by camera crews and photographers,” political analyst Mykola Davydyuk told AFP.

“Perhaps, on occasion, he overdoes it with the PR stunts, but he also knows how to rein himself in,” Davydyuk said.

“He is one of Ukraine’s most experienced politicians.”

Saakashvili, whose approval rating in Ukraine remains marginal, has most recently forged an alliance with the populist former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko — a far more potent threat to Poroshenko.

But his proven ability to seize power on the back of waves of public discontent appears to be gnawing at Ukraine’s president just as he is hearing whispers of disappointment with his leadership in the West.

by Dmitry ZAKS
Georgian former President Mikheil Saakashvili flashes a victory sign after he was freed by his supporters in Kiev, Ukraine December 5, 2017.

U.S. Navy plane has ‘unsafe’ encounter with Russian jet

November 28, 2017


By Daniel Uria  |  Nov. 27, 2017 at 9:06 PM
A U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon surveillance plane, like the one pictured above, had an unsafe encounter with a Russian SU-30 fighter jet while flying over the Black Sea on Saturday, the Pentagon said. Photo courtesy U.S. Navy
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Russian SU-30 fighter jet

Nov. 27 (UPI) — A U.S. Navy plane had an “unsafe” interaction with a Russian fighter jet while flying over the Black Sea on Saturday, the Pentagon said.

The Russian SU-30 fighter jet used its afterburners as it flew in front of the U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon surveillance plane.

The Russian fighter jet came as close as 50 feet to the Navy plane and activated its afterburners as it moved from right to left and flew in front of the U.S. plane.

“The U.S. aircraft was operating in international airspace and did nothing to provoke this Russian behavior,” Pentagon spokeswoman, Lt. Col. Michelle Baldanza, told CNN.

Baldanza said the Russian jet’s movements were deemed unsafe because it forced the Navy plane to enter its jet wash, which caused it to experience “a 15-degree roll and violent turbulence.”

“Unsafe actions‎ have the potential to cause serious harm and injury to all air crews involved,” she said.

The last reported interaction between U.S. and Russian aircrafts took place in June when a Russian Sukhoi Su-27 flew within five feet of an American RC-135 reconnaissance plane.

A Russian Ghost Submarine, Its U.S. Pursuers and a Deadly New Cold War

October 20, 2017

A resurgence in Russian submarine technology has reignited an undersea rivalry that played out in a cat-and-mouse sea hunt across the Mediterranean

Animation: George Downs/The Wall Street Journal


The Krasnodar, a Russian attack submarine, left the coast of Libya in late May, headed east across the Mediterranean, then slipped undersea, quiet as a mouse. Then, it fired a volley of cruise missiles into Syria.

In the days that followed, the diesel-electric sub was pursued by the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush, its five accompanying warships, MH-60R Seahawk helicopters and P-8 Poseidon anti-sub jets flying out of Italy.

In the days that followed, the diesel-electric sub was pursued by the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush, its five accompanying warships, MH-60R Seahawk helicopters and P-8 Poseidon anti-sub jets flying out of Italy.

The U.S. and its allies had set out to track the Krasnodar as it moved to its new home in the Black Sea. The missile attack upended what had been a routine voyage, and prompted one of the first U.S. efforts to track a Russian sub during combat since the Cold War. Over the next weeks, the sub at points eluded detection in a sea hunt that tested the readiness of Western allies for a new era in naval warfare.

Russia’s Krasnodar submarine.Photo: Russian Look/ZUMA PRESS

An unexpected resurgence in Russian submarine development, which deteriorated after the breakup of the Soviet Union, has reignited the undersea rivalry of the Cold War, when both sides deployed fleets of attack subs to hunt for rival submarines carrying nuclear-armed ballistic missiles.

When underwater, enemy submarines are heard, not seen—and Russia brags that its new subs are the world’s quietest. The Krasnodar is wrapped in echo-absorbing skin to evade sonar; its propulsion system is mounted on noise-cutting dampers; rechargeable batteries drive it in near silence, leaving little for sub hunters to hear. “The Black Hole,” U.S. allies call it.

“As you improve the quieting of the submarines and their capability to move that much more stealthily through the water, it makes it that much harder to find,” said U.S. Navy Capt. Benjamin Nicholson, of Destroyer Squadron 22, who oversees surface and undersea warfare for the USS Bush strike group. “Not impossible, just more difficult.”

Russia’s support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has given Russian President Vladimir Putin opportunities to test the cruise missiles aboard the new subs over the past two years, raising the stakes for the U.S. and its allies.

