Monthly Archives: May 2014

Libya evacuation decision ‘minute by minute,’ U.S. official says

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Tripoli, Libya (CNN) — The U.S. military has doubled the number of aircraft standing by in Italy if needed to evacuate Americans from the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, Libya, CNN has learned.

A decision to evacuate as violence in the Libyan capital grows is “minute by minute, hour by hour,” a defense official told CNN on Monday.

Fierce fighting swept across the city Sunday after armed men stormed the country’s interim Parliament. Sporadic bursts of gunfire and blasts could still be heard on the outskirts of the capital Monday evening.

The violence appeared to be some of the worst since the 2011 revolution that ousted longtime leader Moammar Gadhafi.

In a move that could further inflame an already tense situation, the speaker of the interim parliament, Nuri Abu Sahmain, who is backed by Islamist forces, ordered troops known as the “Central Libya Shield Forces” to deploy to the capital Monday, the Libyan state news agency LANA reported.

The forces, mostly from the city of Misrata, east of Tripoli, are considered to be among the most powerful Islamist-affiliated militias. They have had long-running rivalries with the heavily armed Zintan militias when both groups were based in the capital.

Meanwhile, the Saudi ambassador to Libya announced that his country’s embassy and consulate in Tripoli closed Monday because of the violence, and the staff has left Tripoli, according to the official Saudi Press Agency. The sites will reopen when the situation stabilizes, Ambassador Mohammed Mahmoud Al-Ali said, according to the report.

Turkey took similar measures, shutting down its consulate in Benghazi, Turkey’s semi-official Anadolu news agency reported.

U.S. aircraft arrive in Italy

Four additional U.S. V-22 Osprey aircraft “arrived overnight” at the naval base in Sigonella, Italy, to join four V-22s and 200 Marines that had been moved there last week, a U.S. defense source said.

The V-22 Ospreys, which can take off and land vertically with at least two dozen passengers, are ready to be in the air on six hours notice, the official said. The additional aircraft should give the military the capability to evacuate more than 200 people from the embassy.

The aircraft and Marines are part of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response team, stationed in Moron, Spain. The force was formed after the attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi in 2012 to provide closer standby military capability in a crisis.

4 killed, dozens more injured in violence

At least four people were killed and 90 injured Sunday in Tripoli, according to the Health Ministry.

Fighters armed with heavy weapons moved in on the General National Congress as Sunday’s session was adjourned. The attackers stormed the building as members were evacuated. Fighting then spread to other parts of the city.

Libya’s main political forces have been slowly dividing along Islamist and liberal lines.

The more liberal parties, backed by the heavily armed militias from the western mountain city of Zintan, have accused the Islamists of hijacking power and controlling the government and parliament.

The GNC attack involved the al-Qaaqaa brigade, a Zintan militia based in Tripoli, which said in a statement that it had “heeded the call of the homeland to save it from the abusing politicians.”

Libya’s political process has stalled as a result of infighting among the Islamist and liberal forces in the GNC, and elections for a new parliament to replace it have not yet taken place. Many Libyans view the GNC as having lost legitimacy.

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Russian, Chinese leaders to open joint naval drills off China’s coast

Joint Sea 2014 drills are regular exercises held by the Chinese and Russian navies, which are aimed at enhancing practical cooperation between the two militaries

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping

SHANGHAI, May 20. ITAR-TASS.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping met on Tuesday at a naval port in Shanghai to officially open joint Russia-China naval drills.

Six warships from Russia’s Pacific Fleet, led by a missile cruiser, the Varyag, entered Shanghai’s port of Wusong on Sunday for the joint naval drills with China code-named Joint Sea 2014 and running on May 20-26 in the northern waters of the East China Sea.

President Putin, who is on an official visit to China on May 20-21, was greeted by Chinese leader Xi Jinping as he had arrived at the port.

The Russian delegation to China, led by Putin, includes Deputy Prime Ministers Arkady Dvorkovich and Dmitry Rogozin, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Chief of the Federal Service for Military and Technical Cooperation Alexander Fomin and Navy chief Vice Admiral Viktor Chirkov.

The Chinese delegation represented at the port of Wusong includes Foreign Minister Wang Yi, Minister of Commerce Gao Hucheng and other high-ranking officials.

