Daily Archives: March 7, 2014

Malaysia Airlines Flight To Beijing “carrying 239 people” Goes Missing

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (CBSNewYork/AP) — A Malaysia Airlines flight carrying 239 people en route to Beijing has gone missing.

The Boeing 777-200 aircraft, which was headed from Kuala Lumpur, had 227 passengers — including two infants — and 12 crew members on board, the airline said in a statement released by CBS News. The passengers were of 13 different nationalities.

“Our team is currently calling the next-of-kin of passengers and crew,” the airlines’ group chief executive officer, Ahmad Jauhari Yahya, said in a statement. “Focus of the airline is to work with the emergency responders and authorities and mobilize its full support. Our thoughts and prayers are with all affected passengers and crew and their family members.”

Flight MH370 departed from Kuala Lumpur at 12:41 a.m. Saturday local time – or 11:41 a.m. Friday Eastern time, according to a statement from the airline, CBS News reported. Air traffic control in Subang lost contact with it two hours later.

It was scheduled to land in Beijing at 6:30 a.m. Saturday local time, or 5:30 p.m. Friday Eastern time the same day, CBS News reported.

The airline said it was working with authorities who activated their search and rescue team to locate the aircraft. The route would take the aircraft from Malaysia across to Vietnam and China.

China’s CCTV said 160 Chinese nationals were on board the flight, according to microblogging website Weibo.

Chinese state TV also reported there had not been any reports received yet about any aircraft crashed in Chinese waters, CBS News reported.

State news agency Xinhua reported radar contact with the flight was lost while it was in Vietnamese airspace, according to CBS News.

Malaysia Airlines has 15 Boeing 777-200 jets in its fleet of about 100 planes. The state-owned carrier last month reported its fourth straight quarterly loss.

The 777 has not had a fatal crash in its 20 year history until the Asiana crash in San Francisco in July 2013.

via Malaysia Airlines Flight To Beijing Goes Missing « CBS New York.

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Vladimir Putin opened the XI Paralympic Winter Games

At the XI Paralympic Winter Games opening ceremony. Vladimir Putin opened the XI Paralympic Winter Games.

At the XI Paralympic Winter Games opening ceremony. Vladimir Putin opened the XI Paralympic Winter Games.

Head of the Sochi 2014 Steering Committee Dmitry Chernyshenko and International Paralympic Committee President Philip Craven made welcome speeches to participants and guests at the opening ceremony.

The XI Paralympic Winter Games will be held in Sochi from March 7 to 16. Over 1,600 athletes and team members from 45 nations will be participating, and 72 sets of medals will be awarded. For the first time, Russians will perform in all five Paralympic sports. The Russian national team has 69 athletes. Thirty-two of these athletes will be participating in the cross-country skiing and biathlon events, 12 in alpine skiing, three in wheelchair curling, and 17 in ice sledge hockey.

Russian national team at the XI Paralympic Winter Games opening ceremony.

Russian national team at the XI Paralympic Winter Games opening ceremony.

XI Paralympic Winter Games opening ceremony.

XI Paralympic Winter Games opening ceremony.

President of Russia.

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Sarkozy’s phone ‘tapped’ over Libya cash claims

A French judge has ordered that the phone of former President Nicholas Sarkozy be tapped as part of a probe on whether he took funds from ex-Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi to help bankroll his 2007 election campaign, the French daily Le Monde reported.

The judge allegedly first ordered Sarkozy’s phone be tapped in April 2013, as well as the phones of two of his former ministers, Brice Hortefeux and Claude Gueant, the paper revealed Friday.

But someone involved in the investigation most likely tipped Sarkozy off, as he became extremely careful about using his official phone. He and his lawyer then acquired secret mobile phones, the paper claimed. Investigators eventually found out about them and ordered they also be bugged.

Last year, French judges launched an investigation over allegations that deposed Libyan leader Muammar Gadaffi gave money to Sarkozy’s 2007 presidential election campaign. The explosive allegation first emerged in 2011, after Sarkozy played a central role in ordering French armed forces to help topple Gadaffi’s regime.

Saif al-Islam, one of Gadaffi’s sons, claimed Libya helped finance the French president’s election campaign. In an interview with Euronews TV channel, Saif threatened to make public the details of the bank transfers after France played such an instrumental role in toppling his father. He also demanded that the French president return the money.