The USS George H.W. Bush aircraft carrier on July 22 in the Mediterranean Sea.Photo: Daniel Gaither/Planet Pix/ZUMA PRESS

Top officials of North Atlantic Treaty Organization say the alliance must consider new investments in submarines and sub-hunting technology. The findings of a study this year from the Center for a New American Security, a Washington-based think tank, grabbed the attention of senior NATO leaders: The U.S. and its allies weren’t prepared for an undersea conflict with Russia.

“We still remain dominant in the undersea world,” said Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Europe. “But we too must focus on modernizing the equipment we have and improving our skills.”

The U.S. Navy, which for years trained its sub-hunting teams through naval exercises and computer simulations, is again tracking Russian submarines in the Baltic, North Atlantic and Mediterranean seas. The challenge extends beyond Russia, which has sold subs to China, India and elsewhere.

“Nothing gets you better than doing it for real,” Capt. Nicholson said. “Steel sharpens steel.”

This account was based on interviews with officials from the U.S. Navy, NATO and crew members aboard the USS Bush, as well as Russian government announcements.

The U.S. Navy is engaged in a technology-fueled game of hide and seek, hunting for stealthy Russian submarines like the Krasnodar, a.k.a. “The Black Hole.” Video/Image: George Downs/WSJ.

Lookout duty

On May 6, after a last volley of cruise-missile tests conducted in the Baltic Sea, the Russian defense ministry said the Krasnodar was to join the country’s Black Sea fleet in Sevastopol, Ukraine, via the Mediterranean. American allies already knew.

The sub, traveling on the ocean surface, was accompanied by a Russian tug boat. The U.S. and its NATO allies had hashed out a plan to follow the sub using maritime-patrol aircraft and surface ships.

“Even if you are tracking a transiting submarine that is not trying to hide, it takes coordination and effort,” said Capt. Bill Ellis, the commodore of Task Force 67, the U.S. sub-hunting planes in Europe.

NATO’s maritime force, led by a Dutch frigate, took first lookout duty. The Dutch sent NH-90 helicopter to snap a photo of the sub in the North Sea and posted it on Twitter. Surveillance of the Krasnodar then turned to the U.K.’s HMS Somerset on May 5, about the time the sub entered the North Sea by the Dutch coast.

The Krasnodar passed through the English Channel and continued past France and Spain, where a Spanish patrol boat took up the escort.

When the submarine reached Gibraltar, a U.S. Navy cruiser monitored the sub’s entry into the Mediterranean Sea on May 13. U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon aircraft, flying out of the Sigonella air base in Italy, also took up watch.

“We want to see where it goes,” Capt. Ellis said. “At any time a submarine could submerge and start to be hidden, so we want to follow.”

As the Krasnodar headed east, Russia’s defense ministry notified international airlines that it would be conducting drills off the coast of Libya. U.S. officials and defense analysts said the drills were part of a sales pitch to potential buyers, including Egypt, that would show off the submarine’s cruise missiles.

A more dramatic and unexpected display came a few days later. Russia’s defense ministry announced on May 29 that the sub’s cruise missiles had struck Islamic State targets and killed militants near Syria’s city of Palmyra. Suddenly, a routine tracking mission turned much more serious.

Russia released images of what officials said was the Krasnodar submarine launching cruise missiles at Islamic State targets near Palmyra, Syria, as well as images of missile strikes.Photo: Russian Defence Ministry Press Office/TASS/ZUMA Press

With both U.S. and Russian forces crossing paths in Syria, each pursuing distinct and sometimes conflicting agendas, the battlefield has grown more complicated. The Russians have given only limited warnings of their strikes to the U.S.-led coalition. That has required the U.S. and its allies to keep a close eye on Russian submarines hiding in the Mediterranean.

Nuclear-armed submarines are the cornerstone of the U.S. and U.K.’s strategic deterrent. For the U.S., these subs make up one leg of the so-called triad of nuclear forces—serving, essentially, as a retaliatory strike force.

Smaller attack submarines like the Krasnodar, armed with conventional torpedoes and cruise missiles, can pose a more tangible threat to U.S. aircraft carriers, which are the Navy’s most important weapon to project American power around the world.

On June 5, the USS Bush, a $6.2 billion carrier, and its warships, passed through the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean. Its mission was to support U.S.-backed Syrian rebels and attack Islamic State positions.

A sailor on the bridge of the USS George H.W. Bush aircraft carrier on June 21 while at sea on the Mediterranean. Photo: Bram Janssen/Associated Press

Amid rising tensions between U.S. and Russian military forces in Syria—and with the Krasnodar trying to evade Western surveillance—the job of the USS Bush now also included tracking the sub and learning more about its so-called pattern of life: its tactics, techniques and battle rhythms.