Besides the Varyag, a Slava-class missile cruiser with anti-aircraft and anti-submarine striking capabilities, the grouping of Russian warships includes the destroyer Bystry, the large anti-submarine ship Admiral Panteleyev, the large amphibious ship Admiral Nevelskoy, the tanker Ilim and the sea-going tugboat Kalar.

The Russian side also brought two Su-30MK2 fighter jets, combat helicopters and special task marine forces as the Chinese Navy added six of its warships for the drills, which enter the active phase on May 23-24.

China’s CCTV.com cited on Sunday Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Chinese Navy Tian Zhong as saying that the exercise would be “different from previous China-Russia joint sea drills.”

“The two sides will mix all the warships together for the first time, and the ships will carry out battle exercises beyond visibility for the first time,” Tian Zhong was quoted as saying.

Chinese Defense Ministry earlier reported that the Joint Sea 2014 drills are regular exercises held by the Chinese and Russian navies, and are aimed to enhance practical cooperation between the two militaries and to strengthen their capabilities to jointly deal with maritime security threats.

The two nations held naval drills off Russia’s Far East coast in the Sea of Japan last July. Exercises assembling some 20 warships from Russia’s Pacific Fleet and China’s North and South Sea Fleets were described by China as the largest the country had undertaken with a foreign force.

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Turkish PM’s aide granted sick leave for ‘trauma’ after kicking mine tragedy mourner

Photo taken on May 14, 2014shows a person identified by Turkish media as Yusuf Yerkel, advisor to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, kicking a protester already held by special forces police members during Erdogan’s visit to Soma, Turkey.

A top aide to the Turkish PM, Ysuf Yerkel, has been given a week’s sick leave for “leg trauma” he sustained after kicking a mourner following Turkey’s worst mining disaster in history.

A picture of Yerkel kicking a protester who was being restrained by two security force members emerged last week following the official visit of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan to the town of Soma in the wake of the mining disaster on May 13.

The image caused furor on the internet from an enraged public many of whom believed the government has dealt with the tragedy in an insensitive way.

On the same day as the incident, Yerkel saw a doctor at the Anakara Ataturk Training and Research Hospital, reported Turkish news agency Hurriyet, citing a medical report. Yerkel complained of a pain in his right knee, but told Dr. Servan Gokhan that it had come about after a fall. The aide was subsequently diagnosed with soft tissue trauma and granted a week of medical leave.

“There are 10×10 cm edema, bruises and soft tissue panicula on the right knee, and bruises and soft tissue swelling on the left shoulder and front of the chest. The patient has been diagnosed with soft tissue trauma as there is sensitivity with leg and arm movements and difficulty with walking,” the medical report said.

Yerkel claims that he was acting in self-defense, and that the man whom he kicked had attacked him. He also denounced the “provocations and insults” he had received and refused to apologize to his victim.

Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan (C) walks during his visit to Soma, a district in Turkey’s western province of Manisa, after a coal mine explosion May 14, 2014.

“I have been deeply saddened by the incident that occurred in Soma on May 14. I am sorry for being unable to keep calm despite all of the provocations, insults and attacks I faced on that day,” said Yerkel, according to Anadolu Agency.

Witness accounts paint a different picture of the event. Hurriyet reports that Special Forces were interrogating the man after he kicked a vehicle in the prime minister’s convoy. When Yerkel saw the scene he reportedly ran over to the man and kicked him three or four times.

An explosion caused carbon monoxide to inundate a mine in the Western town of Soma, killing at least 302 people on May 13. In the wake of the tragedy Prime Minister Erdogan promised “no stone would be left unturned” in the investigation to ascertain what caused the disaster.

“Explosions like this in these mines happen all the time. It’s not like these don’t happen elsewhere in the world,” Erdogan told mourners in Soma last week.

His words were met by public anger and mass protests across Turkey.

Allegations of negligence have been leveled at the owners of the mine who claimed that they had adhered to safety protocol. On Monday a Turkish court arrested eight people in connection with the incident, including Ramazan Dogru, general manager of Soma Coal Mining Company, and Chief Executive Can Gurkan, the son of company owner Alp Gurkan.

