Daily Archives: March 23, 2014

Power line accidents reduce energy supply from Ukraine to Crimea

Electricity supply to Crimea has been reduced by half and the region is experiencing rotating blackouts following two accidents on power lines coming from Ukraine, Crimea’s energy company says.

Earlier, Crimean Vice-PM Rustam Temirgaliev said that Ukrainian national energy company Ukrenergo reduced the electricity supply to Crimea by 50 percent. “Ukrenegro reduced the power in its power lines cutting the amount of supplied energy by half,” the top official told Kryminfo news agency.

Temirgaliev described the power shortages as “blackmail” on behalf of Kiev.

Crimean energy company DTEK Krymenergo said in a statement on its website that accidents on two power lines connecting the peninsula with Ukraine forced it to put them offline on Sunday.

There are a total of three power lines coming from Ukraine. All of them are operated by Ukrenergo.

This comes after Crimea and the port city of Sevastopol officially joined Russia after President Vladimir Putin signed law amending the Russian constitution to reflect the transition on Friday. Earlier, Russian lawmakers ratified both the amendment and an international treaty with Crimea and Sevastopol, which was legally required for the incorporation.

The Russian ruble becomes an official currency of the peninsula on Monday, alongside the Ukrainian hryvnia.

Temirgaliev also said earlier the reduction of the energy supply is Kiev’s attempt to blackmail the Russian Federation into some concessions. “It can be explained by these people’s foolishness,” he said. “We don’t have any debts. There is no reason for the blackout. They are just ‘training.’”

The vice-PM added that Crimea was prepared for such developments. “We understand what we are signing up for. We will economize on consumption, but we won’t have any disaster, crisis or collapse.”

via Power line accidents reduce energy supply from Ukraine to Crimea — RT News.

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Massive anti-Maidan rallies grip eastern Ukraine as residents demand referendum

Pro-Russian protesters hold a banner reading “Odessa for referendum!” stage a rally in the center of the Ukrainian city of Odessa on March 23, 2014

Rallies have swept eastern Ukraine, with residents protesting against Kiev’s coup-imposed government and demanding a referendum to decide on the future of the region. Thousands took to the streets in Kharkov, Donetsk, Lugansk, and Odessa on Sunday.

About 5,000 protesters gathered in the city of Kharkov on Sunday to rally in favor of federalizing the country and holding people’s referendums in eastern Ukraine.

The demonstrators also demanded to make Russian the official language of the Kharkov region. Russian is the most common first language in the eastern regions.

Furthermore, the residents of Kharkov proclaimed illegitimate the political part of the EU-Ukraine association agreement signed by coup-installed Prime Minister Yatsenyuk. Some of the protesters headed to the Russian embassy, asking Moscow to investigate the legality of the presence of NATO troops in Ukraine and addressed Crimeans, asking to help the region.

The rally in Kharkov was also dedicated to two protesters who were killed last week by members of the ultra-nationalist Right Sector movement, which played an active role in the Maidan protests. The demonstrators chanted slogans such as “Glory to Kharkov defendants!” and “We won’t live under Bandera!”

Stepan Bandera was the head of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN). Bandera’s nationalist movement collaborated with Nazi Germany during World War II and was involved in the ethnic cleansing of Poles, Jews, and Russians. OUN was also responsible for the massacres of Poles in Volhynia and Eastern Galicia, which resulted in about 100,000 murders.

Meanwhile in the eastern Ukrainian city of Lugansk, preliminary results of an improvised referendum were announced to a several thousands-strong rally.

According to the results, over 100,000 people voted in favor of joining Russia in a people’s referendum that was carried out in the form of a poll in Lugansk.

The poll was initiated last Sunday and will continue for another week.

Another 1,000 people gathered near the building of the regional security service, protesting against the current authorities in Kiev.

The city of Donetsk, also located in the Donbass region, also witnessed protests on Sunday, as more than 2,000 people took to the streets. They demanded that a referendum be held to decide the future of the region and handed out ballot papers.

