Russia conducts massive military drills with China, sending a message to the West

Russia is carrying out a series of large-scale military exercises with China, India and Pakistan in what experts believe is Moscow trying to send a powerful message to the West.

The military drills take place annually but Russia has upped the ante this year by inviting forces from China, India and Pakistan (as well as Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan) to take part in the drills.

The exercises will involve 128,000 military personnel, more than 20,000 weapons and military equipment, about 600 aircraft and up to 15 ships and support vessels, according to the Russian defense ministry. The drills are designed to test the combat-readiness of the military command and troops within the central military district in Russia (hence being called “Tsentr-2019”) and will also see the country test its military capabilities in the Arctic.

The season of Tsentr exercises actually started in June but this week is seen as the culmination of those in the most important “strategic command post exercise,” known as the “hot phase” by experts.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu insisted earlier in September that the strategic military exercises are not directed against other countries but are instead focused on countering the threat from international terrorism.

But experts say the exercises are also designed to show Russia’s military strength and abilities, showcase its weaponry for commercial purposes and, most importantly, are meant to send an unequivocal message to the West.

“This is very much an anti-American message, an anti-Western message that Russia is not isolated and Russia can operate with a potential rival — because China is very much seen both as a friend and an enemy and potential competitor to Russian interests in the future,” Mathieu Boulegue, research fellow of the Russia and Eurasia Programme at Chatham House, said in a briefing ahead of the exercises.

“The message is quite clear when it comes to Russia, it means that ‘we’re not alone, we have a lot of partners, we’re not isolated so whatever efforts the West are trying to do against us we are still able to have powerful military alliances with China, India and Pakistan’,” he said.
Just for show?

Experts like Boulegue view the annual military drills with skepticism, especially when it comes to the number of military personnel and equipment involved.

“Don’t trust the numbers, honestly, don’t believe the figures. They’re here to show the strength of the Russian army,” he said, noting that any kind of military drill taking place in Russia over the last four months could be labeled a part of “Tsentr,” hence inflating the size of the exercise.

Anyone watching Tsentr 2019 should expect a carefully choreographed military spectacle, Boulegue said. And with China involved (as it was last year too), Russia will be keen to avoid mishaps that could embarrass Russia’s defense ministry. In the 2017 military drills a helicopter was filmed accidentally firing a rocket at a cargo vehicle, for example.

The exercises have also been a way for Russia to show off its military wares to potential arms buyers, although the most significant element of this year’s training is the participation of China, Boulegue said. He added that it shouldn’t be taken as a sign of a new strategic alliance between the two nations that are both seeking to build stable ties in the face of a more unpredictable U.S. power, while remaining potential rivals on an economic and political level.

“What Russia is actually doing here is demonstrating status and performing the link with China that it’s trying to build in the security sphere on the world stage,” Boulegue said, emphasizing that “this is not a strategic alliance, there is nothing strategic about China-Russia relations right now … But what it’s showing is just a meaningful defense and security partnership.”

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Nihal Sarin stuns Jorge Cori in World Cup chess

Teen sensation Nihal Sarin pulled off a clinical win against Jorge Cori in 57 moves to take a 1-0 lead in the two-game Round One of the World Cup chess championship here on Tuesday.

P. Hari Krishna and B Adhiban were the other winners and need only a draw on Wednesday to move into the second round.

Vidit Gujrathi, M. Karthikeyan, Abhjeet Gupta and Aravindh Chithambaram were involved in drawn encounters. However, Surya Shekhar Ganguly, S. L. Narayanan and S. P Sethuraman lost their games.

Nihal, at 15, the youngest member of the Indian contingent, punished Cori for a series of sub-optimal moves after the Peruvian handed over the initiative on the 18th move. Leading to the 40th move, both players could not filter out the best available options but Nihal reinforced his grip. Eventually, Cori resigned when Nihal threatened to trade his rook for a bishop and polish off the queen-side pawns.

“I am pleased with how things went and also happy with the quality of the game. Will try to repeat that tomorrow,” said Nihal after the victory.

The Results

Round One - Game One:

Yuri Gonzalez Vidal (Cuba, 2552) lost to P. Hari Krishna (2746);

Vladimir Fedoseev (Russia, 2664) bt Surya Shekhar Ganguly (2658);

M. Karthikeyan (2617) drew with Ernesto Inarkiev (Russia, 2693);

Aravindh Chithambaram (2609) drew with Michael Adams (England, 2694);

David Anton Guijarro (Spain, 2674) bt S. L. Narayanan (2611);

Eduardo Iturrizaga Bonelli (Venezuela, 2626) lost to B. Adhiban (2639);

Alan Pichot (Argentina, 2600) drew with Vidit Gujarathi (2718);

Abhijeet Gupta (2609) drew with Anton Korobov (Ukraine, 2679);

Nihal Sarin (2610) bt Jorge Cori (Peru, 2676);

S. P. Sethuraman (2624) lost to Tamir Nabaty (Israel, 2658).

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Anish Bhanwala, Adarsh Singh and Anhad Jawanda Miss Out on Finals in Shooting World Cup

Rio de Janeiro: India missed out on an Olympic quota in the men's 25m rapid fire pistol after the young trio of Anish Bhanwala, Adarsh Singh and Anhad Jawanda failed to enter the finals in the World Cup here.

