‘Defensive actions’? NATO launches new multinational force to counter Russia

NATO is launching a new multinational force in Romania to counter Russia along its eastern flank and keep close tabs on the Russian presence in the Black Sea. The chief of the military alliance said NATO’s actions are purely “defensive and proportionate.”

“Here in Romania, our multinational framework brigade is now operational,” Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in Bucharest on Monday, thanking Romania for hosting the brigade.

“We are also seeing increased allied presence in the Black Sea,” the alliance chief noted, adding that NATO jets are busy patrolling the skies over Romania and Bulgaria.

 
© Regis Duvignau

“Our deployments are a direct response to Russia’s aggressive actions in Ukraine,” Stoltenberg said, speaking at the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in the Romanian capital.

“NATO’s actions are defensive, proportionate and entirely in line with our international commitments,” he concluded.

Stoltenberg went on to say that members of the alliance are “concerned by Russia’s military buildup close to our borders and its lack of transparency when it comes to military exercises such as Zapad 2017. This highlights the importance of our dual-track approach to Russia,” he said.

What the alliance chief said next, however, sounded more like a mantra.

“Russia is our neighbor. Russia is here to stay. We do not want to isolate Russia. NATO does not want a new Cold War. Our actions are designed to prevent, not provoke conflict.”

Details of the new force size are unclear. Once a small force relying on troops from 10 NATO countries, the land, air and sea deployments will complement some 900 US troops already in place, according to Reuters.

The land component of the multinational force is stationed at a base near the southern Romanian city of Craiova. Aside from Romania, Poland is the biggest troop contributor; Bulgaria, Italy and Portugal will train with the force in Craiova, while Germany is also set to contribute. Apart from routine NATO Black Sea naval patrols, a maritime presence will feature more allied visits to Romanian and Bulgarian ports, training and exercises.

 
U.S. army soldiers with their Stryker armoured fighting vehicle attend the final day of NATO Saber Strike exercises in Orzysz, Poland, June 16, 2017. © Ints Kalnins

Some Eastern Europeans reportedly want NATO's new ballistic missile defense shield, which includes a site in Romania, to be part of NATO's eastern posture vis-a-vis Russia.

"The Aegis Ashore system would add another level of deterrence," Maciej Kowalski, an analyst at the Polish Casimir Pulaski Foundation, told Reuters.

NATO’s military activities near the Russian border have been repeatedly criticized by Moscow, which has accused the alliance of undermining the security balance with its eastward encroachment and military provocations.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in a speech at the UN General Assembly in New York last month that NATO is currently seeking to revive the Cold War climate instead of building a dialogue with Moscow. Russia has long been trying to remove the legacy of the Cold War but received no support in its efforts from its partners in the West, the minister noted, expressing regret that “some countries still prefer force to dialogue."

"The West constructed its policy on the basis of a principle, ‘If you are not with us, you are against us’ and proceeded with hideous expansion of NATO to the east,” Lavrov said.

 
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The Russian permanent representative to NATO, Aleksandr Grushko, meanwhile noted in July that NATO activities in Eastern Europe “not only ensure a reinforced military presence of the allies in the immediate vicinity of Russia’s borders but in fact represent an intensive mastering of the potential theater of military operations.”

Last month, Russia conducted the Zapad 2017 (West 2017) military drills, which took place on the territory of Russia and Belarus. The exercises involved about 12,700 servicemen, including up to 5,500 from Russia and about 7,200 from Belarus.

The drills caused hysteria in several countries neighboring Belarus, including Ukraine, with the country’s commander-in-chief, Viktor Muzhenko, claiming in an interview with Reuters that Russia had allegedly withdrawn only a few units from Belarus.

"As for the units of Russian troops who took part in the joint strategic ‘West 2017’ exercise, they all returned to the points of permanent deployment," Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov stated in September, adding that Muzhenko's allegations about "hidden" Russian troops in Belarus "demonstrate the depth of the degradation of the General Staff of Ukraine and the professional incompetence of its leader."