Pro-Russian protesters shout slogans during a rally in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on March 23, 2014

housands also gathered for a rally in the Black Sea coastal city of Odessa on Sunday, protesting against the coup-imposed government in Kiev. They carried Ukranian, Russian, and Crimean flags and chanted slogans such as “Ukraine and Russia are together” and “Odessa is against Nazis and tycoons,” as well as “Referendum!”

The peaceful demonstrators urged authorities to release Anton Davidchenko, the arrested leader of People’s Alternative, a council that coordinates the work of regional public organizations. They demanded an end to the persecution of activists accused of separatism.

Davidchenko’s mother, Lubov, who participated in the rally, urged all mothers in Ukraine to “prevent their sons from going to the criminal war, which the West-backed far-right authorities and tycoons in Kiev are trying to unleash between the fraternal Slavic peoples in the interests of their Western sponsors,” Itar-Tass reported.

“The authorities in Kiev are speaking about war with Russia, but in fact they are at war with their own people. The majority of Ukrainians do not support [Kiev’s] policy, but Kiev prefers not to pay attention to the people’s opinion, retaliating with repressions,” stated city council deputy Sergey Bovbolan.

Pro-Russian protesters wave Russian flags along with the flags of the Donetsk region during a rally in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on March 23, 2014

Speakers at the rally called for an end to the disinformation campaign waged by local media, and for authorities to stop putting pressure on TV channels.

A crowd comprised of thousands of Odessa residents walked through the central streets, visiting the Polish embassy to remind them of Bandera’s crimes.

Poland, Ukraine’s western neighbor, has been very vocal during the crisis, supporting the current far-right Kiev authorities. The country also hosts the US military. The Pentagon dispatched 12 warplanes and hundreds of troops to Poland following the Crimean referendum.

The decision to hold a referendum in Crimea was sparked by the bloody Maidan protests that resulted in the ousting of President Viktor Yanukovich. Crimea refused to recognize the coup-imposed government. The referendum held last Sunday resulted in over 96 percent of voters answering in favor of the autonomous republic joining Russia. In turn, Russia accepted the people’s will and welcomed Crimea’s integration on Monday.

People in the eastern regions of Ukraine fear that the far-right Kiev authorities will not represent their interests. Residents of the Donbass region – the majority of whom are Russian speakers – were particularly unhappy over parliament’s decision to revoke the law allowing the use of minority languages, including Russian.

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Moscow: No troop build-up or undeclared military activity near Ukraine borders

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Russia is observing all international agreements on troop limits in regions bordering Ukraine, the Russian Deputy Defense Minister said, adding that foreign missions’ inspections can confirm that.

The statement was made in response to reports by several foreign media outlets over concentrations of “thousands” of Russian servicemen on the Russian-Ukrainian border.

“By the way this issue has during the last month been regularly raised in telephone conversations between Russia’s Minister of Defense Sergey Shoigu, and his foreign counterparts, including US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and even acting Ukrainian Defense Minister Igor Tenyukh,” Anatoly Antonov, the Russian Deputy Defense Minister said.

Sergey Shoigu has, in a very transparent manner, informed all of them about the real situation on the Russian-Ukrainian border. He also stressed that Russia has no intention to concentrate troops there, Antonov said.

Following recent probes by foreign missions in Russia of Ukraine’s bordering regions, foreign inspectors came to the conclusion that “Russian Armed Forces are not undertaking any undeclared military activity that would threaten the security of neighboring countries,” Antonov added.

The official said eight foreign inspection groups have recently visited Russia.

“Our venues and regions, where troops are stationed near Ukrainian borders, have twice been checked by the Ukrainian military,” the Deputy Minister said. “Besides, we have had on our territory inspectors from the US, Canada, Germany, France, Switzerland, Poland, Latvia, Estonia and Finland.”

Seven of those eight missions were interested in Russian regions bordering with Ukraine, Antonov said. Foreign inspectors were allowed to talk to chiefs of the Russian military units, make pictures of deployment sites and military vehicles, and control them during relocation.

“We did our best to meet our partners’ requests by allowing them to inspect all of the sites they wanted to. We have nothing to hide,” Antonov said.