Saif al-Islam Gadaffi

French investigative website Mediapart claimed in 2012 to have seen a confidential note suggesting that Gadaffi contributed 50 million euro to Sarkozy’s election fund in 2007. And in 2013, Ziad Takieddine, a hugely wealthy arms dealer with links to Britain, told French Judge Renaud Van Ruymbeke that he could supply paperwork proving the cash was paid between December 2006 and January 2007.

Le Monde also accused Gilbert Azibert, a prosecutor at France’s top appeals court, the Cour de Cassation, of secretly passing Sarkozy legal updates about a separate corruption scandal – the Bettencourt Affair. In return, France’s ex-president made sure Azibert was prompted to a top government job in Monaco.

In the Bettencourt case, Sarkozy was accused of receiving large campaign donations – which went unreported – from the heiress to the L’Oreal empire, Liliane Bettencourt. Investigators said that Sarkozy had taken advantage of 91-year-old Liliane, and that she was too frail to know what she was doing.

The charges were dropped in October 2013, but a further ten other people – including Sarkozy’s former campaign treasurer Eric Woerth – have been sent to trial over allegations that officials from Sarkozy’s UMP party received envelopes stuffed with cash from Bettencourt’s bank accounts.

Judges at France’s top court, the Cour de Cassation, are due to rule on March 11 whether seizures of Sarkozy’s agenda, diaries, and other documents during the course of the investigation into the Bettencourt Affair were legal.

The ruling on the handling of the Bettencourt case is crucial, says Le Monde, because it could have the potential to wreck yet another probe facing Sarkozy. Investigators want to build a case that the disgraced tycoon Bernard Tapie received a 400 million euro state bailout after the collapse of Credit Lyonnias Bank.

Sarkozy is suspected of rigging a settlement procedure to make sure Tapie got the cash as a ‘thank you’ for supporting him in the 2007 election. Tapie already has several corruption convictions, including one for match fixing when he was boss of Olympique Marseille football club.

The allegations in Le Monde come after lawyers representing Sarkozy and his wife Carla Bruni filed emergency legislation in a separate incident on Thursday against any further publication of leaked recordings, which reveal a range of compromising comments made by the ex-president while he was in office. Sarkozy and his wife’s emergency injunction will be heard on Monday.

With regard to the allegations published in Le Monde, Sarkozy’s lawyer, Thierry Herzog, said the accusations were fabricated.

I will show in due course that this is a political issue,” he said, adding that Sarkozy’s phone calls are still being wiretapped.

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FRANCE – Placé sur écoute, Nicolas Sarkozy au cœur d’une nouvelle affaire

Après avoir intercepté une conversation téléphonique entre l’ancien président Nicolas Sarkozy et son avocat, la justice soupçonne un haut magistrat de la Cour de cassation de renseigner l’ex-président français sur l’affaire Bettencourt.

Thierry Herzog, l’avocat de Nicolas Sarkozy, dénonce, vendredi 7 mars, une affaire “montée de toutes pièces” après la publication par “Le Monde” d’un article indiquant que l’ancien président est soupçonné de trafic d’influence auprès d’un haut magistrat.

Le journal ajoute que l’ancien chef de l’État a été placé sur écoute à la demande des juges, qui enquêtent, depuis avril 2013, sur les accusations de financement de sa campagne présidentielle de 2007 par la Libye de Mouammar Kadhafi. Lors de l’une des conversations téléphoniques interceptées, Nicolas Sarkozy et Thierry Herzog évoquent un haut magistrat du parquet général de la Cour de cassation, Gilbert Azibert.

Il y est question, selon “Le Monde”, de le solliciter pour se renseigner sur une procédure en cours devant la Cour de cassation en lien avec l’affaire Bettencourt. Le 11 mars, la Cour doit dire si elle valide la procédure Bettencourt, notamment la saisie des agendas de l’ancien locataire de l’Élysée.

Violation du secret de l’instruction

“Il n’y a eu aucun trafic d’influence, se défend Thierry Herzog dans un entretien au quotidien, vendredi. Je constate qu’on a monté une affaire artificiellement.” L’avocat, qui dénonce un “scandale d’État”, rappelle que le magistrat en question exerce ses fonctions au sein d’une chambre civile de la Cour de cassation et non de la chambre criminelle compétente dans l’affaire Bettencourt.