The last mining accident on this scale in Turkey was recorded in 1992 when a firedamp blast killed 263 in Zonguldak.

General view of a coal mine site after an explosion in Soma, a district in Turkey’s western province of Manisa May 14, 2014.

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China summons US envoy over cyber-spying charges, vows retaliation

China has dismissed all US accusations of industrial cyber-espionage against five of its military officials and published proof that Washington is actually stealing data from China. Beijing also summoned the US ambassador for an explanation.

Beijing reacted to Washington’s recent round of industrial espionage accusations by publishing its latest data on US cyber-attacks against China.

China’s National Computer Network Emergency Response Technical Team Coordination Center of China (NCNERTTCC) reported that during just two months, from March 19 to May 18, the US directly controlled 1.18 million host computers in China using 2,077 Trojan horse networks or botnet servers.

According to the NCNERTTCC, over the last two months 135 host computers stationed in the US conducted 14,000 phishing operations against Chinese websites using for the attacks 563 phishing pages. The other hacking activities through the same period of time included 57,000 backdoor attacks, performed from 2,016 IP addresses in the US through backdoors implanted on 1,754 Chinese websites.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry summoned the American ambassador to China for an explanation, urging him to drop all charges against China’s military officers. The meeting between Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Zheng Zeguang and US Ambassador Max Baucus took place on Monday night, reported Xinhua.

Depending on further developments, China “will take further action on the so-called charges by the United States,” Zheng told Baucus.

“The Chinese government and military and its associated personnel have never conducted or participated in the theft of trade secrets over the internet,” Zheng reportedly told Baucus as quoted by Xinhua.

America’s attitude to internet security is “overbearing and hypocritical,” Zheng told Baucus, urging the US to finally give a clear explanation on multiple reports that America’s National Security Agency is spying after Chinese government, businesses, universities and individuals.

On the other side of the Pacific, China’s Ambassador to the US Cui Tiankai “made solemn representations” to the US State Department, China News Service reported on Tuesday.

Chinese Minister of Defense Chang Wanquan (R) shakes hands with US Ambassador to China Max Baucus (L)

“The accusations that the United States have made against these Chinese officials are purely fictitious and extremely absurd,” Chinese ambassador to the US is quoted as saying.

Geng Yansheng, spokesman for China’s Ministry of National Defense, accused Washington of hypocrisy and damaging bilateral military ties.

“From ‘WikiLeaks’ to the ‘Snowden’ affairs, the hypocrisy and double standards of the US side on the issue of internet security has been clear for a long time,” said the spokesman as cited by the Wall Street Journal.

Beijing insists that while the US accused China of industrial cyber-spying on multiple occasions, America itself is waging unprecedented cyber warfare against China, infiltrating all kinds of the country’s networks – government and business alike – also targeting both civilians and officials through mobile phones.

After the revelations of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden the US has been criticized by most of the world powers, as it turned out that America is spying after literally every state and every person found necessary.

For example back in 2012 Washington accused Chinese telecom giants, including the world’s second-largest global supplier of telecommunications equipment, Huawei, of posing a threat to America’s national security through ‘tapping’ their routers, switches and other telecoms equipment.

Two years later it turned out that the US was not only spying on Huawei, but America’s NSA has been actually embedding surveillance tools within computer hardware exported from the US.

On Monday, the US personalized accusations of industrial cyber-espionage against China, charging five military officials with hacking attacks against American companies.

Beijing dismissed all the accusations as groundless and based on fabricated facts, blaming Washington of imperiling China-US “cooperation and mutual trust” in a released statement.

“China is steadfast in upholding cyber-security,” the statement maintains. “The Chinese government, the Chinese military and their relevant personnel have never engaged or participated in cyber-theft of trade secrets. The US accusation against Chinese personnel is purely ungrounded and absurd,” the document said.

US attorney General Eric Holder leveled charges against China of stealing confidential data and business secrets in order to give Chinese companies competitive advantage over American corporations in the nuclear and solar technology sectors.

According to the Justice Department, the grand jury’s indictment must become a “wake-up call” for the American nation to realize the scale of cyber intrusions.

The companies that allegedly suffered from espionage are such industrial giants as Alcoa World Alumina, Allegheny Technologies, SolarWorld, US Steel Corporation, the United Steelworkers Union and Westinghouse Electric.

