‘We don’t need aircraft carriers, we need weapons to sink them with’ – Russian defense minister

The US may have a military budget that far exceeds that of Russia, but it doesn’t matter since the Russian military is there to defend the country, not attack other nations, the Russian defense minister said.

Russia’s military budget received a hike a few years ago for a massive rearmament program, but has been rolled back in recent years. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute estimated Russia to be the world’s sixth biggest defense spender in 2018, behind the US, China, Saudi Arabia, India, and France. Meanwhile, the Pentagon has been showered with money under the Trump administration, dwarfing other nations’ military budgets.

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But the man in charge of the Russian Defense Ministry says his fellow Russians have no reasons to worry, because their taxpayer rubles are well spent.

“The US spends huge amounts of money on private military contractors, on aircraft carriers. Well, does Russia really need five to ten aircraft carrier strike groups, considering that we do not intend to attack anyone?” Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu told a Russian newspaper.

We need the means we could use against the enemy’s carrier strike groups should our country come under attack. They are far less costly and more efficient.

The minister also criticized Washington for its habit of justifying its military interventions throughout the world by the interests of the people living in the nations it targets.

“In which of the nations they went ‘to bring democracy’ did democracy flourish? Was that Iraq, Afghanistan or Syria?” Shoigu said. “And one certainly can forget about sovereignty and independence after American involvement.”

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He added that the US doesn’t seem to be losing its appetite for ruining other nations, be it through military intervention or other means.

“Our Western colleagues love to accuse Russia of waging ‘hybrid wars’ or whatever. Well, I say [the] West is the one conducting actual hybrid warfare. The US now is about to leave Afghanistan in half-ruins and at the same time they work hard to stir things in Venezuela – all for the ‘triumph of democracy’ of course.”

The US tried this year to topple the Venezuelan government by supporting Juan Guaido, who declared himself interim president of the Latin American country. His pretendership, however, has not been that successful. His two attempts at triggering a large-scale public uprising and ousting President Nicolas Maduro fizzled despite Washington’s promise that it would lift crippling economic sanctions against Venezuela once their man takes control.

  • Published in World

China urges US to take steps to ensure North Korea talks resume

China urged the United States on Thursday to adopt a more conducive approach towards North Korea, in order to restart stalled nuclear talks after Pyongyang indicated it wanted to resume negotiations. 

North Korea said on Monday it was willing to restart nuclear talks with the US in late September but warned that dealings between the sides could end unless Washington takes a different approach.

A few hours later, it fired a new round of short-range projectiles.

Speaking in Beijing, the Chinese government's top diplomat, State Councillor Wang Yi, said China welcomed North Korea's recent "positive signals" on restarting stalled talks.

"We would be glad to see North Korea and the United States resuming talks on schedule at the end of the month," Wang told a joint news conference with Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah.

Arguing that both sides' core concerns must be addressed in order for talks to achieve real progress, Wang added: "If there are only preconditions made for the other side ... or even trying to use extreme pressure to get the other side to make unilateral concessions, then this didn't work in the past and it won't work now or in the future."

North Korea has so far this year taken a series of positive steps, and has asked the US to meet them halfway, he said.

China urged the United States on Thursday to adopt a more conducive approach towards North Korea, in order to restart stalled nuclear talks after Pyongyang indicated it wanted to resume negotiations. 

North Korea said on Monday it was willing to restart nuclear talks with the US in late September but warned that dealings between the sides could end unless Washington takes a different approach.

A few hours later, it fired a new round of short-range projectiles.

Speaking in Beijing, the Chinese government's top diplomat, State Councillor Wang Yi, said China welcomed North Korea's recent "positive signals" on restarting stalled talks.

"We would be glad to see North Korea and the United States resuming talks on schedule at the end of the month," Wang told a joint news conference with Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah.

Arguing that both sides' core concerns must be addressed in order for talks to achieve real progress, Wang added: "If there are only preconditions made for the other side ... or even trying to use extreme pressure to get the other side to make unilateral concessions, then this didn't work in the past and it won't work now or in the future."

North Korea has so far this year taken a series of positive steps, and has asked the US to meet them halfway, he said.

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‘We’re living the end of Western hegemony’: Macron urges to stop pushing Russia away from Europe

French President Emmanuel Macron has warned that it would be a “strategic mistake” for Western nations not to change their attitude toward Moscow.

“We are living the end of Western hegemony,” Macron told diplomats on Tuesday, after hosting the G7 meeting in the city of Biarritz on France’s Atlantic coast over the weekend. He named the rise of Beijing and Moscow as signs of a shift on the world scene.