By then, the Krasnodar had slipped beneath the waves and begun the game of hide and seek. Sailors and aviators with little real-world experience in anti-sub warfare began a crash course.

“It is an indication of the changing dynamic in the world that a skill set, maybe we didn’t spend a lot of time on in the last 15 years, is coming back,” said Capt. Jim McCall, commander of the air wing on the USS Bush.

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USS George H.W. Bush

Into the deep

The Krasnodar was designed to operate close to shore, invisible to opposing forces and able to strike missile targets 1,600 miles away. The coastal waters of the Mediterranean south of Cyprus, which put it within range of Syria, provided plenty of places to hide.

Finding a submarine that is operating on batteries underwater is very difficult. How many hours or days the Krasnodar’s batteries can operate before recharging is a secret neither Russian officials who know, nor the U.S. Navy, which may have a good idea, will talk about.

Generated by AI2DynInsetPhoto: Sources: news reports; U.S.S. George H.W. Bush crew

Western naval analysts say the sub most likely must use its diesel engines to recharge batteries every couple of days. When the diesel engines are running, they say, the sub can be more easily found.

The Krasnodar wasn’t likely to challenge an aircraft carrier. But the U.S. Navy was taking no chances. “One small submarine has the ability to threaten a large capital asset like an aircraft carrier,” said Capt. Ellis, the P-8 task force commander.

For many days in June, a squadron of MH-60R Seahawk helicopters lifted off from the deck of the USS Bush and its accompanying destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean. Some used radar for signs of the Krasnodar on the water’s surface. Others lowered sonar beacons to varying ocean depths.

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MH-60RSeahawk helicopter

“When you find what you are looking for in an ocean of nothingness, then it feels really good,” said Naval Aircrewman First Class Scott Fetterhoff, who manned radar gear aboard a Seahawk helicopter. U.S. Navy radar, used on ships, helicopters and jets, can detect objects as small as a periscope.

Cmdr. Edward Fossati, the commander of Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 70, the Bush Strike Group’s sub-hunting helicopters, said Russian subs have gotten quieter but the cat-and-mouse game remained about even with advances in tracking: “We are much better at it than we were 20 years ago.”

That includes narrowing down where to look. The USS Bush had on board three Navy anti-sub oceanographers to help track the vessel.

Submarines look for ways to hamper sonar equipment by exploiting undersea terrain and subsurface ocean currents and eddies. Differences in water temperature and density can bend sound waves, making it difficult to pinpoint the source of a sound.

U.S. Navy computer systems analyze the ocean environment and make predictions about how sound will travel in a given patch of ocean. Using the sub’s last known position and expected destination, the oceanographers use the data to mark potential hiding places and determine where search teams should focus.

“It is a constant foot race,” said U.S. Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer. “And, as I say, ‘Game on.’ ”

On June 18, a Syrian Sukhoi jet fighter threatened U.S.-backed rebels advancing toward Raqqa, the Islamic State’s de facto capital. Fighter planes from the USS Bush warned away the Sukhoi. When the Syrian pilot ignored flares and radio calls, Lt. Cmdr. Michael Tremel shot down the Sukhoi. Moscow threatened to shoot down U.S. planes in western Syria.

Five days later, the submerged Krasnodar fired another salvo of cruise missiles. Russian officials said they hit an Islamic State ammunition depot.

“They were flexing their muscles,” said Rear Adm. Kenneth Whitesell, commander of the USS Bush strike group. U.S. officials wouldn’t say how long the Krasnodar remained hidden underwater, but Adm. Whitesell said the launch was watched by a French frigate and U.S. Navy aerial surveillance.

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P-8 U.S. Navy submarine hunter

Flight-tracking companies don’t log military flights, but amateur plane watchers examining transponder data often catch clues. On July 2, with the USS Bush in a five-day port call in Haifa, Israel, a P-8 flew toward the Syrian coast, apparently searching the seas, according to amateur plane watchers.

On July 20, the flight-tracking data showed two P-8s flying south of Cyprus, close to six hours apart. The first plane was observed on flight-tracking sites making tight circles over the Mediterranean south of Cyprus, a flight pattern typical of a plane homing in on a submarine.

Capt. Ellis wouldn’t say if his P-8s had the Krasnodar in their sights.

F/A-18E Super Hornet jets of U.S. Navy strike fighter squadron VFA-31 and Northrop Grumman E-2C Hawkeye planes of Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron 126 on the USS George H.W. Bush on July 3..Photo: ronen zvulun / pool/European Pressphoto Agency

Tables turn

After the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, Moscow curtailed undersea operations. In 2000, the nuclear-powered Kursk sank with 118 sailors, a naval tragedy emblematic of the decline.

