Daily Archives: May 19, 2014

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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Forces loyal to rogue general storm Libya’s parliament, demand suspension

Armed men aim their weapons from a vehicle as smoke rises in the background near the General National Congress in Tripoli May 18, 2014.

Armed gunmen loyal to rogue General Khalifa Haftar attacked Libya’s parliament on Sunday, announcing its suspension. Forces loyal to Haftar claim to be purging the nation of Islamist militias while authorities accuse them of staging a coup.

Two people were killed and 55 others injured in the clashes in Tripoli’s city center following the attack on parliament, Reuters quoted the country’s justice minister, Saleh Mergani, as saying. The minister also called on all parties to put down their weapons and begin dialogue, according to his televised news conference.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the health ministry said up to 66 people were wounded in the fighting.

A Libyan colonel loyal to Haftar denied the move was a coup and stated that parliament has no legitimacy and should hand over power to the 60-member body that was recently elected to rewrite Libya’s constitution.

“We, members of the army and revolutionaries (former rebels), announce the suspension of the General National Congress,” Mokhtar Fernana said in a statement broadcast on two private TV channels, according to AFP.

The justice minister condemned the attack on parliament, as well as the claim that parliament’s operations had been suspended. Marghani said that Libya “condemns expression of political opinion with armed force,” adding that Haftar’s Sunday attack was not connected to his Friday assaults in Benghazi.

Details of the Sunday attack are unclear, but Haftar’s spokesman said the general’s forces were responsible, adding that the assault was part of their ‘Dignity of Libya’ campaign to rid the country of all Islamist militants.

“These are members of the Libyan National Army,” Mohamed al-Hejazi said. The Libyan National Army is the name of the irregular forces loyal to Haftar.

The Libyan National Army also rejected recently appointed Ahmed Maiteeq as the country’s new prime minister on Sunday, according to AFP.

General Khalifa Haftar attends a news conference at a sports club in Abyar, a small town to the east of Benghazi on May 17, 2014.

Meanwhile, unknown attackers fired Grad rockets at Benghazi’s Benina Airport as clashes broke out in Libya’s second largest city early Monday, Reuters reported, citing army and security sources. Fighting was also reported in two other areas in Benghazi.

At least 70 people have been killed and 141 injured over the weekend in Benghazi in clashes between Islamist militias and army troops loyal to Haftar. The country’s authorities called the military offensive a “coup.”

Military aircraft and helicopters fighting for General Khalifa Haftar were involved in the clashes and were spotted flying over Benghazi, Libyan security officials said, as quoted by AP.

Haftar was an army commander under Colonel Muammar Gaddafi until the 1980s, when he defected. Following Gaddafi’s ouster, Haftar was appointed to rebuild the Libyan military, but was removed shortly after.

Following the ouster of Gaddafi in 2011, militias expanded in numbers, filling in the gap while Libya struggled with weak military and police forces.

Meanwhile, Libya’s parliament remains split by rivalries, with little democratic reforms made since 2011. The country is now under the rule of its third prime minister since March, and a new constitution is still not ready.

On May 5, Libya’s parliament confirmed Ahmed Maiteeq as the country’s new prime minister. Deputy speaker Ezzedin al-Awami called the election invalid, but parliamentary president Nouri Abu Sahmain recognized the choice.

The new prime minister was elected after Abdullah al-Thinni resigned in April following an attack by gunmen on his family just one month into his term.

The prime minister before that, Ali Zeidan, escaped the country after being fired because he was unable to stop rebels from capturing oil fields.

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Self-proclaimed Lugansk People’s Republic elects head, passes constitution

“People’s Governor” of the Lugansk Region Valery Bolotov (center) read an address to the residents of Lugansk at the rally devoted to the results of the referendum on the status of the Lugansk People’s Republic (LPR) on May 12, 2014

The self-proclaimed Lugansk People’s Republic (LNR) elected its head and passed its own constitution on Sunday. This comes after the region held a referendum on May 11 and proclaimed itself independent from Kiev.

LNR’s state council – which acts as a temporary legislative body – has chosen Valery Bolotov as the head of the republic. The council also elected its speaker, Aleksey Karyakin, and Prime Minister – Vasily Nikitin.

Bolotov was born in Russia’s southern port city of Taganrog in 1974. He has two university degrees. He also worked his way up from a manager to the director at a meat factory. Before being elected as the head of the self-proclaimed republic, he was serving as the “people’s governor” of Lugansk region.

Deputies of the council who where elected earlier on Sunday on also adopted a temporary constitution of the Lugansk People’s Republic.

The newly elected prime minister already identified what his first steps in the office will be. “As the prime minister I will form a new government. I will announce the specific candidates later. The members of the new cabinet will be determined in the second part of the day [tomorrow],” Itar-Tass quoted Nikitin as saying.

Last weekend, Ukraine’s Donetsk and Lugansk regions held referendums in which the majority of voters supported self-rule.

In Lugansk region 96.2 percent of voters supported the region’s self-rule, according to final figures announced by the local election commission. Almost 90 percent of voters in Donetsk region have endorsed political independence from Kiev.

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