“S’il n’est pas directement lié à la procédure Bettencourt, puisqu’il s’occupe de dossiers civils, Monsieur Azibert a accès au service intranet de la haute juridiction”, écrit toutefois “Le Monde”.

Scandale d’État

De son côté, le Parti socialiste a vivement réagi, estimant qu’il y aurait un “scandale d’État” s’il était avéré que Nicolas Sarkozy et son avocat s’étaient rendu coupables de trafic d’influence comme le soupçonne la justice. “Si les faits” évoqués dans “Le Monde” “étaient avérés, ce serait un véritable scandale d’État”, a déclaré le Premier secrétaire du PS Harlem Désir.

Pour sa part, David Assouline, porte-parole du PS, estime qu'”en une semaine, l’UMP aura tout de même infligé aux Français une série de blessures démocratiques, que ce soit avec l’affaire Copé ou l’affaire Buisson”. “Plongée depuis deux ans dans des règlements de comptes terribles, la droite nous offre un spectacle affligeant, qui ne servira que les adversaires de la République”, ajoute-t-il, appelant néanmoins à la retenue l’instruction judiciaire étant en cours.

Quant au Front national il n’a pas manqué de réagir. Sa présidente Marine Le Pen a estimé, vendredi, que les scandales à répétition de l’UMP commençaient “à sentir beaucoup le soufre”. “Les enquêtes doivent se faire mais les libertés publiques doivent aussi être préservées”, a-t-elle souligné.

“C’est monstrueux”

Le 26 février dernier, le nouveau parquet national financier a ouvert une information judiciaire contre X pour violation du secret de l’instruction et trafic d’influence en marge de l’affaire Bettencourt.

Des perquisitions ont été menées mardi 4 mars chez Thierry Herzog et Gilbert Azibert dans cette affaire. À ce jour, personne n’a été placé en garde à vue ni mis en examen et l’instruction se poursuit, souligne une source judiciaire.

Thierry Herzog, qui dit avoir soupçonné le placement de son client sur écoute, dénonce une “violation monumentale des droits de la défense”. “Ce n’est même pas scandaleux, c’est monstrueux, dit-il. Je démontrerai le moment venu qu’il s’agit d’une affaire politique.”

via FRANCE – Placé sur écoute, Nicolas Sarkozy au cœur d’une nouvelle affaire – France 24.

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Pentagon studying Putin’s body language to predict his behavior

The Pentagon has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in recent years so that researchers can study the body movements of foreign leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, in hopes of predicting future behavior.

An article published by USA Today reporter Ray Locker on Thursday and corroborated by documents discovered by RT provides rare insight into a scarcely-discussed military effort that for years has relied on the expertise of body movement analysts to interpret the nonverbal projections of Putin and other heads of state.

“US policymakers are seeking any advantage they can find,” Locker reported. In order to accomplish as much, he added, the United States Office of Net Assessment — a division of the Dept. of Defense — has since at least 1996 employed Naval War College research fellow Brenda Connors: one of only a few movement pattern analyst practitioners in the world to be sanctioned by the Motus Humanus organization, according to the military school’s Dr. Mary Raum.

Locker wrote that since 2009, Connors has worked on the ONA’s Body Leads project, an effort he believes has cost the Pentagon at least $300,000 in the last five years as officials have ramped up efforts to gather foreign intelligence.

Connors was writing about the “telling movement signature” of then-Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein for the Providence Sunday Journal a decade ago, but her work on Putin himself goes back to at least 2004. By 2008, she had found herself authoring a report for the ONA called ‘Movement, The Brain and Decision-making, the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin.’ In the few years since, however, Locker says that the ‘Body Leads’ project intended to study the physical traits of numerous foreign leaders has been blessed with the talents of others.

“Since July 2011,” he wrote, “the war college had paid $165,735 to Richard Rende, a Brown University psychiatrist and specialist in the field of movement pattern analysis, federal spending records show.”

“Timothy Colton, a Harvard University expert on Russia, has been paid $113,915 since 2009 for his research with Connors, military contract records show,” he added.

