Posts Tagged ‘Romania’

Why NATO Matters

July 20, 2018

President Trump’s meeting with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, has opened another round of debate on the purpose and future of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Since assuming office, Trump has moved away from his earlier position that NATO is obsolete, preferring instead to highlight the disparity between U.S. defense expenditures (3.5 percent of Gross Domestic Product) and those of other signatories to the treaty, especially Germany (1.2 percent). Indeed, Trump rightly views the commitments of NATO powers to increase defense spending as one of the ways he has strengthened the alliance.

Some of his supporters, however, continue to wonder why America is part of NATO at all. They point to NATO’s newest and 29th member state, Montenegro, and ask why American soldiers should be committed to the defense of its capital Podgorica. This is the latest version of the “Why die for Danzig” argument that originated among the French left in the run up to the Second World War: What reason is there, these critics say, to agree to defend the borders of small and faraway countries engaged in quarrels between people of whom we know nothing?

But to ask the question this way is to misunderstand the nature of deterrence. We join alliances such as NATO and we welcome countries like Montenegro—and Poland—into those alliances so that we will not have to perish for Podgorica.

Deterrence relies on the perception of strength. The tougher one’s adversaries perceive you to be, the higher the probable cost of aggression, the less likely foes or competitors or whatever will move against you. The principle of collective security manifested in NATO is nothing more than bolstering this perception of strength through greater numbers: As membership and resources scale upward, so does the price of hostile activity.

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Would NATO invoke Article Five for the second time (the first was after 9/11) if Russia moved into Estonia or Latvia or Melania Trump’s native Slovenia? The honest answer is we don’t know. But here’s the thing: Russia doesn’t know either. And that uncertainty is precisely the mechanism by which Russia is deterred. It’s risky, tenuous, and occasionally messy. And it has kept the peace.

The alternative did not. America’s lack of forward presence in Europe in the interwar years no doubt contributed to German rearmament and expansionism. So did the fact that the League of Nations—just like the U.N. and E.U. today—had no real military capability. It is worth remembering that many of the French who had no issue with the German annexation of Danzig ended up dying anyway, for among the lessons of history is that belligerent powers never stop with the small countries. They keep advancing until they run into a wall.

Nor is there any question that Putin’s Russia is a belligerent power. Ask yourself: Why do these central, eastern, and southeastern European nations want to belong to NATO? It’s not because they particularly enjoy the alliance’s swanky new headquarters. It’s because they have been under Russian domination before and, if they are not careful, will be again. They notice that Vladimir Putin has so far limited his invasions to non-NATO members Georgia and Ukraine. He meddles with NATO powers, trolls them, harasses them, and threatens them. He walks up to the line, for sure. But he dares not cross it.

OK, comes the reply, but why should Americans care who dominates Romania? I am happy to cite the nobility of freedom, democracy, and national sovereignty, but I recognize that these concepts will be dismissed as idealistic abstractions. So I offer instead this cold-hearted and realistic principle: As the late professor Harold Rood was fond of saying, you either run the show or the show runs you.

American retreat from NATO or Europe would, like we have seen in the Middle East, create a vacuum for an alternative power to revise political, economic, and security arrangements according to its will and in its favor. It would be the very definition of idealism to suggest that those arrangements would be friendly to or consonant with American interests. If you think America is getting a bad deal now, wait until Russia is shaping European trade policy. Only the Ladas will be tariff free.

The counterargument is that other powers will rise to balance against Russia. But the voices most skeptical of NATO and happiest with American withdrawal from Europe are also the most critical of the only power with the capacity to face down the bear. That power is Germany. Is this an outcome we really wish for? I seem to be the sole conservative left who is more than happy with Germany not spending too much money on soldiers, tanks, and artillery. There’s not a really happy track record there.

Germany is already extending its reach and dominating Europe through the E.U. Do we want to give Merkel, or whoever follows her, NATO as well? What would that look like? “Better take these migrants, Italy, or the Bundeswehr will have to make sure you do,” are words no one should want to hear.

I’ve heard the laments in recent days that debate over NATO has been closed. Where have these people been? We have been debating the future of NATO and its expansion since the foundation of the alliance in 1949 and especially since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. And that debate has been decided, again and again, by American voters, in NATO’s favor: first as a means to deter Soviet aggression, then as a way to expand and consolidate democratic gains, and for the last decade as a check against revanchist Russia. True, the two most recent presidents have been wary of NATO—Trump more loudly than his predecessor. But both Barack Obama and Donald Trump have come to assert, however grudgingly and haltingly, its value.