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Thousands evacuated from Moscow buildings as Russian cities inundated with bomb threats

Over 20 shopping centers, railway stations and universities had to be evacuated in Moscow, following warnings that they had been rigged with explosives. In total, 190 sites have been evacuated across 17 Russian cities after bomb threats, a security source told RIA news agency.

“This appears to be a case of telephone terrorism, but we have to check the credibility of these messages,” an emergency service source told Tass news agency, noting that the calls began at the same time, and continued after the evacuations had begun.

Tass reported that over 20,000 people had been affected by the evacuation in Moscow alone.

Emergency services said that police units including explosives specialists and officers with sniffer dogs are examining the buildings. Several later reported that police cordons had been lifted.

Among the locations affected are three of the capital's biggest railway stations, more than a dozen shopping centers – including GUM, located next to Red Square – and at least three universities, the leading First Moscow State Medical University, and the Moscow State Institute of International Relations among them.

Tass reported that the railway timetable remained unaffected by the police operation. Social media accounts show bemused crowds milling passively outside evacuated buildings, and there have been no reports of disturbances of public order.

President Vladimir Putin has been informed of the incidents, but his press secretary Dmitry Peskov said that he would not be commenting “as this is a matter for the security services to address.”

An epidemic of hoax bomb warnings has plagued Russia over the past week. Security services told the RIA news agency that over 45,000 people were evacuated from public places in 22 Russian cities on Tuesday, adding that many of the calls appeared to have come from Ukraine.

Terrorist false alarms are punishable by up to five years in prison under Russian law, and multiple police investigations have been opened.  However, the possibility that the hoaxers are using pre-recorded messages - as appears to be the case in earlier, identical messages - automated dialing systems and digital means of concealing their true location present difficulties in identifying the culprits.

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Senate committee to interview Trump Jr. behind closed doors

Sept. 7 (UPI) -- Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee will privately interview Donald Trump, Jr., Thursday -- and are expected to ask about his meeting with a Russian lawyer in New York City during last year's presidential campaign.

Senators had sought to interview the president's son publicly in July but he instead offered to be privately interviewed and provide documents.

"We look forward to a professional and productive meeting and appreciate the opportunity to assist the committee," Trump, Jr.'s attorney, Alan S. Futerfas, said in a statement.

Last week, Judiciary Committee Chair Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and ranking Democrat Dianne Feinstein of California issued a joint statement confirming the interview with the president's eldest son was imminent.

Trump, Jr., has acknowledged he met with a Russian lawyer -- who he said had damaging information about Democrat Hillary Clinton that could help his father's presidential campaign. He released emails this summer that showed it was "part of Russia and its government's support for [President Donald] Trump."

Also attending the meeting were Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, now a senior adviser to the president, and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

Kushner and Manafort have already been interviewed by the Senate Committee on Intelligence.

The Senate and House intelligence committees are investigating Russian election meddling and any ties to Trump's campaign, but the judiciary panel wants to investigate whether any federal criminal statutes that ban solicitation from foreign nationals were violated.

Feinstein told reporters Wednesday the committee staff will conduct the interview, and a public hearing will be conducted later. Feinstein said she doesn't plan to attend the interview.

Other committee members, including Democrats Dick Durbin of Illinois and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, said they plan to attend.

"There are penalties if he lies, and he presumably is aware that he is testifying with very severe penalties if he fails to tell the truth, so we presume he will," Blumenthal told reporters.

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Facebook scours $150k 'divisive ads' for links to Russia amid US election meddling claims

Facebook has targeted Russia in a review of ad purchases, searching for those which originated in Russia or used the Russian language from an IP address in the US - even though the ads "didn't necessarily violate any policy or law."

The social network released a statement on Wednesday, addressing claims that Russia had interfered in the US presidential election.