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Thailand army declares martial law, insists move ‘is not a coup’

Thai soldiers take their positions in the middle of a main intersection in Bangkok‘s shopping district May 20, 2014.

Thailand’s military leaders declared martial law Tuesday in a surprise move which they say aims to restore peace and order after months of anti-government demonstrations and unrest have left the nation teetering.

Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha made the announcement on military television at 3:00 a.m. local time and assured the public that even though soldiers will now be in command of public security, order will rule the day. Dozens of people have been killed as a result of the protests since the demonstrations began in November 2013.

“We are concerned this violence could harm the country’s security in general. Then, in order to restore law and order to the country, we have declared martial law,” Prayuth said, as quoted by Reuters. “I’m asking all those activist groups to stop all activities and cooperate with us in seeking a way out of this crisis.”

A decades-long dispute over power has culminated within the past six months with large demonstrations and unrest. The situation escalated earlier in May, when Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was forced from office. Her ouster made way for sitting Prime Minister Niwatthamrong Boonsongphaisan, who said Monday that his administration would not step down.

The opposition demands that the government give way to an unelected administration that would then rewrite the constitution.

Thai soldiers take up a position on a main road in Bangkok May 20, 2014.

An army official speaking on condition of anonymity told the Associated Press that “this is definitely not a coup. This is only to provide safety to the people and the people can still carry on their lives as normal.”

A decree put out by the country’s armed forces has enacted media censorship that “prohibits all media outlets from reporting or distribution of any news or still photographs detrimental to national security,” said a statement by General Prayut Chan-O-Cha.

Almost immediately following that declaration, satellite stations went off-air. AFP reported that broadcasts by television channels have been suspended, while an army statement read that the stations were taken off the air “in order that people will get the correct information and not distort information to deepen the conflict.”

Thailand’s armed forces have either launched or attempted 18 coups in the country’s 81 years of parliamentary democracy.

Despite the army’s claims, many analysts remain unconvinced that the action is not a move towards a full-blown coup.

Pavin Chachavalpongpun, associate professor at the Centre for Southeast Asian Studies at Kyoto University, told AFP that he believes martial law was simply a prelude to the military taking full control.

I think what we are looking at is a prelude to a coup,” he said. “It is all part of a plot to create a situation of ungovernability to legitimise this move by the army. I would not be surprised if the next step is a military coup or the military taking charge with the advice of the senate and leading to the appointment of a new prime minister. But certainly the military is trying to take power from the government.”

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Libyan special forces commander says his forces join renegade general

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(Reuters) – The commander of Libyan army special forces said on Monday he had allied with renegade general Khalifa Haftar in his campaign against militant Islamists, highlighting the failure of central government in Tripoli to assert its authority.

The announcement gives a major boost to a campaign by Haftar, who has been denounced by the Tripoli government as attempting to stage a coup in the oil producer.

It remains unclear how many troops support Haftar, whose forces launched an attack on Islamist militants in Benghazi on Friday in which more than 70 people died. Militiamen apparently allied to Haftar also stormed parliament in Tripoli on Sunday.

The violence has compounded government’s apparent weakness in combating militias which helped oust Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 but now defy state authority.

“We are with Haftar,” Special Forces Commander Wanis Bukhamada told Reuters in the eastern city of Benghazi. On live television he had earlier announced his forces would join “Operation Dignity”, as Haftar calls his campaign.

The special forces are the best trained troops of Libya‘s nascent army. They have been deployed since last year in Benghazi to help stem a wave of car bombs and assassinations, but struggled to curb the activities of heavily-armed Islamist militias roaming the city.

An air base in Tobruk in Libya’s far east also declared alliance with Haftar’s force to fight “extremists”.

“The Tobruk air force base will join … the army under the command of General Khalifa Qassim Haftar,” the statement said.

Staff at the air base confirmed its authenticity.

UNCERTAINTY OVER PRIME MINISTER

Since the end of Gaddafi’s one-man rule, the main rival militias of ex-rebels have become powerbrokers in Libya’s political vacuum, carving out fiefdoms.