And for good reason. This is an alliance that furthers American interests in the service of American ideals. It’s worth preserving because the choice is not between NATO and peace. The choice is between NATO and war.


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

Brussels heads for showdown with Poland over rule of law

June 18, 2018

Battle over EU power to sanction member states comes to a head

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The commission’s Frans Timmermans meets Polish premier Mateusz Morawiecki in April © Leszek Szymanski/EFE/EPA

Michael Peel in Brussels and James Shotter in Warsaw

Poland and Brussels are poised for a showdown in their battle over the EU’s power to sanction member states accused of sliding into authoritarianism or corruption.

Frans Timmermans, the European Commission’s vice-president, will hold last-ditch talks in Warsaw on Monday ahead of a crucial EU hearing on Poland’s observance of the rule of law — potentially opening the way to the first member state censure.

Such a rebuke would set up a further possible clash between EU countries over whether to impose sanctions on Poland, including the suspension of its voting rights. Hungary, after its own disputes with Brussels over the rule of law, has said it will block any countermeasures against Warsaw, which would require unanimity.

The next few weeks could reshape Poland’s relationship with the EU, at a time when the bloc is strained by pressure over migration and its disputes over trade and foreign policy with President Donald Trump’s administration.

One EU diplomat said he feared the Poland case had exposed a sharp divergence of views around the bloc on “what rule of law means”.

“If our starting points are fundamentally different, we may never find an understanding,” the diplomat said. “This is the fifth-largest member state. It is not something you can easily contain.”

The Poland dispute has become urgent because of Warsaw’s planned overhaul of the country’s supreme court which will take effect on July 3. The move would force more than one-third of the court’s judges to retire. This and other changes to the Polish judicial system have led Brussels to charge that Warsaw is endangering the rule of law — a fundamental EU tenet. Poland has said it is overhauling an inefficient system that has not adequately been reformed since communist times.

If our starting points are fundamentally different, we may never find an understanding

Mr Timmermans will on Monday call on Mateusz Morawiecki, Poland’s prime minister, to pull back from the judicial changes. Last week the commission vice-president warned Poland’s government in a speech in the European Parliament not to abuse its powers. “You cannot say ‘Because I have got a majority, I can do with the rule of law whatever I like’,” he said.

The commission opened the so-called Article 7 process of possible sanction against Poland last year, arguing that Warsaw was at risk of breaching EU laws and values.

A failure to force Poland to back down would be a huge blow to the EU’s ability to govern itself at a time of rising autocracy and of corruption claims in countries such as Malta, Slovakia and Romania.

EU ambassadors voted informally by 14 to four last week to escalate the dispute with Poland to a hearing of member states on June 26, which could be followed by a vote on whether to press ahead towards possible sanctions. Older EU members, including Germany, France and the Benelux countries, backed holding a hearing, while Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Croatia opposed it.

Critics of Brussels’ stance accuse it of double standards and a willingness to ignore breaches of EU rules by bigger and more influential members.

EU officials privately recognise the bloc’s lack of tools to tackle alleged rule of law breaches. The commission has proposed tying observance of the rule of law to funding from the bloc’s next proposed multiyear budget — a plan that Poland branded a “massive power grab”.

If the commission and Warsaw remain at loggerheads, the fate of the dispute will rest on whether either side can count on support from sufficient member states to force the other to back down.

A four-fifths majority of EU countries is needed to press ahead with the case against Warsaw, which equates to 22 of the bloc’s 27 members, excluding Poland.

The position of states that ducked the informal ambassadors’ ballot will be crucial if a vote is forced on whether to pursue possible sanctions against Poland. Austria, Romania, Italy, Lithuania, Malta, Estonia, Slovenia, the UK and Bulgaria — which holds the rotating EU presidency — all abstained.

Some diplomats from countries that want to push the Polish case forward fear they may be short of the votes needed. “It would be a big defeat,” said one.

After a period during which relations between Warsaw and the commission appeared to be thawing — when the Polish parliament amended some of the reforms criticised by Brussels — fronts have hardened in recent weeks.