Pushing Russia away from Europe is a profound strategic mistake.

“We’re either pushing Russia into isolation, which increases tensions, or to ally itself with other major powers like China, which would not be in our interest,” Macron said, calling for the “rethinking” of relations with Moscow. Otherwise, Europe will be stuck with “frozen conflicts” and will remain “a theater for strategic struggle between the US and Russia,” he stressed.

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Macron’s rhetoric towards Moscow has somewhat softened in recent months. During cordial talks with Russian leader Vladimir Putin last week, he vowed to do his best to rebuild trust between Russia and the EU.

US President Donald Trump, meanwhile, suggested inviting Putin to attend the G7 event next year, which he will be hosting. He argued that it would be more useful to discuss pressing world issues with Russia, a major player, present at the table.

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The French leader also talked about the “unprecedented crisis” plaguing the global market economy.

The world order is being shaken like never before.

“It’s being shaken because of errors made by the West in certain crises, but also by the choices made by the United States in the past few years – and not just by the current administration.”

These “choices” are impacting “the conflicts in the Middle and elsewhere, making it necessary to rethink military and diplomatic strategies,” the president noted.

  • Published in World

Cuba serves and blocks to defeat USA

The U.S. Men put up a fight, but Cuba was too tough and took a 25-19, 25-23, 22-25, 25-14 in a NORCECA Champions Cup match at the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center.

The U.S. Men (1-1) will play Canada (0-2) in the round-robin finale on Wednesday at 7 p.m. MT. Cuba (2-0) will play Puerto Rico (1-1) at 1 p.m. MT. Matches are being shown live at https://go.usav.org/USAVwatch.

Cuba and the U.S. Men tied in attacks (47-47). Cuba led in blocks (11-6) and aces (10-6). Cuba scored 29 points on U.S. errors and committed 22.

Osniel Mergarejo and Robertlandy Simon led Cuba with 16 points each. Mergarejo had 11 attacks, three blocks and two aces. Simon finished with 10 kills, a match-high five blocks and one ace.

Michael Wexter and Cody Kessel led the United States with 13 points each.

Cuba coach Nicolas Vives: “The Americans are an excellent team. I liked how they played. I like the tactics of the U.S. The most important thing is that we won.”

USA coach Matt Werle: “We looked a little intimidated. We didn’t play with the personality that we had for the last eight or nine days. It seemed like they took us away from that and that’s something I’m pretty disappointed about. When we put some service pressure on them, we got ourselves in nice situations. Our transition numbers were not what they should have been, and that’s something that we obviously would have needed. Cuba’s a team that likes to end points quickly, and we allowed them to do that. It was tough to withstand. They’re a very good, strong and physical, and they’re good from the service line. They were better than us tonight.”

USA player Michael Wexter: “They played a lot better than they did last night against Canada. They were serving absolute rockets at us. They didn’t miss a lot, which is crazy because they were ripping the ball like 75 mph or more. Toward the end of the match, they started blocking a lot of balls that were falling earlier in the match against them. They started to tighten little things up that we were getting through earlier in the match.”

  • Published in Sports

The Largest Parapan American Games In History Kicks Off With Opening Ceremony

With an electric opening ceremony that celebrated both the spirit and evolution of the Paralympic Movement, the Parapan American Games Lima 2019 officially began on Friday, August 23 at the Estadio Nacional in Lima, Peru.

The 2019 edition of the Parapan American Games is the largest in history, showcasing 17 sports and over 1,890 athletes from 33 nations in the Americas region.

“Change doesn’t happen overnight; these Games are no magic wand,” said Carlos Neuhaus, president of the Lima 2019 Organizing Committee. “But my hope is that Lima 2019 will be the spark that lights the fuse and ignites a long overdue process of building greater awareness, understanding and integration of people with a disability in our society, and across the Americas.”

The theme of the opening ceremony was “elevation”, portraying a story of two children who embark on a journey full of challenges and obstacles, but are able to overcome them and reach greater heights through their friendship and resilience.

Each country’s delegation entered the stadium, where they were met by cheers from the audience. The 257 members of Team USA were greeted warmly as they walked in, led by three-time Paralympian Katie Holloway of the U.S. women’s sitting volleyball team. Holloway was selected by her fellow athletes for the honor of the flag bearer at this year’s opening ceremony.

Download the Team USA app today to keep up with all your favorite sports, plus access to videos, Olympic and Paralympic team bios, and more.