Anish shot a rapid fire round of 286 to go with his precision round of 291 for a total of 577, landing him an 18th-place finish. Adarsh and Ahnad shot 576 and 573 to end at the 25th and 30th spot, respectively.

Among the six finalists there were two Germans and two Chinese, both of which nations had exhausted their quota of two berths in earlier competitions.

Cuban Pupo Leuris had also secured his Tokyo quota earlier, which enabled Pakistan's Muhammad Khalil Akhtar, who shot 586 for a fifth-spot finish, to claim one of the two available quotas. The second was won by Korean Kim Junhong who finished seventh with a score of 585.

India are the table toppers of the tournament with three gold, three silver and one bronze medal.

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Sonia Gandhi returns to lead India's beleaguered Congress party

India's main opposition Congress party has selected former president Sonia Gandhi as its interim leader while it searches for a successor to her son Rahul Gandhi, who quit following a second straight election drubbing by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The Congress Working Committee (CWC) unanimously decided to appoint Sonia Gandhi, 72, as "interim president pending the election of a regular president," the party said in a statement late on Saturday night.

The committee wanted Rahul Gandhi to continue as its president but after he refused, they asked his mother to take over the reins instead, and she accepted, the statement said.

Can India's main opposition party survive?

Sonia Gandhi is one of the most influential leaders of the Congress party and is credited with having brought the party back from the brink in 2004 with a surprise victory over the incumbent central government.

The widow of assassinated former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, she was also the party's longest serving president with 19 years at the helm, from 1998 to 2017, before handing over the baton to her son.

Rahul Gandhi, 49, announced his decision to quit as Congress leader in May, but the party leadership refused to accept it. They pressed him to reconsider, saying the party needed a unifying figure from the family to avoid splintering.

The party thanked Rahul Gandhi for his "exceptional leadership" during the state and general elections.

Analysts expect a clamour among Congress loyalists to appoint Sonia Gandhi's daughter Priyanka Gandhi Vadra as her brother's successor.

In January, Rahul Gandhi inducted Vadra, 47, into politics as a party general secretary months before the elections.
Tall order

Congress, founded in 1885, is India's oldest political party and dominated the country for decades after independence, led by generations of the Nehru-Gandhi family.

The family produced three prime ministers: Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first and longest-serving leader, his daughter Indira Gandhi and her son Rajiv.

However, Italian-born Sonia Gandhi faces a tall order to pull the party out of its worst crisis in decades and at the same time choose a worthy and dependable successor.

Party leaders and foot soldiers alike have been defecting to the ruling BJP. Remaining members have been dismayed at the party's leadership vacuum following Modi's re-election with a majority that surpassed his victory in 2014, and are questioning the party's survival.

Last month, in the southern state of Karnataka, the defection of more than a dozen legislators from the ruling Congress-led coalition paved the way for Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to form a government.

Congress also appeared split in its response to New Delhi's decision to strip the state of Jammu and Kashmir of special constitutional status on Monday after putting the region on lockdown.

Some Congress members, including senior leader Jyotiraditya Scindia came out in support of the decision, and local media reported many in the party were supporting him.

Rahul Gandhi told reporters on Saturday night in New Delhi that considering there were reports of violence in Jammu and Kashmir, the government should provide transparent information about the actual situation on the ground.

"Congratulations @INCIndia working committee for making the best decision in current circumstances, requesting Sonia Gandhi to take over as interim president pending the election of a regular president," Shashi Tharoor, a former minister and national legislator from the party, said on Twitter.

Congress has dominated Indian politics since independence in 1948, but it has seen a spectacular collapse in support in the past decade.

Critics say that Congress needs to make some urgent changes to its leadership if it wants to stay relevant and challenge Hindu nationalist Modi's BJP.

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India launches rocket with Moon bound craft

New Delhi, July 22 (RHC)-- India launched a bid to become a leading space power on Monday, sending up a rocket to put a craft on the surface of the Moon in what it called a "historic day" for the nation.

AFP reports that Chandrayaan-2 - or Moon Chariot 2 - took off on time at 2:43 pm (0913 GMT) from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre on an island off the coast of Andhra Pradesh state.

Applause broke out in the mission control room as the rocket blasted off into the grey skies over the Indian Ocean and mission control announced that the orbiter had broken away from the rocket with no problem.

"Today is a historic day for space, science and tech in India," Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) chief K. Sivan said.

The launch came a week after a fuel leak forced a previous attempt to be scrubbed 56 minutes before the scheduled blast-off.