Combined, the Pentagon has purchased access to a rare sort of expertise that’s provided by Connor and company, and the Motus Humanus-approved analyst really may be one of the most knowledgeable people on the planet when it comes to dissecting the Russian president’s mannerisms.

But like many Pentagon projects, US officials aren’t particularly eager to discuss Body Leads, and neither the military nor Connors answered Locker’s requests for comment. According to a solicitation found on a military website for a behavioral research associate fellow position, however, it isn’t hard to see that the DoD really is determined to divulge as much as they can about foreign leaders by any means necessary.

“The objective of the ongoing work is to advance and test behavioral movement analysis as an analytic tool to predict human decision-making style,” the solicitation reads in part. “ Two broad areas of research are 1) to pursue and advance the development and application of methodological work supporting remote behavioral profiling of selected world leaders, and 2) to contribute to efforts to disseminate the concepts and finding of the Body Leads project to the scientific community and policy makers.”

Among the requirements sought by the Pentagon in applicants were a PhD in human or behavior science, as well as the ability “to code behavioral aspects of movement in humans from video files” and “recent experience working with and supporting movement pattern analysis and the related work of body leads analysis of political leadership.” Another article about Connors published on the internet shows her working with the Body Leads project on “a cutting-edge algorithm-driven research analysis tool designed to decode human facial expression and emotion.”

Speaking to CNN on Friday morning, USA Today’s Locker said he imagines the Body Leads team is already working on analyzing remarks made on camera by President Putin as recently as this week. For a decade, though, Connors has already been attempting to dissect the Russian president.

Connors characterized Putin’s body language as a “highly restricted…head-to-tail spinal pattern similar to fish movement” in one 2004 report, according to her because he likely did not crawl as an infant.

“Putin’s bodily imbalance and self-image show him to be risk-averse — stuck in place and time — and extremely sensitive to criticism,” she wrote.

“Putin’s physical problems “created a strong will that he survive and an impetus to balance and strengthen the body…When we are unable to do something, really hard work becomes the way,” she said a year later during an interview with The Atlantic.

“He is like that ice skater who had a club foot and became an Olympic skater,” she said. “It is really poignant to watch him on tape. This is a deep, old, profound loss that he has learned to cope with, magnificently.”

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Thousands of Russians stage rally in support of Crimea residents

Participants in the “We Are Together” rally and concert to support the residents of the Crimea, at Vasilyevsky Slope, Moscow on March 7, 2014.

Over 65,000 people gathered on Friday for a demonstration in central Moscow to support residents of Ukraine’s Autonomous Republic of Crimea. The mostly Russian-speaking region has become a major stumbling block in Moscow-Kiev relations.

The ‘We are together!’ rally was held in front of the Kremlin walls and attracted more than 65,000 people, according to police. Many waved Russian flags and carried placards which read, “Crimea is Russian land!” and “Fascism will not pass,” as well as “We don’t swap our people for money.”

The demonstrators – activists of political parties, youth movements, and public organizations – adopted a petition urging the Russian government to back Crimea’s parliamentary decision to reunite with Russia.

“We, the participants of the demonstration, support the historic choice of residents of Crimea and Sevastopol, their determination to themselves decide on their future, and their aspiration to restore justice and reunite with Russia,” the document reads, as quoted by ITAR-TASS.

Participants in the “We Are Together” rally and concert to support the residents of the Crimea, at Vasilyevsky Slope, Moscow on March 7, 2014.

The petition also calls on the Russian parliament to “immediately” hold a session and start the procedure of officially accepting Crimea into the Russian Federation.

That’s what both the citizens of Russia and Crimea expect,” the document states. “[The] Future of Crimea and Sevastopol is in unity with Russia. We are together forever!”

A lawmaker from the Moscow City Duma, Evgeny Gerasimov, addressed the crowd from the stage, saying that Ukrainian radical nationalists are seeking to “trample” Crimea. He then added that the republic – which was given to Ukraine by Nikita Khruschev in 1954 – has the chance to correct the “mistake made by Soviet” government, stating that Russia should support the Crimeans.

Earlier this week, the Crimean parliament voted in favor of joining Russia. The decision will only come into force if it is approved by the peninsula residents at a referendum which will be held on March 16. Many Western powers – including the US – and Kiev’s self-imposed government have already declared the upcoming popular vote illegitimate.