The deputy minister said he was hoping that participants of those inspecting missions would inform their countries’ leaderships of what is really going on at the border between Russia and Ukraine.

“We believe this would to large extent facilitate release of tension, something the head of the Pentagon, Hagel, called for during his recent phone conversation with Minister Shoigu.”

Germans, French ‘nullified military co-op with Russia under pressure’

Berlin’s and Paris’ moves to halt military cooperation with Moscow are derailing the bilateral efforts of recent years and are completely unconstructive, Antonov said. However, according to the defense official, the two did so under pressure from their NATO ally.

“Obviously, the proverbial ‘Atlantic solidarity’ has made our French and German partners come up with loud statements against Russia,” Antonov said.

“Refusing from contacts and delegatory exchange though military departments brings to naught the positive tendencies established in the recent years, including the cooperation on Afghanistan, the dialogue on transparency of military activity and military-technical cooperation. We perceive the decision of the German side as taken under pressure and unconstructive,” Antonov stressed.

Both Russian and German defense ministries have recently undertaken some “serious efforts” in mutually beneficial cooperation, the official noted. He also highlighted the “unprecedented” bilateral work with France, including that of the Air Forces and Airborne Forces, noting that a “new impulse of cooperation” had been planned for 2014.

Addressing media on Sunday, Antonov stressed that Russia and its European partners are equally interested in military cooperation. It is “very easy to ruin what has been done by our countries [in the field of military cooperation] and it will be very difficult to restore relations,” he said.

The Russian side hopes that Germany and France will review the situation on the Ukrainian border upon receiving reports from the international inspectors and will move to restore the severed ties, Antonov said. For now, Moscow will act in accordance with the “existing realities,” he added.

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Turkey blocks Google service used to sidestep Twitter ban

Protesters hold placards reading “do not touch my twitter ” and “communication right is a basic human right” during a demonstration against the ban on Twitter during a demonstration against Turkish government in Ankara on March 22, 2014.

Turkish authorities have blocked the Google DNS service used by the local Twitter community to get around the ban on the social network. The number of tweets, however, jumped 138 percent.

The measure has come as Erdogan starts a final electoral push to stifle rivals who he has described as an “alliance of evil.”

After the ban imposed on Twitter late on Thursday, with Erdogan’s vow to “wipe out” the messaging service, the Turks began using Google’s DNS service to access the social network. The users typed 8.8.8.8 and 8.8.4.4 into their network settings to bypass the ban. Also, these numbers appeared in graffiti on the walls of some houses.

The Domain Name System (DNS) is a hierarchical distributed naming system for computers, services, or any resource connected to the internet or a private network. Apart from bypassing blocking, it can be used for faster internet surfing speeds.

The authorities said that Twitter had been banned for a reason, though, saying there are “hundreds of court rulings in Turkey” over Twitter content.

“Twitter has been used as a means to carry out systematic character assassinations by circulating illegally acquired recordings, fake and fabricated records of wiretapping,” Erdogan’s office of public diplomacy said on Saturday.

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Also, the social network was “biased,” they stressed.

Twitter was blocked ahead of the March-30 local elections for the campaigning period.

However, President Abdullah Gul has said that the presidency is in talks with Twitter to reach a speedy resolution to the block on the website in Turkey, Hurriyet Daily News reported.

“It is not legally possible to shut down the internet and platforms [like Twitter]” he told reporters in Ankara. “This is of course an unpleasant situation for such a developed country as Turkey, which has weight in the region and which is negotiating with the European Union. Therefore, it will be overcome soon.”

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Earlier, Twitter officials expressed hope that full access to the website will be restored shortly, after a lawyer representing the platform met with Turkish authorities in the capital Ankara on March 21, local media reported.

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NSA spied on Chinese govt and telecom giant Huawei – Snowden docs

The US National Security Agency (NSA) has spied on Chinese leaders and businesses, new Snowden docs indicate. Yet it seems that China’s telecom giant, Huawei, was the core target for the NSA campaign in China.