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Jaroslaw Kaczynski

Diplomats in Warsaw see little sign of further compromise — although Mr Timmermans is visiting at the invitation of the Polish government. “I don’t think Poland is going to change its mind,” said one.

An added complication in recent weeks has been the prolonged hospitalisation of Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Poland’s de facto leader, which officials in Brussels said coincided with an end to Polish offers of concessions in the rule of law talks.

Doctors have said that Mr Kaczynski’s stay, which ended on June 8, was due to osteoarthritis but rumours have swirled about more serious afflictions. The country’s health minister said on Friday that his condition was such that not admitting him “would have threatened his life”. However, Beata Mazurek, the Law and Justice party’s spokeswoman, said Mr Kaczynski was now “in good form”.

Thousands rally in Romania against judiciary in government-backed protests

June 10, 2018

The ruling Social Democrat party in Romania organized a large demonstration to counter anti-government protests held after Social Democrats tried to decriminalize corruption offenses. Protesters were bussed in.

Protest in Rumänien (picture-alliance/AP Photo/V. Ghirda)

The ruling Social Democrats (PSD) in Romania and thousands of their supporters rallied outside government headquarters in Bucharest on Saturday to protest alleged abuses of power by anti-corruption prosecutors.

The rally was seen as a response by the ruling coalition to a series of large anti-government street protests held against Social Democrat attempts to decriminalize several corruption offenses via emergency decree last year. After the popular outcry, the Social Democrats were forced to withdraw the decree.

Read more: Romanian president refuses to approve controversial judicial reforms

The ruling Social Democratic Party believes the prosecutors have too much power and allege that they have tapped phones illegally and have unjustly targeted officials.

The party bussed in supporters from around the country for the rally, while others made it in on their own.

According to Romanian media, numerous local officials, as well as hospital managers and headteachers, had been urging their employees to join the demonstration.

Special trains were made available and the PSD also handed out instructions to make sure the demonstrations are as effective as possible.

According to a leaked party document, there would be one Romanian flag available for every 10 participants and a placard for every 40.

Justice system monitored by EU

How hard it is to fight corruption in Romania is an argument that has dominated politics there since it joined the EU in 2007.

Romania is one of the European Union’s most corrupt states and Brussels keeps its justice system under special monitoring.

Anti-corruption prosecutors have secured a spate of convictions against lawmakers, ministers and mayors in recent years. Among the topics are exposing conflicts of interest, abuse of power, fraud and the awarding of state contracts in exchange for bribes.

However, leading politicians, some of whom are currently under investigation or on trial, have denied wrongdoing and accused prosecutors of using their powers for political persecution.

They have also accused them of relying too much on tip-offs from third parties to build cases.

“You mustn’t be under the illusion that only high-ranking officials or public servants are targets,” said Social Democratic party leader Liviu Dragnea speaking to thousands of supporters clad in white T-shirts and waving flags.

Protests in Romania (Reuters/Inquam Photos/L. Albei)Social Democrat party leader Liviu Dragnea dove into the crowd

Local television stations estimated that just under 200,000 people were at the protest, although riot police did not offer official figures.

“Nobody is safe. Absolutely everyone can be targeted by a tip-off which could lead to a conviction,” Dragnea said.

Dragnea himself was convicted in a vote-rigging case, barring him from the post of prime minister. He is now on trial in a separate case for allegedly instigating abuses of office by other public servants. He is also under investigation on suspicion of pocketing EU funds. He denies wrongdoing in all three cases.

Social Democrat legislators are currently trying to revise the criminal code. Critics have said some of the proposed changes would damage investigations.

av/bw (AP, Reuters)

Russia tells 23 countries that envoys must go

March 30, 2018
 / 10:39 PM March 30, 2018

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A van leaves the U.S. consulate in St.Petersburg, Russia, Friday, March 30, 2018. Russia announced the expulsion of more than 150 diplomats, including 60 Americans, on Thursday and said it was closing a U.S. consulate in retaliation for the wave of Western expulsions of Russian diplomats over the poisoning of an ex-spy and his daughter in Britain, a tit-for-tat response that intensified the Kremlin’s rupture with the United States and Europe. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)

PETERSBURG, Russia – Russia’s Foreign Ministry says it has informed ambassadors of most of the countries that ordered expulsion of Russian diplomats that an equal number of their diplomats have been declared persona non grata.