"There have been a lot of questions since the 2016 US election about Russian interference in the electoral process..." the site wrote.

 
© Heinz-Peter Bader

 

"One question that has emerged is whether there's a connection between Russian efforts and ads purchased on Facebook. These are serious claims and we've been reviewing a range of activity on our platform to help understand what happened."

Facebook claims that its review found that approximately $100,000 in ad spending from June 2015 to May 2017 – associated with roughly 3,000 ads – was "connected to about 470 inauthentic accounts and pages in violation of our policies."

It goes on to accuse Russia of being behind the "inauthentic accounts," stating that the analysis suggests the "accounts and Pages were affiliated with one another and likely operated out of Russia."

Following the analysis, the site shut down the accounts and pages that were still active, Facebook said, stressing that "we don't allow inauthentic accounts on Facebook."

However, the statement admits that the "vast majority of ads run by these accounts didn't specifically reference the US presidential election, voting, or a particular candidate."

Still, Facebook manages to perceive a connection: the ads, it says, focus on "amplifying divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum - touching on topics from LGBT matters to race issues to immigration to gun rights."

READ MORE: ‘No doubt’ US will try to meddle in 2018 Russian presidential election – foreign ministry

An unnamed Facebook employee went as far as to mention unspecified connections between the ads and something known as a "troll factory" in St. Petersburg, often mentioned by Western mainstream media as the source of Russian "propaganda" on social media.

Facebook's hunt for Russian misbehavior doesn't stop at "inauthentic ads." It also casts a wide net for legitimate ads originating in Russia – or even "those with very weak signals of a connection and not associated with any known organized effort."

 
© MIDRussia

 

That connection could be as tentative as language settings on the accounts that bought the ads: those with American IP addresses but set to Russian language, even though they "didn't necessarily violate any policy or law."

"In this part of our review, we found approximately $50,000 in potentially politically related ad spending on roughly 2,200 ads," the statement reads.

While admitting that its findings include ads which are perfectly legitimate both under federal law and its own guidelines, Facebook still shared the information "with US authorities investigating these issues."

It also briefed members of the Senate and House of Representatives intelligence committees on Wednesday about the suspected Russian advertising, Reuters reported, citing a congressional source familiar with the matter. Both committees are hunting for evidence of alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election, including potential collusion between Moscow and Donald Trump's campaign.

Facebook also reportedly delivered its findings to Robert Mueller, the special counsel in charge of investigating the alleged Russian interference, a source told Reuters.

The social network's latest statement comes after Senator Mark Warner (D-Virginia), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, met with Facebook officials in July as part of the committee's investigation into Russia's alleged election interference. 

Meanwhile, there remains a complete lack of evidence that Russia interfered in the US presidential election or colluded with President Trump in any way - a point that has been reiterated numerous times by the US president himself.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has called claims of Russian meddling "nonsense," and has accused the US of repeatedly interfering in Moscow's politics, "especially aggressively" in the 2012 presidential elections.

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Brazil v Russia & Argentina v Cuba in Men's U23 Top Four

Cairo, Egypt, August 23, 2017 - Undefeatd Brazil meet defending champions Russia and Argentina take on Cuba as the 2017 FIVB Volleyball Men's U23 World Champioship comes down to the semifinals on Thursday after a day of intense action here on Wednesday in desperate bids by teams to stay alive in the competition.

In Pool A Cuba did away with Mexico 4-1 (15-7, 15-9, 24-26, 15-13, 15-11) to claim the second qualifying ticket behind Brazil who had secured their semifinal spot a day earlier. Brazil themselves, wrapped up their pool play obligations with a 4-0 (15-9, 15-12, 15-7, 16-14) sweep of Japan.

But hosts Egypt were the sensation of the day as they knocked Poland out of the competition 4-1 (15-13, 15-7, 32-30, 13-15, 17-15) and remained alive to play another day - for positions 5-8.