The new portion of revelations from the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, published by Der Spiegel and The New York Times, has exposed the great interest of the US secret service in obtaining data from China.

It has been revealed that America’s NSA has multiple targets in the world’s second largest economy, among them the Chinese Trade Ministry, national banks, leading telecommunications companies and the country’s top officials, like former Chinese President Hu Jintao.

But even against that background, one Chinese company received the special attention of the NSA: it is Huawei Technologies, the world’s second largest network equipment supplier, which employs 150,000 specialists around the world and can boast an impressive $38.6 in annual revenues.

The company produces a large number of electronic products, among which are cutting edge network equipment, such as WLAN routers and fiber optic hardware. For the America’s NSA, which is craving total domination in global cyberspace, full control over these technologies is decisive.

Back in 2012 the Congress called on US firms to stay away from doing business with the Chinese telecom giant snapping at the heels of America’s Cisco Systems Inc., the world’s #1 telecom equipment producer, due to a national security threat the company posed, according to them. Another Chinese telecom giant, the ZTE Corp, was also named as a threat to US security.

The documents dug up by Edward Snowden have exposed that three years prior to the US boycott of Huawei, the NSA launched a major cyber offensive against the company, an operation dubbed ‘Shotgiant’, which involved the FBI and close contacts with the White House intelligence coordinator.

Huawei CEO and founder Ren Zhengfei

The 2010 dated NSA document cited by the New York Times claims that the major goal of the operation was to find proof that Huawei is closely cooperating with cyber warfare units in China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA), which expand the PLA’s electronic warfare and SIGNIT (Signals intelligence) capabilities.

The NSA documents do not contain information as to whether proof of Huawei assisting the PLA has been found as a result of the special operation.

The NYT reports that the NSA is constantly tracking over 20 groups of Chinese hackers, more than half of them believed to be PLA and Navy cyber units.

“If we can determine the company’s plans and intentions,” an NSA analyst wrote back in 2010, “we hope that this will lead us back to the plans and intentions of the PRC (People’s Republic of China).”

It has also been revealed that in early 2009 US government hackers succeeded in infiltrating servers of Huawei’s central office in Shenzhen, China’s ‘industrial heart’, and straddled the company’s communications.

The NSA gained access to an unprecedented goldmine of valuable information.

Describing the breach of the Huawei servers, one of the NSA secret internal documents from the collection of Edward Snowden maintained that “We currently have good access and so much data that we don’t know what to do with it.”

The NSA was able to read Huawei’s email archives starting from January 2009, including those of the company’s top executives, CEO Ren Zhengfei and Chairwoman Sun Yafang, reported Germany’s Der Spiegel.

The NSA downloaded documentation on 1,400 major company customers, along with engineering documents on Huawei products, which ended up with the US secret service getting access to the individual source code of any Huawei products.

The breach of the source code meant that the US was able to get easy access to any network using Huawei hardware employing “back doors” in its equipment’s software.

“Many of our targets communicate over Huawei-produced products,” the NSA document said, adding that in order to “gain access to networks of interest” around the world “We want to make sure that we know how to exploit these products,” the document said, specifying that the agency was interested in “high priority targets — Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kenya, Cuba.”

According to the NSA, a potential threat posed by the widespread use of Huawei equipment is so “unique” that “the intelligence community structures are not suited for handling issues that combine economic, counterintelligence, military influence and telecommunications infrastructure from one entity.”

US President Barack Obama (L) is greeted by Chinese President Xi Jinping

The NSA expressed concerns that the Chinese are not only controlling an increasing amount of world data flow, a segment previously dominated by Western companies, but are effectively opening up new technology standards determined by US business, thus making American and Western firms “less relevant”.

Huawei has already issued a statement condemning the US’s activities and double standard policies towards the Chinese company.

“If it is true, the irony is that exactly what they are doing to us is what they have always charged that the Chinese are doing through us,” said William B. Plummer, the Huawei’s vice president of external affairs. “The information presented in Der Spiegel and the New York Times article reaffirms the need for all companies to be vigilant at all times,” he said.