Crimea, the ethnic Russian-majority region, has refused to recognize the new coup-imposed Ukrainian leadership.

Participants in the “We Are Together” rally and concert to support the residents of the Crimea, at Vasilyevsky Slope, Moscow on March 7, 2014.

We think the current government in Kiev is illegitimate; so we won’t work with them. If tomorrow a new legitimate government is elected in Ukraine, we will gladly cooperate,” Crimea’s prime minister, Sergey Aksyonov, told RT.

Following the overthrow of Viktor Yanukovich‘s government, the epicenter of Ukraine’s turmoil has shifted to Crimea, where thousands have staged protests against the new government and asked Russia for help and protection.

According to Aksyonov, Crimeans have repeatedly asked lawmakers to hold a referendum on the status of the republic’s autonomy.

In various regions of Crimea, the members of our parliament hold regular meetings with the voters, who have frequently asked to make the ultimate decision given the current situation in Ukraine: either to seek full autonomy – meaning an ability to adopt our own state laws – or to opt for secession, since the situation in Kiev has been spinning out of control,” Aksyonov said. The Prime Minister is almost certain that the Crimeans will vote for the second option.

Participants in the “We Are Together” rally and concert to support the residents of the Crimea, at Vasilyevsky Slope, Moscow on March 7, 2014.

Participants in the “We Are Together” rally and concert to support the residents of the Crimea, at Vasilyevsky Slope, Moscow on March 7, 2014.

Participants in the “We Are Together” rally and concert to support the residents of the Crimea, at Vasilyevsky Slope, Moscow on March 7, 2014.

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Snowden: NSA pressured EU into creating ‘European bazaar’ of spy networks

Edward Snowden (AFP Photo / Channel 4)

National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden answered questions before the European Parliament on Friday, saying that the United States spy agency pressures its allies to take steps towards further enabling widespread and indiscriminate surveillance.

“One of the foremost activities of the NSA’s FAD, or Foreign Affairs Division, is to pressure or incentivize EU member states to change their laws to enable mass surveillance,” Snowden said in a testimony delivered remotely from Russia. “Lawyers from the NSA, as well as the UK’s GCHQ, work very hard to search for loopholes in laws and constitutional protections that they can use to justify indiscriminate, dragnet surveillance operations that were at best unwittingly authorized by lawmakers.”

“These efforts to interpret new powers out of vague laws is an intentional strategy to avoid public opposition and lawmakers’ insistence that legal limits be respected,” Snowden added.

The NSA lobbied heavily for leaders in Sweden, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and Germany to authorize mass surveillance operations, including programs in which intelligence is gathered and then shared across borders with allied nation-states abroad, the former intelligence contractor said.

“Each of these countries received instruction from the NSA, sometimes under the guise of the US Department of Defense and other bodies, on how to degrade the legal protections of their countries’ communications,” he said, including one instance in Germany where officials there were allegedly pressured by the US to modify the country’s G-10 law “to appease the NSA” while at the same time “it eroded the rights of German citizens under their constitution.”

Pressuring those countries to increase their surveillance capabilities and adopt new technology created a “European bazaar” that enabled EU member states to essentially funnel intelligence to spy firms around the globe, Snowden said.

According to Snowden, “an EU member state like Denmark may give the NSA access to a tapping center on the [unenforceable] condition that NSA doesn’t search it for Danes, and Germany may give the NSA access to another on the condition that it doesn’t search for Germans. Yet the two tapping sites may be two points on the same cable, so the NSA simply captures the communications of the German citizens as they transit Denmark, and the Danish citizens as they transit Germany, all the while considering it entirely in accordance with their agreements. Ultimately, each EU national government’s spy services are independently hawking domestic accesses to the NSA, GCHQ, FRA, and the like without having any awareness of how their individual contribution is enabling the greater patchwork of mass surveillance against ordinary citizens as a whole.”

“By the time this general process has occurred, it is very difficult for the citizens of a country to protect the privacy of their communications, and it is very easy for the intelligence services of that country to make those communications available to the NSA — even without having explicitly shared them,” he said.

“The Parliament should ask the NSA and GCHQ to deny that they monitor the communications of EU citizens, and in the absence of an informative response, I would suggest that the current state of affairs is the inevitable result of subordinating the rights of the voting public to the prerogatives of State Security Bureaus,” Snowden added.