In Pool B Argentina dismissed China 4-0 (15-8, 15-9, 15-9, 15-9) to secure their own semifinal ticket, and then found themselves at the top of the standings (thus avoiding Brazil in the semifinals) after Russia lost to Iran 4-3 (15-11, 12-15, 10-15, 15-13, 13-15, 20-18, 15-11) - though the defending champions had already secured their presence in the top four after going 3-2 up.

All matches in Cairo are played under a new scoring system currently being tested: a best-of-seven, 15-point set format.

Poland, Turkey, Mexico and Algeria are all out of the tournament, as the final ranking begins to take shape:

9. Poland
-. Turkey
11. Mexico
-. Algeria

All matches are available to watch live or on demand on the FIVB YouTube Channel.

Summary Statistics - 2017 FIVB Volleyball Men's U23 World Championship

Highest Scorer by Day
21 – Zhou Liying of China v Turkey on 18 August
29 – Hisham Ewais of Egypt v Cuba on 19 August
25 – Kenta Takanashi of Japan v Cuba on 20 August
23 – Kamil Semeniuk of Poland v Japan on 21 August
24 – Hisham Ewais of Egypt v Poland on 23 August

Top Scoring Performances
29 – Hisham Ewais of Egypt v Cuba on 19 August
25 – Kenta Takanashi of Japan v Cuba on 20 August
24 – Hisham Ewais of Egypt v Poland on 23 August
23 – Kamil Semeniuk of Poland v Japan on 21 August
22 – German Johansen of Argentina v Russia on 21 August

Top Individual Blocking Performances
6 – dogukan Ulu of Turkey v Algeria on 23 August
5 – Aleksei Kononov of Russia v Argentina on 21 August
5 – Ivan Iakovlev of Russia v Iran on 23 August
4 – ten players

Top Team Blocking Performances
16 – Russia v Iran on 23 August
14 – Russia v Argentina on 21 August
13 – Iran v Russia on 23 August
12 – Cuba v Egypt on 19 August
12 – Poland v Japan on 21 August
12 – Iran v Turkey on 21 August

Top Individual Serving Performances
3 – Romulo Silva of Brazil v Mexico on 18 August
3 – Sergei Pirainen of Russia v Algeria on 18 August
3 – Aleksei Kononov of Russia v Algeria on 18 August
3 – Masato Matsuoka of Japan v Mexico on 19 August
3 – Javad Karimisouchelmaei of Iran v China on 19 August
3 – Jakub Zwiech of Poland v Japan on 21 August

Top Team Serving Performances
11 – Egypt v Mexico on 21 August
10 – Brazil v Mexico on 18 August
9 – Russia v Algeria on 18 August
8 – China v Turkey on 18 August
7 – Poland v Mexico on 20 August

Highest Scoring Sets
32-30 Egypt v Poland (3rd set) on 23 August
26-24 Mexico v Cuba (3rd set) on 23 August
22-20 Brazil v Poland (2nd set) on 19 August
22-20 Brazil v Poland (3rd set) on 19 August
20-18 Egypt v Mexico (5th set) on 21 August
20-18 Iran v Russia (6th set) on 23 August

Highest Scoring Matches
198 – Iran v Russia 4-3 (15-11, 12-15, 10-15, 15-13, 13-15, 20-18, 15-11) on 23 August
189 – Russia v Argentina 4-3 (11-15, 15-12, 13-15, 15-13, 8-15, 15-12, 16-14) on 21 August
187 – China v Turkey 4-3 (19-17, 12-15, 11-15, 15-8, 15-10, 10-15, 15-10) on 18 August
184 – Brazil v Cuba 4-3 (13-15, 15-13, 1115, 11-15, 15-11, 15-8, 15-12) on 21 August
180 – Egypt v Japan 4-3 (15-10, 15-13, 12-15, 15-8, 9-15, 13-15, 15-10) on 18 August
180 – Cuba v Japan 4-2 (15-13 19-17, 14-16, 13-15, 16-14, 15-13) on 20 August
172 – Egypt v Poland 4-1 (15-13, 15-7, 32-30, 13-15, 17-15) on 23 August

  • Published in Sports

Russia, China to sign cooperation deal on Moon exploration

Russia and China will sign a space cooperation program for 2018-2022 in autumn to jointly explore the Moon and conduct the Earth’s remote probing, Glavkosmos space launch operator told TASS on Thursday.