A ministry statement Friday said the ambassadors were from 23 of the countries that are expelling Russians in connection with the poisoning in Britain of a former Russian double agent and his daughter. Russia on Thursday announced it was expelling 60 US diplomats and closing the consulate in St. Petersburg in retaliation for Washington’s moves.

The countries informed Friday of expulsions were Australia, Albania, Germany, Denmark, Ireland, Spain, Italy, Canada, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Moldova, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Ukraine, Finland, France, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Sweden and Estonia.


It said it Russia would consider mirror expulsions of diplomats from Belgium, Hungary, Georgia and Montenegro.

The statement did not mention NATO, which is expelling seven Russians.

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People Seeking The Safety of Strongly Enforced Human Rights Once Came To The EU — “Today there is not so much enthusiasm.” — “the EU is a fair-weather friend to human rights.”

March 23, 2018

How much does the EU care about human rights?

Human rights groups have criticized the European Union for failing to uphold its values while tackling the migrant crisis. Where are its red lines? Conflict Zone meets European Parliament Vice President Ioan Pascu.

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Watch video26:00

Ioan Pașcu on Conflict Zone

Populist success at the polls across Europe. Brexit. Disunity. The European Union continues to face serious problems on many issues, including its handling of the migrant crisis that began in 2015.

But despite its humanitarian rhetoric, the EU has come under fire for its interventions, most recently in Libya.

In December, Amnesty International published a damning report, criticizing EU member states for “actively supporting a sophisticated system of abuse and exploitation of refugees and migrants by the Libyan Coast Guard, detention authorities and smugglers in order to prevent people from crossing the Mediterranean.”

Is the European Union failing to live up to its founding values of “human dignity, freedom, equality and solidarity” that each of its members are bound by?

Red lines

This week on Conflict Zone, DW’s Tim Sebastian met European Parliament Vice President Ioan Pascu in Strasbourg and began by asking him why the EU spent so much time talking about human rights but did less to uphold them.

“It’s a question of values of a club,” Pascu told DW’s Sebastian. “They were posted at the entrance door, whoever wanted to become a member of the club would have to abide by them.”

Responding to the suggestion that member states were failing to abide by these rules, Pascu said: “I would agree with you that the attractiveness of the European Union has been affected by the crisis, by the conflicts around, and today there is not so much enthusiasm as there used to be in the late 90s, beginning of the 2000s.”

But Pascu dismissed that there was anything new in Greece’s decision in June 2017 to block EU criticism of China’s human rights record. China has a 51% stake in Greece’s largest port.

Philippinen - Präsident Rodrigo Duterte (picture alliance/ZUMAPRESS/R. Umali)The EU said its deal with the Philippines would “allow better collaboration … in political, economic and development issues”. Human Rights Watch has said that under President Rodrigo Duterte human rights in the Philippines is in crisis

Pascu disagreed too that the EU was failing to offer help beyond its own borders: “We see countries which up until now did not pay too much attention to the EU, being interested in relations with the EU, take India for instance, take Mexico for instance.”

But wasn’t this only driven by trade interests?

“Who is going to come only for values? Who is going to come only for that?” said Pascu, a former defense minister of Romania.

‘Not a great democrat’

On criticism of a recent agreement with the Philippines, Pascu questioned waiting for another leader: “Because they elected Duterte as president and Duterte is not a great democrat we should say, ‘no deals with you until you elect somebody else’?”

Human Rights Watch has saidPresident Rodrigo Duterte has “plunged the Philippines into its worst human rights crisis since the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos.”

“We do have to take into account much more than that. What if we don’t have such a treaty with Philippines tomorrow when they elect somebody else than Duterte?” said Pascu.

On the EU’s statements championing human rights, Pascu said: “It does not mean that the world revolves around only about one action or one leader, and then we have to give up everything else because that leader is not a democrat.”

Zitattafel - Conflict Zone: Ioan Pascu

So does it have limits in its dealings with other countries?

“We do have red lines … In February this parliament was very critical to the human rights records of Egypt.”

The European Parliament issued a statement in February condemning Egypt’s use of the death penalty.