“I just feel really honored that the U.S. delegation of athletes saw me as a person that would be representative of them,” Holloway said. “To hold the flag, with honor, for our whole entire U.S. Paralympic delegation, is really special.”

The Parapan American Flame was carried into the stadium by multiple athletes before reaching the top of a totem surrounded by dancers and acrobats. It was initially lit on August 20 in Pachamac, the largest archaeological complex in Lima, and was then carried to other locations throughout the city before making its way to the Estadio Nacional for the duration of the Games.

To close out the show, the Peruvian band Bareto provided an upbeat mix of rock, reggae, psychedelic and tropical music to the audience. The group’s cumbia song “Cariñito” has become the unofficial anthem of Lima 2019 as it has been the Peruvian team’s entrance song, and been played at all sports venues and volunteer rehearsals.

Two sports, table tennis and wheelchair rugby, began competition prior to the opening ceremony, with the former hosting matches as early as August 22.

For the rest of the athletes; however, the opening ceremony signaled the beginning of a tremendous event with plenty of opportunities to shine on the international stage over the next nine days.

  • Published in Sports

China Says Hopes US Stops Tariff Action, Vows To Retaliate Any New Levies

BEIJING: China said on Thursday it hopes the United States will stop its wrong tariff action, adding that any new tariffs would lead to escalation.

The United States said early this month it would slap duties on $300 billion of Chinese goods from Sept. 1, which would effectively extend its tariffs to all of China's exports to the United States.

But President Donald Trump later backed off part of the plan, delaying duties on some items such as cellphones, laptops and other consumer goods to mid-December, in the hopes of blunting their impact on U.S. holiday sales.

"Despite the U.S. decision to delay tariffs on some Chinese goods .... if the United States rides roughshod over China's opposition and impose any new tariffs, China will be forced to adopt retaliatory actions", Ministry of Commerce spokesman Gao Feng told a news briefing.

Gao said trade teams from both sides have been keeping in touch, when asked whether the Chinese vice Premier Liu He would travel to Washington for the next round of face-to-face talks.

When asked if Washington has raised the Hong Kong issue with China during the trade negotiations, Gao referred to Trump's previous remarks that Hong Kong is part of China and it is not necessary for the U.S. to intervene.

"I hope U.S. side can stick to its words," said Gao.

President Donald Trump over the weekend warned against a crackdown in Hong Kong like Beijing's suppression of pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989, which would make reaching a deal he has been seeking to end a trade war with China "very hard".

  • Published in World

‘One possible conclusion’: US banned-missile test apparently in works long before leaving INF

It took the US just 17 days after it was no longer officially bound by the INF Treaty to conduct a missile test that would have breached its rules. And it probably was breaching the treaty, given how long preparation takes.

On Sunday, the Pentagon fired a Tomahawk cruise missile from a truck-mounted Mark 41 Vertical Launching System to a distance of over 500km. The test was hardly unexpected. Both the missile and the launcher are time-tested, and their capabilities are publicly known. The only novelty was that the Mk41 was placed on a ground vehicle as opposed to a warship.

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If anything, the test was a demonstration of intent and attitude. It would have been legally impossible just a month ago, when the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty still forbade not only deploying but even developing weapon systems like the ground-based Tomahawk.

The INF kicked the bucket this year after years of bickering between the US and Russia over who was the worst at sticking to the spirit of the deal. Washington said the Russians had secretly developed a missile that was in violation. There was even secret intelligence to support the accusations – or at least to convince NATO allies not to question the US’ justification for withdrawal.

At the same time, the US developed and fired missiles banned by the treaty, saying it was OK since they were just target missiles and not actual missiles meant to kill and destroy. A similar explanation somehow didn’t work for North Korea with its satellite launch, which was instantly branded a clandestine ballistic missile test by the US. But when the US used one, Russia was expected to just go along.

Also on rt.com What’s INF & why does it matter?...

Washington also deployed the Mk41 VLS in Europe, claiming that they could only fire interceptor missiles to stop Iran from obliterating the Europeans, rather than directing Tomahawks at Russia. What a big surprise this new test must have been for every expert and defense official who said Moscow was overreacting to those missile defenses in Romania and Poland!

There is a notable pattern in Washington’s attitude to international relations, whereby it spots every speck on the record of others, while finding sensible-sounding solutions for any blemishes on its own. How is that work on destroying your chemical weapons going, by the way? For this test to come on such short notice is the latest example.