Compounding the anarchy, Libya’s outgoing government demanded parliament to go into recess after the forthcoming vote on the 2014 budget until the next election later this year, according to a statement issued after a cabinet meeting.

Haftar and other militias have demanded that a parliament, paralyzed by infighting step down.

The government demanded that parliament repeat a vote on a new prime minister. Business Ahmed Maiteeq was named as new premier two weeks ago in a chaotic vote disputed by many lawmakers.

“This government submits a national initiative to the General National Congress (GNC) to reach a national consensus during this decisive phase,” the statement of the cabinet of outgoing premier Abdullah al-Thinni said.

Should the GNC fail to agree on a new premier then Thinni’s cabinet should stay, it said. There was no immediate reaction from the GNC which is unlikely to give up power without a fight.

Haftar, once a Gaddafi ally who turned against him over a 1980s war in Chad, fueled rumors of a coup in February when he appeared on television in uniform calling for a caretaker government to end the crisis in Libya.

 

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Russian battleships in Shanghai for joint naval drills

Russian anti-surface destroyer Bystry arrives at a port ahead of the “Joint Sea-2014” naval drill, in Shanghai, May 18, 2014.

A squadron of Russia’s Navy Pacific Fleet has arrived in Shanghai to participate in joint Russian-Chinese naval training dubbed ‘Joint Sea-2014’. The drills in the northern part of the East China Sea start on Tuesday and will go on until May 26.

The Russian squadron consists of six battleships and support vessels: the flagship of the Pacific Fleet, missile cruiser Varyag, anti-submarine destroyer Admiral Panteleyev, large landing ship Admiral Nevelskoy, anti-surface destroyer Bystry, tanker Ilim and ocean tug Kalar.

Chinese sailors stand in formation in front of national flags of Russia (L) and China, as they get ready for a welcoming ceremony for Russian naval vessels ahead of the “Joint Sea-2014” naval drill, at a port in Shanghai, May 18, 2014.

The Chinese Navy will be represented in the naval drills with six battleships.

All in all, during the active phase of the drills set for May 22-25, the maneuvers involve 14 ships, two submarines, nine warplanes, six shipboard helicopters and two operational detachments of marines from both sides.

All ships taking part in the training exercise are moored at the Usun naval military base in Shanghai.

A delegation of Russian Navy officers has already joined their Chinese colleagues to compare notes on the plan of the drills.

Chinese Vice Admiral Tian Zhong revealed to journalists that the major difference of the starting drills will be the increased difficulty of joint operations of battleships on both sides.

Russian anti-submarine destroyer Admiral Panteleyev (R) arrives at a port ahead of the “Joint Sea-2014” naval drill, in Shanghai, May 18, 2014

For the first time, Russian and Chinese sailors will operate within a mixed group of battleship from the two counties, holding joint missile and artillery strikes against sea targets at different ranges and performing anti-submarine activities.

“Accumulated experience of interaction will allow us to increase the possibility of conducting joint actions of the two fleets to perform a wide range of tasks,” the top brass Chinese naval officer said.

Tian Zhong (R), deputy commander of the Chinese Navy and Alexander Fedotenkov, deputy commander-in-chief of Russian Navy, attend a news conference as directors of the upcoming “Joint Sea-2014” naval drill, at a port in Shanghai, May 18, 2014.

The crews of the Russian and Chinese warships made courtesy visits on board each other’s battleships to learn more about military hardware and service conditions.

Chinese officers will be given a formal reception on the Russian flagship, the Varyag, on Monday evening.
Russian sailors not taking part in preparations have been taken ashore for excursions organized by their Chinese hosts.

Russian sailors (L) salute to Chinese sailors as they visit Russian guided missile cruiser Varyag ahead of the “Joint Sea-2014” naval drill, at a port in Shanghai, May 19, 2014.

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U.S., Israel Team Up for Biannual “Juniper Cobra” Military Exercise

Israel and the United States are joining forces this week for the five-day, ballistic-missile-defense exercise Juniper Cobra. The Juniper Cobra exercises have been held every two years since 2001, and this year it will be the seventh exercise. In 2009, the main scenario of the exercise was an Iranian missile attack against Israel.