In January, the former president of Estonia, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, said “the EU is a fair-weather friend to human rights: emphasizing them when there’s little risk, de-emphasizing them when interests come into play – often when it is in the interest of individual member states not to raise issues, primarily for commercial reasons […].”

Pascu, a European Parliament vice president since 2014, questioned this view as too generalized: “Not everything in the European Union is bad. Not everything in the European Union, equally, is not to be criticized. So that’s the way we move forward.”

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Referendum Poilzei schreitet ein (picture-alliance/AP Photo/M. Fernandez)“This argument has been made by all the separatists [in Catalonia], that it was police brutality,” Ioan Pascu told Conflict Zone. Human Rights Watch said that Spanish police had used excessive force during Catalonia’s independence referendum

‘Violence can be provoked’

But if there are many matters of division within the Union, one moment of recent unity has arguably been its silence over Spain and Madrid’s response to Catalonia’s failed independence bid.

Human Rights Watch said the Spanish police had used excessive force as they tried to stop the referendum in Catalonia.

Pascu told DW’s Tim Sebastian: “I side with the [Spanish] government because the government has the responsibility to make their constitution respected by their citizens. If that happens in another country the same situation will happen. Why do you think that these separatists have not been supported in Europe?”

However, Pascu insisted that support for Spain was not about the country’s importance to the EU: “It’s the symbolism of it. If you let these things happen and go around, then you never have the member states existing in the European Union.”

And if there was more violence in Spain over an independence vote?

“Sometimes violence can be provoked. Sometimes it can,” said Pascu.

Europe’s NATO members failing to meet spending targets

March 15, 2018

NATO members have increased defense spending in general, but European countries are having difficulties meeting a target of 2 percent of GDP demanded by US President Donald Trump. Germany is a long way off.

NATO battalion in the Baltics (picture-alliance/AP Photo/M. Kulbis)

Only three NATO members from the EU are meeting defense spending goals, the military alliance said in its annual report on Thursday.

Only Estonia, Greece and the United Kingdom met the 2 percent of GDP defense spending goal agreed in 2014. NATO members have until 2024 to reach the target.

But there were words of encouragement from NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who noted that “in 2017, European allies and Canada increased defense spending by almost 5 percent.”

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In 2017, European Allies & increased their defence expenditure by almost 5%. And since 2014 we have added $18 bn more to spending on major equipment. – @jensstoltenberg

The United States remained the largest defense spender in the alliance, comprising two-thirds of the alliance’s overall expenditure. Washington last year spent 3.6 percent of GDP on defense.

Despite the current disparity, NATO expects four more countries to meet the target this year: Poland, Romania, Lithuania and Latvia.

Read more: How does Germany contribute to NATO?

Trump and 2 percent 

US President Donald Trump has lashed out at NATO allies over their failure to meet their commitments.

Read more:  Germany ‘not fair’ on defense spending, says Donald Trump

He has particularly pointed to Germany, which spent 1.24 percent of GDP on defense in 2017, up from 1.2 percent the previous year. In real terms, Germany increased defense spending by 6 percent to 40.5 billion ($50 billion), up 2.8 billion from 2016.

Stoltenberg said that Germany has stepped up contributions to NATO, for example in its mission in Afghanistan and forward deployed force in Lithuania to counter Russia.

German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen has already pledged Berlin will spend more on defense.

The problem for Germany and other states is that while they have increased spending, the percentage change is minor due to simultaneous economic growth. This means that in order to meet NATO goals, members must significantly increase expenditures for defense.

In addition, 23 EU nations in 2017 committed to a joint defense cooperation, focusing on coordination and investments, that could pave the way towards a European defense union.

cw/rt (AFP, dpa)

Russia accuses US of breaking treaty by offering ‘Aegis Ashore’ defense system to Japan

December 30, 2017


© AFP | Japan has approved the installation of two Aegis Ashore missile defence systems to defend the country against North Korea’s growing nuclear and missile threats

MOSCOW (AFP) – Russia’s deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov on Saturday accused the United States of violating a key arms treaty by selling a missile defence system to Japan.”The US is deploying them (missile defence systems) at their military bases in Romania and Poland, that is near our western borders, which goes against the 1987 INF Treaty banning the deployment of such systems on the ground,” Ryabkov said in a statement published on the Russian Foreign Ministry website.