“If such espionage has been truly conducted, then it is known that the company is independent and has no unusual ties to any government and that knowledge should be relayed publicly to put an end to an era of mis- and disinformation,” Plummer said.

“Huawei has declared its willingness to work with governments, industry stakeholders and customers in an open and transparent manner, to jointly address the global challenges of network security and data integrity,” said William B. Plummer, Huawei’s vice president of external affairs, in an email to The Associated Press.

Following the long-ago adopted practice, the NSA has officially refused to comment on specific alleged activities of the agency.

The NSA spokeswoman, Vanee Vines, said the agency only engages “valid foreign intelligence targets in response to intelligence requirements.”

“In addition, we do not use foreign intelligence capabilities to steal the trade secrets of foreign companies on behalf of – or give intelligence we collect to – US companies to enhance their international competitiveness or increase their bottom line,” Vines said in a statement emailed to the AP.

Another NSA spokeswoman, Caitlin Hayden, commented on the issue: “Our intelligence activities are focused on the national security needs of our country.”

The revelations published by Der Spiegel and The New York Times come ahead of the six-day official visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to Europe, where he will hold talks with EU leaders who also became victims of the NSA electronic surveillance, in particular German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

On Monday, Xi Jinping will meet with President Barack Obama in The Hague.

Also, the US first lady, Michelle Obama, is currently visiting China. Addressing an audience of college students in Beijing on Saturday, she said that open access to online information is a “universal right.”

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French data show possible debris from jetliner

PERTH, Australia (AP)France provided new satellite data Sunday showing possible debris from the missing Malaysia Airlines jet, as searchers combing a remote part of the southern Indian Ocean tried without success to locate a pallet that could be a key clue in solving one of the world’s biggest aviation mysteries.

The new information given to Malaysia’s government and forwarded to searchers in Australia shows “potential objects” in the same part of the ocean where satellite images previously released by Australia and China showed objects that could be debris from the plane, Malaysia’s Ministry of Transport said in a statement without providing further details.

Flight 370 went missing over the Gulf of Thailand on March 8 with 239 people aboard en route from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing, setting off a multinational search effort that has turned up nothing conclusive so far on what happened to the jet.

Sunday’s search was frustrating because “there was cloud down to the surface and at times we were completely enclosed by cloud,” Royal Australian Air Force flight Lt. Russell Adams told reporters at the military base where the planes take off and land on their missions.

Nothing of interest to searchers was found, he said, adding that the search is worth it because “we might do 10 sorties and find nothing, but on that 11th flight when you find something and you know that you’re actually contributing to some answers for somebody.”

Details on the French data were not immediately released. The statement from Malaysia called the information “new satellite images,” while a statement from France’s Foreign Ministry said “radar echoes taken by a satellite” had located floating debris but made no mention of imagery.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which is leading the search in waters off Australia, declined to offer details about the information from France. The authority did not respond to multiple requests by The Associated Press for access to the data.

“Any satellite images or other new information that comes to AMSA is being considered in developing the search plans,” AMSA said.

But a Malaysian official involved in the search mission said the French data consisted of radar echoes captured Friday and converted into fuzzy images that located objects about 930 kilometers (575 miles) north of the spots where the objects in the images released by Australia and China were located.

One of the objects located was estimated to be about the same size as an object captured Tuesday by the Chinese satellite that appeared to be 22 meters (72 feet) by 13 meters (43 feet), said the official, who declined to be identified because he isn’t authorized to speak to the media. It was not possible to determine precise dimensions from the French data, the official said.

Information about the new data emerged as authorities coordinating the search, which is being conducted about 2,500 kilometers (1,550 miles) southwest of Perth, sent planes and a ship to try to “re-find” a wooden pallet that appeared to be surrounded by straps of varying lengths and colors. It was spotted Saturday by spotters in a search plane, but no images were captured of it and a military PC Orion military plane dispatched to locate the pallet could not find it.

“So, we’ve gone back to that area again today to try and re-find it,” said Mike Barton, chief of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority’s rescue coordination center. An Australian navy ship was also involved in the search.