Friday’s remarks were published by a website administered by supporters of Snowden, who has been in Russia since June 2013. American authorities revoked his passport last year after he admitted to being the source responsible for a trove of leaked, top-secret NSA documents that have disclosed evidence of several previously unknown US surveillance programs, leaving him confined to the Moscow region.

Snowden cautioned the EU committee that there are “many other undisclosed programs” that will likely impact the rights of citizens there once they are made public, but said he “will leave the public interest determinations as to which of these may be safely disclosed to responsible journalists in coordination with government stakeholders.”

In his statement, Snowden also denounced allegations that he has a relationship with the government of Russia.

“I would also add, for the record, that the United States government has repeatedly acknowledged that there is no evidence at all of any relationship between myself and the Russian intelligence service,” Snowden said.

“For the record, I also repeat my willingness to provide testimony to the United States Congress, should they decide to consider the issue of unconstitutional mass surveillance,” he said.

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EU leaders draw up plans to send gas to Ukraine if Russia cuts off supply

EU leaders are rapidly drawing up plans to send some of their stocks of Russian gas back to Ukraine and other eastern European countries that need it, if Vladimir Putin reacts to western sanctions over the Crimea crisis by starving the continent of energy.

Russia’s largest gas producer, Gazprom, said on Friday that Kiev had missed a deadline to pay $440m for gas received in February and threatened to cut off the country’s supply if it did not make the payment.

Gazprom provides Ukraine with around half its gas, and other countries in eastern and southern Europe, including Poland and Greece, reportedly have low stocks of gas.

Although Gazprom said the threat to Kiev would not affect the supply to the rest of Europe, western leaders are steeling themselves for a possible battle with Moscow over energy supplies. At least half of the Russian gas that is piped to Europe passes through Ukraine.

Gazprom last cut off supplies to Ukraine in early 2009, leading to a slump in the supply of Russian gas to Europe. “Either Ukraine makes good on its debt and pays for current supplies, or there is risk of returning to the situation of early 2009,” Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller said on Friday, adding that Ukraine now owed $1.89bn in unpaid bills.

The move to consider reversing Russian gas flows comes amid growing pressure in Washington to exploit the huge boom in US gas – extracted through fracking technologies – to begin global exports, providing a counter-weight to Moscow’s influence.

Although it is the largest producer of natural gas, the US does not currently export its supplies, and the construction of a handful of export terminals will not be completed until at least 2015. But Barack Obama’s administration considering moves to accelerate a drive to export its energy, weakening Putin’s leverage in the future.

In Brussels on Thursday, European leaders engaged in detailed discussions about the feasibility of switching the flow of gas in eastern Europe’s pipelines. Storage reserves in Europe, particularly Germany and Hungary, which have ample supplies, could be used to pump gas back towards Ukraine.

José Manuel Barroso, the president of European Commission, said energy security was an early priority for Ukraine, adding: “We are looking in the short term at the gas transmission network to ensure that reverse flows with the European Union are fully operational.”

A project to modernise Ukraine’s gas transmission infrastructure forms part of the EU’s $15bn promised aid package to Kiev, with an initial loan possible in the near future. A European Commission memorandum specifically states it will seek to enable “reverse flows” of gas to Ukraine, ensuring they can be “operationalised as soon as possible”.

Such a move would likely occur first through Slovakia, and EU officials are pressing Slovakia and Ukraine to quickly sign an agreement that would enable gas to be piped in the opposite direction if the need emerges. Additional “reverse-flow corridors” could be introduced through Bulgaria and Romania, or Croatia and Hungary.

A senior German official briefed on Thursday’s meeting told the Guardian that Berlin was ready to help. “Our gas storage tanks are well filled after a mild winter and we stand ready to assist Ukraine in securing its energy supply including working on reserve flows.”

However, European officials and energy experts concede there are doubts over whether it would be technically possible to transfer sufficient gas through the continent, west to east, if Russia decided to restrict its supplies for a significant period of time. While short-term assistance through the summer months could help, western Europe would not have the capacity to supply neighbours in the east for an extended period of time.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, one senior executive said reversing gas flows would be an extremely complex move. “This is not easy to do. Certainly the Gazprom export pipeline is built to move gas only in one direction, and it would involve a lot of time and money to reconfigure for imports,” the executive said. “You would also have to get the agreement of dozens of commercial and other organisations. It is not going to happen.”