In 2012, the Juniper Cobra was postponed, likely to reduce tensions with Iran. Toward the end of that year there was a similar Israeli-American exercise, called Austere Challenge, in which the Israel Defense Forces and the U.S. Army trained together in intercepting targets.

During this year’s exercise, American troops belonging to EUCOM (U.S. European Command) are being deployed in Israel to strengthen the Israeli anti-missile systems. More than 4,000 American and Israeli troops are involved in the exercise (including over 700 U.S. troops) in Israel.

It will provide training in a variety of areas, including ballistic missile defense, and other areas, along with two U.S. Aegis-class ships in the Mediterranean. The exercise will employ Israel’s entire rocket and ballistic missile architecture, including Iron Dome, Arrow, and David’s Sling: assets that the United States is proud to have helped Israel finance and develop.

The Israeli defense systems are partly financed and supported by the United States.

The Middle East is known to be home of huge quantities of projectiles and Israel is under the threat of thousands of rockets and missiles. One main concern is that many players in the region are arming themselves with precision-guided heavy rockets, and some are likely to acquire GPS-guided ballistic missiles. In the face of this threat Israel continues developing sophisticated systems jointly with the United States, such as the Arrow 3, perhaps the most advanced missile interceptor in the world according to Uzi Rubin, former director of Israel’s Missile Defense Organization.

Iran poses the greatest threat to Israel today with its long-range Shahab-3 missiles, which can be fired from deep inside Iran and fly some 1,200 miles. This is without mentioning Hezbollah’s and Hamas’s arsenals on Israel’s borders. The Tower has learned that Hezbollah has amassed some 60,000 rockets in southern Lebanon, posing a threat to its civilian populations.

As in prior years, this exercise is important for training and laying down the necessary infrastructure and interoperability between Israeli and American missile-defense systems for common U.S.-Israeli challenges and threats in the region.

Going back to 2009, U.S. Admiral John M. Richardson, then deputy commander of U.S. Sixth Fleet, stated that “Israel is a strong ally of the United States” and looked forward working with his Israeli friends.

via  The Tower.

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Ukraine Crisis Will Be ‘Game Changer’ for NATO

The US Army’s 173rd Infantry Brigade carrying out a NATO-led exercise.

Artillery and tank fire reverberate around a Baltic airstrip where U.S. paratroopers are fighting alongside Lithuanian soldiers. The battle is just an exercise and it only involves 150 U.S. soldiers — but the symbolism is clear.

With Eastern European states nervous about Russia after it annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region and massed 40,000 troops on Ukraine’s borders, the U.S. and NATO allies want to show Moscow that former Soviet republics on the Baltic are under the alliance’s security umbrella.

“We are ready if something were to happen, but we are not looking to start any problems,” said Sergeant James Day, from the U.S. 173rd Airborne Brigade, during war games on the vast Gaiziunai training ground in western Lithuania.

That chimes with NATO’s current posture. In an initial response to Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, the U.S. has sent 600 soldiers to the three Baltic countries — Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — and Poland to take part in exercises to bolster NATO’s presence in Eastern Europe. But the alliance has no inclination to intervene militarily in Ukraine.

Longer term, the crisis will have a profound impact on NATO’s relations with Russia, its strategy and how it deploys, trains and equips its forces, although Europe has no wish to return to a Cold War-style confrontation between huge armies.

The crisis will compel the alliance to refocus on its core mission of defending its members after years in which its main effort has been far away in Afghanistan.

The 28-nation military alliance accuses Russia of tearing up the diplomatic rule book with its annexation of Crimea.

“For 20 years, the security of the Euro-Atlantic region has been based on the premise that we do not face an adversary to our east. This premise is now in doubt,” NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow said last month.

The crisis, called a “game changer” by Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, will dominate the alliance’s agenda as it prepares for a summit in Wales in September, which will mark the imminent end of the NATO-led combat mission in Afghanistan.

The U.S., Britain, Denmark, France, Canada and Germany have sent or promised extra fighter aircraft to increase patrols and training over the Baltics, Poland or Romania.

A fleet of nine minehunters from NATO countries has been dispatched to the Baltic and another task force of five ships to the eastern Mediterranean.