Wooden pallets are commonly used in shipping, but can also be used in cargo containers carried on planes.

AMSA said the aircraft that spotted the pallet was unable to take photos of it.

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NATO says Russia has big force at Ukraine’s border, worries over Transdniestria

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(Reuters) – NATO’s top military commander said on Sunday that Russia had built up a large force on Ukraine’s eastern border and he was worried Moscow may be eyeing Moldova’s mainly Russian-speaking separatist Transdniestria region after annexing Crimea.

NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe, U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove, voiced concern about Moscow using a tactic of snap military exercises to prepare its forces for possible rapid incursions into a neighboring state, as it had done in the case of Ukraine’s Crimea region.

Russia launched a new military exercise, involving 8,500 artillery men, near Ukraine’s border 10 days ago.

Breedlove said the Russian tactic should lead the 28-nation Western military alliance to rethink the positioning and readiness of its forces in eastern Europe so that they were ready to counter Moscow’s moves.

“A snap exercise puts an incredible force at a border. The force that is at the Ukrainian border now to the east is very, very sizeable and very, very ready,” he said, speaking at an event held by the German Marshall Fund, a thinktank.

“You cannot defend against that if you are not there to defend against it. So I think we need to think about our allies, the positioning of our forces in the alliance and the readiness of those forces … such that we can be there to defend against it if required, especially in the Baltics and other places.”

Ukraine is not a NATO member, but Moscow’s intervention in Crimea has caused alarm particularly in ex-Soviet republics in the Baltics, which are now members of NATO.

NATO had tried to make Russia a partner but “now it is very clear that Russia is acting much more like an adversary than a partner,” Breedlove said.

He voiced concern that Russia could have Transdniestria in its sights after Crimea, saying that, in Russia’s view, the separatist region of Moldova was the “next place where Russian-speaking people may need to be incorporated.”

LINK-UP FEARS

Some of the elements of the Crimea scenario are also present in Transdniestria, which lies on Ukraine’s western border but is just a few hundred kilometers (miles) from Crimea.

“There is absolutely sufficient (Russian) force postured on the eastern border of Ukraine to run to Transdniestria if the decision was made to do that and that is very worrisome,” Breedlove said.

In Moscow, Deputy Defence Minister Anatoly Antonov said Russia was complying with international troop limits near the border with Ukraine, and international inspectors had conducted missions in the last month to check on Russian troop movements.

“We have nothing to hide there,” Antonov was quoted by the state RIA and Itar-Tass news agencies as saying.

The Russian-speakers of Transdniestria seceded from Moldova in 1990, a year before the dissolution of the Soviet Union, amid fears that Moldova would shortly merge with neighboring Romania, whose language and culture it broadly shares.

The separatist region fought a brief war with Moldova in 1992 and it declared itself an independent state, but it remains unrecognized by any country, including Russia.

Russia has 440 peacekeepers in Transdniestria plus other soldiers guarding Soviet-era arms stocks.

The speaker of Transdniestria’s separatist parliament urged Russia last week to incorporate the region. In response, the president of ex-Soviet Moldova warned Russia against considering any move to annex Transdniestria.

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Andrii Deshchytsia told the Brussels conference on Friday that Transdniestria should be a big concern for Europe as well as Ukraine and Moldova because of the risk Moscow could seek to link up pro-Russian regions in Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia.

If Russia decided to connect Transdniestria with the Crimea and Georgia’s Abkhazia region, it would make a corridor that would create a “very destabilizing zone in Europe”, he said.

FROZEN CONFLICTS

Breedlove said Russia appeared to be using these so-called “frozen conflicts” in neighboring countries as a tool to stop them joining the European Union and NATO.

“If Russia is worried about a country moving towards the West, the way to solve that is an incursion, a frozen conflict, and now no one wants to think about bringing that nation aboard into NATO because it might mean conflict with Russia,” he said.

U.S. officials have said the Pentagon will more than double the number of U.S. fighter jets on a NATO air patrol mission in the Baltics and do more training with Poland’s air force as it strives to reassure allies alarmed by the crisis in Ukraine.