Europe imported 155bn cubic metres (bcm) of gas from Russia in 2013, about 30% of its overall gas demand, according to Wood Mackenzie, an Edinburgh-based energy consultancy. Ukraine is the key transit route for Russian gas to Europe, with around 50% piped through the country in 2013.

Gazprom insists exports remain stable, and is desperate to avoid a repeat of the Russia-Ukraine “gas wars” of 2006, 2008 and 2009.

In Washington, there is a growing appetite to retaliate against Russia with a long-term, strategic acceleration in energy exports. Exporting US gas obtained through fracking would be controversial among environmentalists, Democrats, and US industries reliant on cheap energy, the price of which would be expected to rise if supplies were being piped abroad.

Republicans, backed by gas producers such as ExxonMobil, have for years been pushing to dramatically increase gas production to enable export trade, and are using the crisis in Crimea to argue for swift action by the Obama administration.

US gas production is projected to rise 44% by 2040, according to the US Energy Information Administration, and producers have been pressing the Obama administration to expand exports of natural gas.

The Republican leader of the House, John Boehner, used an an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on Friday to call on Obama to “dramatically expand production of American-made energy” and make US supplies of natural gas available to global markets.

The Department of Energy as approved six applications to export domestically approved applications for terminals to export liquefied gas; five are in Texas and Louisiana, and one in Maryland. A further 24 applications are pending and Boehner and other top Republicans are calling on the administration to expedite their approval. “The ability to turn the tables and put the Russian leader in check lies right beneath our feet, in the form of vast supplies of natural energy,” Boehner said.

The Obama administration appears receptive to moving to undercut Moscow’s hold over the energy sector. White House press secretary Jay Carney said this week that while the Department of Energy is approving terminal requests on a case-by-case basis, the US would look for ways to wean Ukraine from its “dependence on Russian gas”.

A senior US official said the State Department was supportive of introducing substantial gas exports abroad as a move to counteract Russia’s influence.

Carlos Pascual, a former American ambassador to Ukraine, who leads the State Department’s Bureau of Energy Resources, told the New York Times that opening global markets to US exports “sends a clear signal that the global gas market is changing, that there is the prospect of much greater supply coming from other parts of the world”

the guardian

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Popular uprising looming in eastern Ukraine

Riot police stand guard in front of a regional government building as pro-Russian demonstrators take part in a rally in Kharkov

Protests against the self-proclaimed government in Kiev continue in eastern regions of Ukraine. Thousands-strong gatherings in Donetsk and Lugansk are rallying in support of the Russian language and holding a referendum on the federalization of Ukraine.

In Donetsk, the city that once used to be the stronghold of the ousted President Viktor Yanukovich, people are protesting against the new governor appointed by Kiev last Sunday.

The appointee is Ukrainian oligarch, billionaire Sergey Taruta, the owner of ISD, one of the biggest mining and smelting companies in the world, he also owns the Donetsk-based Metallurg Football Club.

The oligarch governor failed to come to Donetsk immediately after the appointment, so demonstrators have chosen a “people’s governor” of their own, the leader of the ‘National levy’ Pavel Gubarev advocating setting a referendum that might ask the citizens of Donetsk region about reunification with Russia. The ‘National levy’ also started collecting signatures to conduct referendum on allegiance of the region.

During this week the regional administration building in Donetsk changed hands many times, with either the ‘National levy’ or pro-Kiev forces declaring capture of the authority headquarters.

Several videos allegedly made in downtown Donetsk on March 5 exposed that armed pro-Kiev forces had come to Donetsk, as a group of unidentified men in military outfits and equipped with Russian AK assault rifles and American М4А1 carbines were securing protection of some pro-Kiev activists amidst anti-government popular protests.

Later, Rossiya 1 TV channel made an assumption that these people could be from a group of several hundred mercenaries that allegedly arrived to Kiev recently. Rossiya 1 1 maintained that mercenaries work for the notorious Academi (formerly known as Blackwater and Xe Services), a privately owned American security services provider that employ over 20,000 guns for hire.