In the longer term, NATO will consider permanently stationing forces in Eastern Europe, something it has refrained from doing in the 15 years since the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland joined the alliance after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

NATO will also have to think about how it deals with the unorthodox tactics used by Russia in Crimea, including exploiting political divisions, using large-scale military exercises as cover for intervention, and denying Russian troops were operating in the peninsula.

The crisis has already affected relations between NATO and Russia, which have cooperated uneasily in recent years in areas such as combating terrorism, piracy and Afghan drug-trafficking. NATO suspended cooperation with Russia last month over Crimea.

The damage is not likely to be repaired as quickly as after Russia’s 2008 war with Georgia, when a freeze in top-level contacts between NATO and Russia lasted barely six months.

“As compared, say, with the reset after the Georgia war, this is going to be a much more prolonged and difficult period,” said a senior NATO official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

President Vladimir Putin declared in March he had the right to invade Ukraine to protect Russian speakers there, causing alarm in NATO members Estonia and Latvia, which have large ethnic Russian minorities of their own.

Officials at NATO are asking themselves if Putin would seriously consider challenging a NATO member, although if it tangled with a NATO member state, Russia would also be risking a confrontation with the U.S.

“Just as NATO does not want a war with Russia, so too Russia does not want a war with NATO, because the risks on both sides are global and catastrophic,” said Samuel Charap of the International Institute for Strategic Studies think tank.

So far, NATO has reinforced eastern allies with short-term deployments that will continue until at least the end of the year. If tensions with Russia persist, NATO may look at longer term ways to beef up its presence.

NATO’s top military commander, U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove, said last week that NATO would have to consider permanently stationing troops in parts of Eastern Europe.

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Turkey’s Erdogan problem – Al-Monitor

Turkey‘s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan

The March 30 local elections in Turkey were not really local elections but a de facto referendum on Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ability to govern the country. The outcome came as “a kiss of life” for Erdogan, whose legitimacy had been in a downward spiral since May 2013 when his authoritarian attitudes fanned the Gezi Park revolt. His legitimacy took a further blow with the massive corruption probe in December, which came coupled with a slew of wiretaps leaked on the Internet that exposed the government’s dirty affairs.

But despite those enormous setbacks, the popular support lost by Erdogan in the March 30 elections was less than expected. His party had garnered some 50% of the vote in the 2011 general elections. At the local polls, the party mustered 43.3% in the municipal assemblies’ vote — the only criteria that allows for a comparison — meaning that its popularity declined only by about six percentage points.

Now, let’s see how those less-than-expected losses or more-than-expected gains have since translated on the ground.

Prior to the polls, the Gezi Park events and the ensuing corruption scandal had nourished an impression — both at home and abroad — that Erdogan’s days were numbered. But the election results showed that Erdogan is here to stay.

Prior to the polls, a wide range of dynamics — economic fragility, social polarization, the government’s conflict with the Gulen movement, its deadlocked foreign policy and international isolation — were all negative. The election result came as a “lifesaver” that psychologically relieved the beleaguered government and boosted its self-confidence. The government was now armed with the “legitimacy of the ballot box” to counter the loss of legitimacy it had suffered over the Gezi Park events and the corruption scandal.

The March 30 results revived Erdogan’s presidential prospects, which were widely considered to be dead prior to the polls.

But even though Erdogan’s election victory seems to have smoothed his political route ahead, it has failed to improve the negative dynamics mentioned above. All those grave problems remain intact despite the electoral boost he got.

What is more, Erdogan’s deficiencies in democracy, freedom and the rule of law are far from diminishing and seem to be getting even worse. The latest example came in the form of an authoritarian law, approved on April 25 by President Abdullah Gul, which gives the National Intelligence Organization (MIT) extraordinary powers over citizens and institutions, while minimizing its accountability and control.

Erdogan’s electoral boost has resulted also in a tangible increase in media censorship and pressure to silence critical journalists.

Many of the problems and adverse dynamics besieging Erdogan arise mostly from Erdogan himself. Similarly, his authoritarian policies are the primary source of Turkey’s shortcomings in democracy, freedom and rule of law.

In sum, one can conclude that Erdogan had become Turkey’s biggest problem long before the Gezi revolt, and that the March 30 elections indirectly amplified that problem, with Erdogan failing to produce solutions to the trouble he himself creates.