“The fact that such complexes could now appear on Russia’s eastern borders creates a situation that we cannot ignore in our military planning,” said Ryabkov.

On Thursday, Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the deployment of the US missile defence system would have a negative impact on relations between Tokyo and Moscow.

“We consider the step made by the Japanese side as going against efforts of ensuring peace and stability in the region,” Zakharova said, adding that Moscow has “deep regret and serious concern” over the move.

On December 19, the Japanese government approved the installation of two land-based US-made Aegis Ashore missile defence systems to defend the country against North Korea’s growing nuclear and missile threats.

Japan plans to increase its budget defence for the next fiscal year to strengthen its missile defence against the threat posed by its neighbour.

Earlier this month Japan’s defence minister, Itsunori Onodera, said the country plans to purchase long-range cruise missiles with a range of some 900 kilometres (560 miles) from US firms.

The move is controversial as Japan’s pacifist constitution bans the use of force as a means of settling international disputes.

After North Korea launched a missile over Japan’s Hokkaido island in September, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he would “never tolerate” North Korea’s “dangerous provocative action” and has urged the international community to ramp up pressure on Pyongyang.

North Korea has threatened to “sink” Japan into the sea.

Global anxiety about North Korea has steadily risen this year, with Washington calling on other UN members to cut ties with Pyongyang in order to squeeze the secretive regime.

The call, however, has fallen short of persuading key North Korea backers China and Russia to take steps to isolate the regime.

Russia Bets on Shale Oil to Defend Its Spot as Top Producer of Crude

December 29, 2017

With many Soviet-era oil fields in decline, Russia will need new sources by the mid-2020s if it wants to maintain production

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Companies like Gazprom Neft are leading Moscow’s drive to replicate the U.S. shale boom

KRASNOLENINSKOYE OIL FIELD, Russia—This western Siberian oil field is called “Red Lenin,” but its reserves have a distinctly American ring: shale.

The future of the Russian oil industry could lie in the vast Bazhenov shale formation, the largest in the world. Russia has become the biggest global producer of crude oil with almost no contribution from shale, a sometimes technically difficult and expensive resource to pump.

Only Americans have really gotten shale right so far, but the Kremlin is taking the first steps to unlock Russia’s potential.

Companies like PAO Gazprom Neft are leading Moscow’s drive to replicate the U.S. shale boom, experimenting with a uniquely Russian, state-controlled approach to fracking that contrasts with the free-for-all among independent producers in Texas and North Dakota.

“The Bazhenov is a huge prize,” says Alexei Vashkevich, Gazprom Neft’s exploration director.

The Kremlin is offering tax breaks for shale production and encouraging collaboration among companies and other players such as research institutes, hoping that fracking can help stave off a reckoning for its oil industry.

Mr. Vashkevich, who worked on the Bakken Shale formation in North Dakota for Hess Corp., said Russian shale will develop in a fundamentally different way from U.S. counterparts.

Alexei Vashkevich, Gazprom Neft’s exploration director.Photo: Davide Monteleone for The Wall Street Journal

Russia’s giant oil companies aren’t renowned for the kind of risk-taking, innovation and speed at the heart of shale producers’ success in the U.S.

“Here, 90% are big players with a culture of secrecy. Historically, we are slower,” Mr. Vashkevich said. Other challenges include an underdeveloped services sector and extreme weather.

No significant shale production is expected before the mid-2020s. With the Bazhenov’s complex and varied geology and other risks companies face here, executives and analysts are wary of making output forecasts.

“I don’t think anyone is going to be jumping up and down in 2020 and saying [shale] is the savior of the Russian oil industry,” said James Henderson, director of the natural-gas program at the Oxford Institute of Energy Studies, an independent research organization.

But the size of the Bazhenov—which holds almost as much oil as all the known U.S. shale plays, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration—offers a chance for Russia to maintain its prized position as the world’s top producer of crude in coming decades.

Developing shale is important to the ambitions of Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose government depends on oil and gas for around one-third of federal budget revenues. In Mr. Putin’s 17 years as Russia’s leader, crude has fueled spending that has underpinned his popularity at home and efforts to spread influence abroad.

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Russia’s main Soviet-era fields are declining, and the country will need new sources by the middle of the next decade if it wants to maintain its production, oil executives and industry analysts say.