Breedlove said the United States was considering other steps but declined to give details.

He said Russia’s incursion into Crimea had run “very much like clockwork” in contrast to its 2008 intervention in Georgia, which suffered from a lot of military failings.

Russia started by cutting Ukrainian forces in Crimea from their commanders using cable cuts, jamming and cyber attacks and then surrounded them, he said.

Breedlove said Russia tried to create doubts over the identity of gunmen in Crimea as part of a disinformation campaign. Moscow officially denied deploying extra troops and Russian soldiers in the region wore unmarked uniforms.

When military bases in Crimea were taken over, it was “a thin veneer of locals in the front and a lot of men in green (Russian troops) right behind,” he said.

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Turkey downs Syrian jet near border ‘for airspace violation’

Turkish F-16 fighter jet

A Syrian military jet has been intercepted near the Syrian-Turkish border after it violated the Turkish airspace, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said. Conflicting reports said the jet was shot down from the ground and crashed on the Syrian side.

The Syrian Air Force jet was shot down near the Kasab crossing in Latakia province, where fierce fighting between Syrian forces and armed insurgents has been going on for three days, Reuters reported.

Addressing supporters at a Sunday rally, Erdogan confirmed that Turkish armed forces had downed the jet.

“A Syrian plane violated our airspace. Our F-16s took off and hit this plane. Why? Because if you violate my airspace, our slap after this will be hard,” Erdogan said, congratulating the Turkish Air Force on its actions.

Earlier reports suggested the jet came down in Syrian territory while bombing targets in Latakia.

“Turkish air defenses targeted a Syrian fighter bomber as it struck areas of the northern province of Latakia. The plane caught fire and crashed in Syrian territory,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights was quoted as saying by AFP.

Turkey’s Doğan News Agency claimed that the jet crashed in the buffer zone between the Syrian region and Turkey’s Hatay Province. Hatay, formerly Sanjak of Alexandretta, was annexed by Turkey in 1939. Damascus has not officially relinquished its rights of sovereignty over the territory, although during Syrian-Turkish discussions in 2005, Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government said it did not have such claims.

Recently, the Syrian government has complained to the UN that Turkey was providing cover to rebels crossing the border from Turkish territory. The accusations were prompted by fighting at Kasab, which the insurgents view as a key crossing and a springboard for their latest offensive in Latakia. On Tuesday, Al-Qaeda-affiliated, al-Nusra Front, and Islamist groups, Sham al-Islam and Ansar al-Sham, announced the launch of an attack on Latakia they dubbed “Anfal.”

Syria reacted to the downing of the jet by calling it blatant Turkish aggression.

A Syrian Air Force spokesman was quoted as saying, by the SANA agency, that Turkish forces carried out a “downright aggressive action” by firing at a jet that was “pursuing the gangs of terrorists over the Syrian territory and did not violate the Turkish airspace.”

The pilot of the plane managed to eject on time, the Syrian official added.

The fighting in Latakia province, in which insurgents have been attempting to seize pro-government Alawite villages and Syrian forces have retaliated with air raids, has left at least 80 people dead on both sides of the conflict since March 21, according to the UK-based Observatory.

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Malaysia flight MH370 : China jets boost Indian Ocean hunt

The two Chinese planes will join six other jets in the search team

Two Chinese military planes have arrived in Perth in Australia to join international search operations for the missing Malaysia Airlines jet.

Crews are set to scour southern areas of the Indian Ocean for a fourth day.

Two sets of satellite images showing floating objects in the area have raised hopes that the jet may be there.

Most of the 239 people on board were Chinese. Beijing has criticised Malaysia’s handling of the search for the plane, now missing for 15 days.

The two Chinese aircraft have been flown in from Malaysia, where they were helping with the search further north.

Six other planes are already at the Perth base, and scoured an area of the Indian Ocean the size of Denmark on Saturday.

But the mission found no debris.

Ships supporting the search are already in the area, or are on their way.

The Australian navy’s HMAS Success, which is large enough to recover any debris if needed, has arrived in the search area.