Russia’s military modernization program, announced in 2011, poured new money into its submarine program, allowing Russian engineers to begin moving ahead with newer, quieter designs.

When the Krasnodar was completed in 2015 at the St. Petersburg’s Admiralty Shipyards, Russia boasted it could elude the West’s most advanced sonar. NATO planners worry subs could cut trans-Atlantic communication cables or keep U.S. ships from reaching Europe in a crisis, as Nazi subs did in World War II.

“If you want to transport a lot of stuff, you have to do that by ship,” said NATO’s submarine commander, Rear Adm. Andrew Lennon. “And those ships are vulnerable to undersea threats.”

NATO’s military leaders have recommended reviving the Cold War-era Atlantic Command, dedicated to protecting sea lanes, alliance officials said, a proposal that defense ministers are expected to approve.

U.S. officials have said they believe that Moscow’s support of the Assad regime is partly for access to a strategic port in the eastern Mediterranean to resupply and rearm warships. The Syrian port of Tartus is expanding to include a Russian submarine maintenance facility, according to Turkish officials.

On July 30, the Krasnodar surfaced in the Mediterranean. The Krasnodar’s port call in Tartus, coinciding with Navy Day, a celebration of Russia’s maritime forces, marked the end of its hide-and-seek maneuvers with the USS Bush. On Aug. 9, the Krasnodar arrived in Crimea to join the Black Sea fleet, Russian officials said. Its mission appeared a success: Moscow showed it could continue unfettered strikes in Syria with its growing undersea fleet.

The Krasnodar, Russia’s diesel-electric attack submarine, at its new home port in Crimea. Photo: Pavlishak Alexei/TASS/ZUMA PRESS

By then, the Bush carrier strike group had left the eastern Mediterranean for the coast of Scotland, where the U.S. and British navies, along with a Norwegian frigate, were conducting a joint exercise called Saxon Warrior. U.K. sailors boarded the USS Bush and heard lessons from the Krasnodar hunt.

Days before the exercise, Capt. Nicholson predicted another Russian sub would be nearby. “We are in the Russians’ backyard,” he said. “Prudence dictates we are ready for whatever or whomever might come out to watch.

A senior U.S. official later said a Russian sub had indeed shadowed the exercise, which ended Aug. 10. NATO officials wouldn’t comment.

A new nuclear-powered class of Russian submarines even more sophisticated than the Krasnodar, called the Yasen, are designed to destroy aircraft carriers. They are built with low-magnetic steel to better evade detection and can dive deeper than larger U.S. submarines

At the time of the U.S.-U.K. exercise, Russia said its only Yasen sub officially in operation, the Severodvinsk, was in the Barents Sea. But a second, more advanced Yasen sub, the Kazan, was undergoing sea trials.

Crew members at the launching of the Kazan, one of a new class of nuclear-power Russian submarines. Photo: Ryumin Alexander/TASS/ZUMA PRESS

Russian, NATO, and U.S. officials won’t say whether the Kazan was shadowing the U.S.-U.K. exercise in the North Atlantic.

On Aug. 17, a U.S. P-8, flying from a Norwegian base, conducted three days of operations, according to amateur aviation trackers. Canadian air force patrol planes also flew out of Scotland. On Aug. 26, French planes joined.

Allied officials said some of the flights were searching the waters for a Russian submarine. The USS Bush, however, was out of the hunt. On Aug. 21, she returned to port in Norfolk, Va.

Write to Julian E. Barnes at

Despite risks, stateless Saakashvili to attempt Ukraine entry

September 10, 2017


© AFP/File / by Michel VIATTEAU | Former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili holds up a Ukrainian passport last month. On Sunday he will attempt to re-enter the country.

PRZEMYSL (POLAND) (AFP) – Stateless former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili says he is determined to return to Ukraine on Sunday, to reclaim the Ukrainian citizenship which has been stripped from him, although in doing so he runs the risk of being arrested at Tbilisi’s request.The 49-year-old firebrand says he intends to show up on Poland’s Korczowa border crossing point with Ukraine Sunday around noon, where Ukrainian authorities are likely to refuse him entry.

The charismatic Saakashvili is credited with pushing through pro-Western reforms in his native Georgia which he led from 2004 to 2013.

He is currently wanted in his homeland for alleged abuse of power — something he denies — during a tumultuous nine years as president that saw him fight and lose a brief war against Russia in 2008.