U.S. and European sanctions over Ukraine have hurt Russian companies’ ability to get the technology needed for hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, the techniques used to blast oil out of shale formations. But sanctions aside, few countries besides the U.S. and Canada have had real success with fracking, an often high-cost technique that rewards entrepreneurial risk taking and benefits from a looser regulatory regime. Efforts have sputtered in China, Poland and Romania, while fracking isn’t allowed in Germany and France over public concerns over the technique’s impact on the environment, particularly drinking water.

Until recently, Russian oil officials had focused on new conventional projects and old Soviet fields, where they boosted production by making scores of small gains. The result was that Russia surpassed Saudi Arabia as the world’s biggest producer of crude oil, pumping a post-Soviet record of over 11 million barrels a day in 2016. Improving output at conventional oil fields will remain an important piece of staving off decline in Russian production.

Gazprom Neft, Russia’s fourth-largest oil producer, is seen as a leader in Moscow’s drive to replicate the U.S. shale boom.

Gazprom Neft has revamped its approach to shale. Previously focused on a partnership with Royal Dutch Shell PLC, it is now moving ahead with new technologies to squeeze out oil from the Bazhenov and, hopefully, begin real production at the start of the next decade.

The company is working with technical universities and service providers on a methodical strategy. Mr. Vashkevich says it has drilled 18 wells of some 120 that he says it will need to find the sweet spot for the production rate and technology costs.

The control room at the Gazprom Neft science and research center in St. Petersburg.Photo: Davide Monteleone for The Wall Street Journal

At a well pad on the Red Lenin field, reached by roads that turn to sludge in fall rains and freeze over in winter, a couple of engineers check progress at a site surrounded by seemingly endless forests. Much of the work is done at a gleaming drilling hub in the center of St. Petersburg, where the company’s top minds monitor drilling.

Russian oil companies have an advantage that U.S. firms didn’t have: The Bazhenov formation lies underneath existing oil fields, meaning much of the infrastructure to develop it is already in place.

Early results are promising, executives say: Gazprom Neft says it has achieved about half the daily production at wells that it needs for commercial production.

Still, even the company doesn’t expect a production boom. It forecasts that shale oil from the Bazhenov could make up 2.5% of its total oil-and- gas production in 2025.

“It will take a little longer, but we’ll get there nonetheless,” Mr. Vashkevich said.

Putin: New US national security strategy is offensive & aggressive, Russia must take note

December 22, 2017

RT — Russia Today

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Published time: 22 Dec, 2017 12:02
Edited time: 22 Dec, 2017 13:42


Putin: New US national security strategy is offensive & aggressive, Russia must take note

Russian President Vladimir Putin © Kremlin / Global Look Press


Washington’s new national security strategy is “aggressive,” Russian President Vladimir Putin has said, adding that Moscow will take the US stance into consideration.

Both the US and NATO have been “accelerating build-up of infrastructure in Europe,” the Russian leader said Friday. Referring to the “defense strategy recently put out” by Washington, Putin said it was “definitely offensive… speaking in diplomatic language.”


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US tanks arrive at an air base in Romania

America’s new national strategy ‘potential threat to the world’

– Russia’s security chief

“And if we switch to military language, then its character is definitely aggressive,” the president added, speaking at a Russian Defense Ministry meeting.

With NATO’s build-up in Europe, the US has violated the 1987 treaty on the elimination of intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles, Putin pointed out.

“Formally,” America’s missile-defense launchers now based in Poland are meant to counter threats, he said. “The point is, and specialists know about it very well, those launchers are all-purpose. They can also be used with existing sea-launched cruise missiles with the flight range of up to 2,500 km [1,550 miles]. And in this case, these missiles are no longer sea-launched missiles, they can be easily moved to land,” Putin added.

Russia’s Defense Ministry “should take into account” Western military strategies, Putin said, adding that “Russia has a sovereign right and all possibilities to adequately and in due time react to such potential threats.”

There are efforts to disrupt strategic parity through deployment of global anti-missile defense system and other strike systems “equatable to nuclear weapons,” the Russian leader told military officials. At the moment, Russia’s strategic nuclear forces are a reliable deterrent to such a military build-up, he added. However, it is necessary to develop them further, Putin said. “I’m talking about missile systems fit to steadily counter not only existing, but also future ABMs.”