Crews had another day of fruitless searching on Saturday

Malaysian officials suspect the plane, en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, was deliberately taken off course.

The Boeing-777 disappeared on 8 March; two thirds of the passengers were Chinese.

China on Saturday released a satellite image showing an object floating in the southern Indian Ocean near to the area already being searched, some 2,500 km (1,550 miles) south-west of Perth.

The grainy image was released by China’s State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense.

The find was announced by Malaysia’s Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein amid a routine briefing in Kuala Lumpur.

The Xinhua state news agency said the latest satellite image was taken at about 04:00 GMT on 18 March and showed objects about 120km “south by west” from the first site.

Other satellite images of possible aircraft debris in a nearby area were released earlier in the week.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the sightings were encouraging signs.

“Obviously we have now had a number of very credible leads and there is increasing hope – no more than hope, no more than hope – that we might be on the road to discovering what did happen to this ill-fated aircraft,” he said.

After operations ended for the day on Saturday, Australia’s Maritime Safety Authority said an aircraft had reported sighting a number of small objects with the naked eye within a radius of five kilometres, including a wooden pallet.

However the floating object seen in the new satellite image was not spotted.

At his briefing, Acting Transport Minister Hussein also said investigations of the plane’s cargo manifest did “not show any link to anything that may have contribution to the plane’s disappearance”.

He also referred to the angry scenes as Malaysian officials briefed Chinese relatives in Beijing.

“Government of Malaysia, tell us the truth – give us back our loved ones,” relatives shouted at the Lido Hotel.

Mr Hussein admitted the briefing had been “tense” and an investigation was under way to try to improve the situation.

The search has been in two distinct corridors – one stretching to the north-west of the last known location in the Malacca Straits and one to the south-west.

The locations were based on a data “ping” apparently sent to a satellite from the missing plane hours after it vanished from other indicators.

However, on Saturday, Mr Hussein said that China, India, Pakistan, Myanmar (Burma) and several other nations had informed Malaysia that analysis of their radar records had revealed no evidence of flight MH370 crossing their airspace.

BBC News

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Ukraine crisis: Moscow threatens to cut gas supplies to Europe in retaliation for sanctions

The prospect of a European energy crisis loomed last night as Moscow threatened to impose retaliatory sanctions, and the new Prime Minister of Ukraine said his country could suffer shortages if help was not received from the West.

Russia supplies 30 per cent of Europe’s gas and a number of the Baltic states are almost entirely reliant on Russia.

Yesterday, the Russian foreign ministry labelled this week’s EU sanctions, in which a further 12 people close to President Vladimir Putin have had their assets frozen and a travel ban imposed, as “divorced from reality”.

With both Brussels and Washington now threatening further “targeted measures” this week, Moscow made it clear that it was considering tit-for-tat sanctions. “Russia reserves the right to give an adequate response to the undertaken action,” a spokesman said.

Ukraine’s Prime Minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, highlighted precarious energy supplies during a visit to Berlin, saying gas from the EU might be needed. He has previously said he fears Moscow plans to use energy as a “new nuclear weapon” to intimidate its neighbours.

In 2006, when Russia cut off supplies over a dispute with Ukraine over gas prices, many parts of Europe ran out of gas. Bulgaria shut down its main industrial plants, and Slovakia declared a state of emergency. The situation is now far less worrying. Reserves are high and Europe’s gas supply system has improved following a £1.3bn investment. G7 leaders will meet in The Hague tomorrow, and energy security and Ukraine’s national elections on 25 May are due to be on the agenda.

The urgency of the situation was highlighted last week, when Europe’s leaders gave EU staff 90 days to find ways to limit Russia’s energy power play. With Ukraine’s election now two months away, international observers are already in the country.

Yesterday, as Russian troops stormed the last remaining Ukrainian-held airbase in Crimea, more than 5,000 people gathered in the eastern city of Donetsk to demand a referendum on whether they, too, could split and join Russia.

Last night, the Foreign Office issued new advice warning against “all but essential” travel to Donetsk, as well as Lugansk and Kharkiv due to “regional tensions”.

 The Independent.

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