At the helm of a vibrant and fast-changing Turkey for as many as 12 years, Erdogan has completely lost his problem-solving capability since the Gezi revolt. His authoritarian and arbitrary approach to the problems he personally creates or exacerbates makes him the root of the problem itself. Yet, Erdogan keeps aggravating the problems and generating conflict because power makes him even more overbearing, intolerant and hubristic. The relief his government got from the March 30 outcome, it seems, will be short-lived.

On May 10, a ceremony for the 146th anniversary of the Council of State demonstrated anew that Turkey’s strongest man is its biggest problem, exposing all anomalies of the regime in an episode overladen with symbolism. Each and every moment of the drama that unfolded in Ankara underscored that Turkey is going through extraordinary times.

Gul, Erdogan, cabinet ministers, Chief of General Staff Necdet Ozel and main opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu were all seated in the front row when the head of the Union of Turkish Bar Associations, Metin Feyzioglu, took the floor. Feyzioglu began speaking by addressing the president — a show of respect to the highest-level statesman in presence. But his speech, lasting an unusual 50 minutes, was directed at Erdogan, raising the problems the premier was responsible for: crippled press freedoms, social media bans, restrictions on May Day celebrations, the MIT law, the eradication of judicial independence and the blocking of corruption probes.

Only 15 days earlier, Erdogan had faced similar criticism from Constitutional Court President Hasim Kilic, who denounced the prime minister’s and his government’s unlawful practices at a ceremony marking the tribunal’s 52nd anniversary. Erdogan and his ministers did not spare Kilic, but they waited for the ceremony to end to vent their anger.

At the Council of State, however, Erdogan’s angry shouts startled the audience just as Feyzioglu was concluding his speech. The premier was accusing the head of the bar associations of lying, ill-manners and abusing his speaking time. Gul was tugging on Erdogan’s hand, trying to calm him down.

As Feyzioglu finished his sentence, Erdogan rose from his seat and moved toward the rostrum, still shouting. Then, he turned back and gesticulated to Gul that they should leave, showing the door. While Erdogan and his aides left the hall, Gul and his entourage, who had also stood up, followed suit, joined by the army chief.

Normally, a prime minister rising from his seat and shouting at the speaker in the presence of the president — the constitutional head of the state and the executive — would have been only a show of force shattering the state protocol. But what made things worse was the prime minister inviting the president out and Gul heeding the call.

The walkout was a visual illustration of how the state protocol and hierarchy has collapsed, giving way to the real political hierarchy — the one of the “one-man regime” — in a thought-provoking show directed by Erdogan himself.

Most recently, Turkey’s Erdogan problem erupted not in an auditorium but in the streets. On May 14, protests greeted Erdogan when he visited the western town of Soma, where Turkey’s deadliest mining disaster had occurred the previous day. With the death toll climbing to 200 that day, it was only natural for Soma’s people to call the government to account for the poor supervision and negligence that caused the disaster. Moreover, in the speech he made there Erdogan implied that the grieving families should accept the tragedy as natural, arguing that death was inherent in the mining industry and citing examples of fatal accidents dating back to the 19th century. In remarks at a press conference, he also used the term “exitus cases” for the men who perished in the coal mine.

Erdogan’s comments were bound to fuel anger, as Soma’s pain was still raw. And indeed, when he emerged in the streets he faced booing and resignation calls, which forced his bodyguards to lead him into a supermarket. In the evening, the news broke that inside the supermarket, the Turkish republic’s prime minister had slapped a citizen of his country in the face.

A young man, Taner Kuruca, claimed he had come for shopping when he suddenly came face to face with the prime minister, who gave him a slap. He added he was not planning to sue Erdogan. Footage of the incident clearly shows Erdogan grabbing Kuruca by the neck with both hands and saying “Where are you running!” His bodyguards are then seen brutally beating the man.

In the meantime, another image from Soma made the rounds across the world, showing Erdogan’s adviser Yusuf Yerkel kicking a protester already overpowered on the ground by two special-forces police.

Erdogan’s callous, intolerant, arrogant and detached response to protests and criticism — supposedly the most natural freedoms in a democracy — show that Turkey’s biggest problem is growing even bigger.

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