But even the appearance of mercenaries in the center of Donetsk did not stop the citizens from protesting against self-proclaimed government in Kiev.

Early Thursday morning a special group of the Security Service of Ukraine (SSU) that arrived from Kiev conducted a hit-and-run operation and arrested Pavel Gubarev on charges of an attempt of power seizure, an exactly the same accusation used by the opposition leader against the self-proclaimed government in Kiev.

According to the ‘National levy’ webpage on Facebook, Gubarev was convoyed to the capital Kiev. Police also put under arrest several dozens of activists.

The same day, Governor Taruta arrived to Donetsk and held a meeting with region’s new police chief also appointed by Kiev.

Yet late at night citizens of Donetsk attempted to storm local headquarters of SSU, demanding to release their leader. They also managed to stop and topple prison truck carrying unknown number of arrested activists.

When top-ranked police and internal troop officers came out to the people, they were heckled with jibes like, “Do you remember those you’re protecting? Those who mistreated you in Kiev?” reported Komsomolskaya Pravda.

After pondering for some time police opted to free the detained activists which immediately joined the protesters.

A new stage of anti-Kiev rally is appointed for Friday afternoon, maintains the ‘National levy’ website.

In Lugansk, another regional center in eastern Ukraine, a thousands-strong rally waving Russian flags and chanting “Russia! Ukraine! Belarus! Together!” elected a “people’s governor” of their own, the leader of the local ‘Lugansk guards’ militia, Aleksandr Kharitonov. Members of the guards have already repelled an armed assault force from Kiev that attempted to seize local power institutions in the city on February 20 and currently continue to stand against the attackers from Kiev’s Maidan.

Because the local prosecutor’s office never bothered to launch a criminal investigation into the attempted power seizure by the armed militants from Kiev, the citizens of Lugansk now put their trust in vigilante groups rather than police.

All attempts to gather in Lugansk a significant nationalist rally similar to Maidan in Kiev have failed, largely because they looked increasingly pale in comparison with massive anti-government demonstration rallying in the center of the city.

In other regional centers of Ukraine, such as country’s second-largest city of Kharkov, anti-government protests were of a much smaller scale, perhaps also due to the heavy presence of the riot police at rally sites.

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Navy destroyer USS Truxtun crosses Dardanelles en route to Black Sea (VIDEO)

The US Navy guided missile destroyer, the USS Truxton, crossed the Dardanelles on its way to the Black Sea amidst the turmoil in Ukraine.

The Dardanelles is a narrow stretch of water in Turkey that separates Europe and Asia. The Truxton still has to pass through the Bosphorus Straights in Istanbul before it reaches the Black Sea.

The Truxton is part of the Arleigh Burke class of destroyer and is among the largest destroyers ever built for the US navy. It is designed as a multi-role warship with anti-aircraft, anti-submarine and anti-surface capabilities.

The US military said on Thursday it was a routine deployment for “previously planned exercises” scheduled long before the current crisis in Ukraine.

The USS Truxton is to carry out training exercise with the Romanian and Bulgarian navies, both members of NATO, which involve joint maneuvers including landing aircraft on ships.

“Truxton’s operations in the Black Sea were scheduled well in advance of her departure from the US,” said Lieutenant Shawn Eklund, a spokesman for the US military.

The Truxton is part of the George HW Bush Carrier Strike Group, which recently entered the Mediterranean and is training with regional navies.

Ukrainian bloggers share the images of the nuclear aircraft carrier with the hashtag #Aquamaidan, in reference to Euromaidan, which was the epicenter of the anti-government protests in Kiev.

The USS Truxton will join the USS Taylor as the only two US vessels in the Black Sea. The Taylor, a guided missile frigate, is moored in Samsun, Turkey after running aground in February.

This comes as Poland’s defense minister, Tomasz Siemoniak, said on Thursday that the US air force will send 12 F-16 fighter jets and 300 service personnel to Poland next week to take part in a training exercise, whose size has been expanded in response to the crisis in Ukraine.

The exercise will be centered on the Lask air force base in central Poland and was originally only to have involved transport aircraft.

The US military also announced on Thursday that a further six F-15 fighter jets will be sent to Lithuania to help step up NATO patrols in the region.

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