"Work is nearing completion with the direct role of Glavkosmos to draw up a program of Russian-Chinese space cooperation for 2018-2022, which should be signed in the autumn of 2017," the company said.

lavkosmos is the coordinator and the contractor for a portion of the works in this program.

As Glavkosmos explained, cooperation with Chinese partners envisages the following areas: the exploration of the Moon and outer space, space vehicles and ground infrastructure, hardware components and materials, the Earth’s remote sensing data.

Glavkosmos is also working with Chinese commercial partners on the issue of holding experiments aboard the International Space Station and providing the data of the Earth’s remote sensing from Russian satellites, the company said.

Apart from China, Glavkosmos is also considering the possibilities of space cooperation with India, Brazil, South Africa, Nicaragua, Myanmar, Chile, Peru and Armenia and their involvement in Russian projects, the company said in its annual report.

Specifically, Glavkosmos is holding preparations in Brazil for a tender for the delivery of space images to that country.

It was reported earlier that China was interested in buying the world’s most powerful Russian-made RD rocket engines produced by Energomash while Russian Space Systems showed interest in Chinese electronic components.

Russia and China are also working on making their GLONASS and BeiDou navigation satellite systems mutually complement each other and on installing adjusting ground-based stations on the territory of each other.

Besides, Russia and China are working within the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) format to create a unified system of the Earth’s remote sensing.
International cooperation

As Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Cosmonautics Andrei Ionin said, Russia needs to look more actively for international partners to develop space projects.

"Building international partnership is, perhaps, the main strategic task for the entire Russian cosmonautics today. This is because the technological revolution, first of all, in micro-electronics, has made it possible from the viewpoint of investments the creation of space systems consisting of dozens and even hundreds of Earth remote sensing or communications satellites whose commercial success requires work on the markets, and also considering that the next stage of piloted flights is related to movement outside the bounds of the near-Earth space, which will require a sharp increase in expenditures on outer space," he told TASS.

According to the expert, broad and versatile international cooperation in the current situation is seen as a solution for Russian cosmonauts as it will help unite participants’ technological competences and their markets, share risks and expenses.

"Moreover, the international status of a project is practical and insurmountable protection from the Finance Ministry’s regular attempts to sequester space programs," the expert said.

In his opinion, considering the Western sanctions imposed on Russia, new potential partners should include, in the first place, BRICS countries and also, possibly, Indonesia, the UAE, Vietnam, Iran and others.

"In this context, the agreements for the period until 2022 between Russia and China, which has both the competences and the resources and the vast internal market, are a move in the right direction but, considering the scope and the severity of the problems and tasks faced by our space industry, a move that displays little initiative, is too cautious, insufficiently large in scope and extremely slow," the expert said.
Glavkosmos

The space launch operator Glavkosmos was established in 1985 in the USSR Ministry of General Machine-Building. The company engaged in the space rocket industry’s foreign economic activity, organized and held researches and participated in the work to convert defense enterprises to civil output.

Today Glavkosmos participates in the implementation of contracts for the launch of Soyuz rockets from the Kourou spaceport in French Guiana, organizes foreigners’ flights to the International Space Station and cooperates with India and China in the space sphere.

The Russian government wholly owns Glavkosmos.

It was reported earlier that Glavkosmos got the status of an authorized operator of Soyuz-2 carrier rocket commercial launches from Russian cosmodromes.

Apart from this, Glavkosmos has received the exclusive rights to distribute images received from Russia’s Kanopus-V and Resurs-P Earth’s remote sensing satellites on foreign markets.