The South Asian nation is bidding to follow Russia, the United States and China in landing a spacecraft on the Moon.

President Ram Nath Kovind watched the launch alongside 7,000 dignitaries and flag-waving children.

The rocket carried an orbiter, a lander and a rover, and has been almost entirely designed and made in India.

The 2.4-tonne orbiter is expected to circle the Moon for about a year, taking images of the surface, looking for signs of water, and studying the atmosphere.

Edited by Jorge Ruiz Miyares
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‘We’ll do what’s in our national interest’: Indian FM to Pompeo on buying S-400s from Russia

India’s foreign minister said New Delhi will have nothing but its own interests in mind, when following on the deal to purchase S-400 air defense missile systems from Moscow, the deal the US is strongly opposed to.

Subrahmanyam Jaishankar made his comments while responding to a question about the S-400 at a presser with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during his visit to New Delhi.

We have relationships with several countries, many of which are of some standing. They have a history. We will do what is in our national interest.

Earlier reports said that India planned a push to convince Pompeo to grant New Delhi a waiver on purchasing the S-400s without the risk of violating the US sanctions, placed on Moscow. Without the waiver, India may be targeted under the 2017 US law, known as CAATSA (Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act ), which bans doing certain types of business with Russia.

Also on rt.com India to ‘make clear’ to US that S-400 deal with Moscow ‘can’t be wished away’ – report...

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Vladimir Putin signed the $5 billion defense contract in October. US officials tried to dissuade India from acquiring the state-of-the-art Russian missile defense systems, warning that buying weapons from Moscow can impact future arms deals with Washington. The Pentagon also promised to offer India “potential alternatives” to the S-400s.

India, however, has always maintained that the deal with Russia is of strategic importance, and highlighted the long history of successful defense partnership the nations share.

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Mike Pompeo, for his part, hailed US-India relations, adding that “great friends are bound to have differences.”

India is not the only country Washington has tried to discourage from purchasing the S-400s from Russia in recent years. The US tried to make its NATO ally Turkey scrap a similar deal but Ankara refused.

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ISIS may turn its eyes to India after suffering defeats in Middle East – reports

Suffering defeats in the Middle East, Islamic State may now eye India, setting up underground cells in various states of the world’s second-largest country, a local intelligence agency has reportedly warned.

India has become increasingly vulnerable to the threat of Islamic State-inspired (IS, formerly ISIS) terrorist attacks, according to NDTV, citing three intelligence letters sent to police chiefs in the state of Kerala.

“After loss of territory in Iraq and Syria, IS is urging operatives to take up violent forms of jihad while staying back in their respective countries,” reads one of the letters.

The terrorist group may also target key installations in Kochi, Kerala’s most populous city with 2 million people, another letter says. Local police officials estimate that roughly 100 Kerala residents have joined IS in the past few years, while around 3,000 have been “deradicalized” and are now under surveillance.

Also on rt.com Indian police detain 2 suicide bombers… who turn out to be Bollywood actors...

The southern state lies close to Sri Lanka, where terrorist attacks in April resulted in the deaths of over 250 Christians celebrating Easter.

The news comes after an Islamic State-affiliated mouthpiece reportedly announced the creation of the ‘Wilayah al-Hind’, or ‘Indian Province’. Shortly afterwards, the terrorist group said it had established an additional stronghold called ‘Wilayah Pakistan’.

IS once wreaked havoc in Syria and Iraq, where it established a ‘caliphate’ and enforced strict sharia rules. Now, the group is declining in the region following successful campaigns by Syrian government forces backed by Russia and the US-supported Iraqi military.

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India to stay out of US-China spat, but every ‘clash has opportunities’ – FM

Any economic fallout from the ongoing trade war between the US and China is an “opportunity” for India, its top diplomat has said. However, when it comes to picking sides, New Delhi is resolutely staying out of it.

Speaking at his first public appearance since his appointment as External Affairs Minister, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said the escalating tensions between Beijing and Washington present a great chance for India to benefit economically.

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“In every clash, there is an opportunity. There are risks also” Jaishankar said, adding that his role would be to “manage” any potential risks while ensuring the opportunities were maximized. He noted that this self-interest was not unique and still made India a force for global cooperation.

Looking out for yourself is not incompatible with doing global good or supporting a global order

However, if it ever came to choosing between Beijing and Washington, Jaishankar was adamant India would stay out of it. Recalling an exchange on the issue at an event, at which ex-CIA director David Petraeus quizzed him on allegiances; Jaishankar replied: “Sure, we have taken a side. I have taken my side.” He then told the audience that, since independence, India was used to responding to global crises.

We have always navigated the world with that sense of getting optimal outcome out of difficult landscapes.

As the trade war between the US and China rages on, experts have warned that both countries could do more harm than good to themselves, with increased costs and businesses looking to move elsewhere. A recent survey of US companies with operations in China found that 40 percent of them were looking to move their operations elsewhere. However, only 6 percent had said they are looking to move back to the US.

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