“In two weeks, one can prepare and get a green light for a test program, and even that would take extra effort,” RT’s defense expert Mikhail Khodarenok remarked. “The rest of it, including bringing the tested weapon system to the range, training the crew in its use, preparing the target, putting sensors in place – that cannot be done in two weeks.”

There is only one possible conclusion – the test was designed, organized, prepared and financed long before the US officially withdrew from the INF.

Now it turns out that all the while Washington was telling the world how the treaty could still be salvaged – if only Russia pled guilty and destroyed its stockpiles of missiles that supposedly violated the INF – it was also developing a weapon system that breached the very same treaty.

The work has been ongoing since at least February this year, according to a Department of Defense spokesperson quoted by RIA Novosti. This is right after the US announced its formal withdrawal and long before the expiration of the six-month grace period stipulated in the treaty. Who could have seen this one coming?

  • Published in World

Spending on illicit drugs in US nears $150 billion annually

Spending on cannabis, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine by Americans reached nearly $150 billion in 2016, with a large proportion of spending coming from the small share of people who use drugs on a daily or near-daily basis, according to a new RAND Corporation report.

Researchers estimate that from 2006 to 2016, the total amount of money spent by Americans on these four drugs fluctuated between $120 billion and $145 billion each year. By contrast, a different analysis finds that spending on alcohol in the U.S. was estimated to be $158 billion in 2017.

Total spending on cannabis, from both illegal and state-licensed sources, increased by approximately 50 percent from 2006 to 2016, from $34 billion to $52 billion. The market for cannabis is roughly the size of the cocaine and methamphetamine markets combined, and the size of the retail heroin market is now closer to the size of the marijuana market than it is to the other drugs, according to the analysis.

"To better understand changes in drug use outcomes and the effects of policies, policymakers need to know what is happening in markets for these substances," said Greg Midgette, the study's lead author, an assistant professor at University of Maryland and an adjunct policy researcher at RAND, a nonprofit research organization. "But it is challenging to generate these estimates, and given that critical data sources have been eliminated, it will likely be harder to generate these figures in the future."

In addition to estimating expenditures on cannabis, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine, researchers from RAND used a variety of sources of information about drug use and drug prices to also estimate the number of people who use these substances and how much they consume.

The report shows that after falling precipitously from 2006 to 2010, consumption of cocaine continued to fall slowly through 2015, then increased in 2016. Results suggest there were 2.4 million individuals who used cocaine on four more or days in the past month in 2015 and 2016. Results also suggest that consumption grew in 2016 among a stable number of users as the price per pure gram declined.

Consumption of heroin increased approximately 10 percent per year between 2010 and 2016, according to the analysis. Whereas most heroin consumed in the United States comes from poppies grown in Mexico, the introduction of synthetic opioids like fentanyl into heroin markets has increased the risk of using heroin and complicated market analyses.

There was a steady increase in the amount of heroin seized within the United States and at the southwest border from 2007 through 2016. Changes in the composition of heroin users, potentially involving increased use among individuals without criminal histories, have increased the uncertainty underlying these estimates.

From 2010 to 2016, the number of individuals who used cannabis in the past month increased nearly 30 percent, from 25 million to 32 million. Changes in the potency of marijuana and the proliferation of nonflower products such as oils and waxes have made weight-based consumption estimates obsolete and forced a change in how researchers calculate expenditures.

Researchers say their estimates about methamphetamine use are subject to the greatest uncertainty because national data sets do a particularly poor job of capturing its use.

The federal government discontinued a critical data collection effort in 2003, the Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring, or ADAM, right before methamphetamine use was believed to be at its first peak during 2004 to 2006.

ADAM not only collected detailed information about drug market transactions from arrestees, it also included a voluntary urine screen that could only be used for research purposes. A limited version of ADAM was brought back in 2007 and then eliminated after 2013, right when methamphetamine consumption was believed to be picking back up.

"While there is considerable uncertainty surrounding national methamphetamine estimates, multiple indicators suggest methamphetamine use has exceeded its previous peak around 2005," said Beau Kilmer, co-author of the report and director of the RAND Drug Policy Research Center. "While there is much more we can do reduce opioid use disorders and poisonings involving synthetic opioids, we cannot ignore the growing problems associated with methamphetamine use."

The RAND researchers note that one important step to better address use of methamphetamine and understand all drug markets would be to fund again some version of the ADAM program that covers urban and rural areas.

Support for the study was provided by the Office of Research and Data Analysis within the federal Office of National Drug Control Policy.

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Materials provided by RAND Corporation. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

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