He left in disgrace for Ukraine in 2015 to work for the country’s pro-Western authorities as governor of the key Odessa region on the Black Sea.

But he quit in November 2016 amid a dramatic falling out with Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko, who stripped him of his Ukrainian citizenship in July while he was out of the country.

Now, Saakashvili wants to return to challenge that decision in court and to get back into politics.

“I know their (Ukrainian authorities) scenario,” he told reporters in the Polish capital Warsaw on Friday. “They are trying to send some young girls to welcome me with smiles and with strong refusal.

“I want to tell these girls and other border guards: Please don’t comply with illegal orders. Act as the law provides. And the law clearly says… we are on the right side of the law.”

– ‘Stateless in Ukraine –

Speaking to the BBC, spokesman for the Ukrainian border service Oleg Slobodyan suggested Saakashvili would be denied entry on the grounds that as a stateless person who lacks the required documents.

Invalid documents must be confiscated and their bearers denied entry, border guards said.

Saakashvili showed his Ukrainian passport to reporters in Warsaw on Friday, adding that he would present it to Ukrainian border guards on Sunday along with “other legal documents.”

He said he had been an enthusiastic participant in the 2014 pro-Western Maidan uprising, and since 2015 had battled corruption as governor of the Odessa region.

Saakashvili lost his Georgian citizenship when he was granted a Ukrainian passport in 2015, as the country bans dual citizenship.

He maintains that officials working for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva have confirmed his status as “stateless in Ukraine”, meaning he has the right to be there to appeal against President Poroshenko’s July decision to strip his citizenship.

Kiev justified the move by claiming that Saakashvili had provided “inaccurate information” in his citizenship application.

Saakashvili quit his job as governor of Odessa in November 2016 amid a dramatic falling out with Poroshenko, accusing high-ranking officials of blocking his efforts to tackle rampant corruption.

– ‘We can’t use Putin’s methods’ –

Georgia on Tuesday asked Kiev to extradite Saakashvili to face charges include misappropriation of property and abuse of office, among others.

Saakashvili flatly denies the allegations, arguing that they are part of a political witch hunt by his opponents.

He says Georgia’s extradition request was driven by “oligarchs” who fear his presence in Ukraine, where he fought against corruption, and claims Tbilisi’s accusations of “abuse of power” are politically motivated.

Several politicians and Ukrainian MPs are due to welcome him to the border, Saakashvili said, including former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko and ex-defence minister Anatoly Hrytsenko.

He also expects “thousands” of supporters of his political party – the Movement of the New Forces – which he created in Ukraine to show up.

“We see a roll-back of reforms in Ukraine, we see a crackdown on anti-corruption activities in Ukraine. This is very sad,” Saakashvili said Friday in Warsaw.

“In order to contain (Russian President Vladimir) Putin, we have to be much better than Putin. We cannot use the methods of Putin,” he added.

by Michel VIATTEAU

Putin Regrets Awarding U.S. Top Diplomat Tillerson Russian State Honor — “He’s fallen in with the wrong company”

September 7, 2017

VLADIVOSTOK, Russia — Vladimir Putin took a jab at Rex Tillerson on Thursday, joking that the U.S. Secretary of State had “fallen in with the wrong company” since he had awarded him a Russian state honor for his contribution to Russian-U.S. relations.

Hopes of detente in Moscow’s relations with Washington under Donald Trump, who had praised President Putin before winning the White House, have faded as the countries have imposed sanctions and expelled diplomats in recent months.

Addressing a U.S. citizen at a plenary session of an economic forum in the far eastern city of Vladivostok, Putin said: “We awarded your compatriot Mr. Tillerson the Order of Friendship, but he seems to have fallen in with the wrong company and to be steering in the other direction.”

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Order of Friendship

“I hope that the wind of cooperation, friendship and reciprocity will eventually put him on the right path,” Putin added, drawing cheers from the crowd.

In 2013 Putin awarded Tillerson, then CEO of energy giant Exxon Mobil, the Order of Friendship, a Russian state honor, for his “significant contribution to strengthening cooperation in the energy sector”.

Russia’s relations with the United States deteriorated over its annexation of the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea in 2014 and support for pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, prompting Washington to impose economic sanctions against Moscow.

The Kremlin, which has denied U.S. allegations it meddled in the presidential vote, had heaped praise on Trump during his election campaign, saying it supported efforts to improve Russian-American relations.

But Trump, who was faced scrutiny over the alleged ties of his entourage with Russia, reluctantly signed into law fresh sanctions against Moscow, further straining relations.

(Reporting by Oksana Kobzeva, Denis Pinchuk and Katya Golubkova; Writing by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Ralph Boulton)