In 2017-2018, Glavkosmos plans to act as the operator of the launches of over 100 commercial micro-satellites as an additional load while orbiting three satellites under Russia’s federal program. Of this number, 72 satellites were launched from the Baikonur spaceport on July 14. Another 40 satellites are planned to be launched from the Vostochny space center in the Russian Far East at the end of the year.

Russia’s State Space Corporation Roscosmos announced in May that Glavkosmos and Kosmotras had set up a joint operator for the launch of spacecraft by Soyuz-2 and Dnepr carrier rockets from the Russian spaceports. The new operator was named Glavkosmos Launch Services (GK Launch Services). Glavkosmos holds 75% and Kosmotras 25% in the new operator.

Russia retaliates over new US sanctions

Russia retaliated Friday to new sanctions from Washington by announcing it would seize US properties and demand a reduction in American diplomatic staff, according to reports.

The Kremlin took the tit-for-tat action in the wake of the US Senate vote to slap new financial sanctions against Russia, Iran and North Korea over President Trump’s objections.

The bill now awaits the president’s signature.

Russian officials said the US Embassy in Moscow and consulates in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok must cut the number of their “diplomatic and technical employees” to 455 by Sept. 1, the Washington Post reported.

That staffing level would equal the number of Russian diplomatic staff in the US.

The Russian Foreign Ministry also said it would seize a Moscow warehouse and recreation complex used by the American Embassy.

A US Embassy spokesman could not immediately say how many people work for the Embassy and consulates in Russia.

The new US legislation is aimed at punishing Moscow for meddling in the 2016 presidential election and for its military aggression in Ukraine and Syria, where the Kremlin has backed President Bashar Assad.

It bars Trump from easing or waiving the penalties on Russia unless Congress agrees.

In December, President Obama kicked out 35 Russians described as “intelligence operatives” and seized two Russian diplomatic compounds because of Russia’s interference in the election.

The Russian Foreign Ministry recommend that President Vladimir Putin respond by expelling US diplomats, but he said he would wait, apparently hoping the newly elected president would reverse the decision after his inauguration.

US-Russian relations dropped to a post-Cold War low after Russia’s annexation of Crimea and interference in eastern Ukraine in 2014.

The new package of sweeping sanctions aims to hit Putin and his inner circle by targeting alleged corrupt officials, human-rights abusers and crucial sectors of the Russian economy.

Russia dismissed the new sanctions as “creating unfair competitive advantages for the US economy.”

“This kind of blackmail aimed at restricting the cooperation between Russia and other nations is a threat for many countries and global businesses,” a Foreign Ministry statement said.

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Astonished to watch mass hysteria among US politicians: Russian Foreign Minister

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that he is astonished to see how many U.S. politicians are prone to mass hysteria regarding what he termed as "Russophobia." "We understand how uncomfortable it is now in Washington for those who are trying to demonstrate common sense on the backdrop of epidemic, paranoid Russophobia in the absence of any probe or at least asingle evidence over the months to prove Russia's interference into America's affairs," he said in an interview with the Kurdish television, according to TASS. "I have never thought that American politicians could be that prone to mass hysteria," he added.

He reminisced that he worked with many of them in New York saying, "Maybe many of those who have yielded to this furor, which is abnormal for the US' political life, understand that it is not normal and is to be stopped some way." Lavrov added that Moscow and Washington are playing a unique role in the solution of highly complicated problems in different parts of the world and no one else can replace them in the international arena.

The Foreign Minister also blamed the previous U.S. administration for undermining the Russian-American relations as he said, "We've inherited a huge heap of problems from the Barack Obama Administration. There are real time bombs and simply subversive acts that outgoing administration took in an agony when it was fully incapacitated by the results of the election and when it decided to spend the remaining time in the White House doing all sorts of unspeakable things in a bid to undermine the Russian-American relations."

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