‘Challenging’ Russia in the Arctic: Political posturing or a war in the making?

As Russia bolsters its efforts to secure and tap the Arctic, both the UK and the US have been vowing to meet its “challenge” – a premise that could lead to war, experts say, if their naval powers could muster the capabilities.

“It’s nobody’s lake,” said US Admiral James Foggo in a recent interview with US media – the latest in a string of American warnings against Russia’s northward push. His concern is primarily for “Arctic Council nations – of which we are a member,” and which are not interested in the Northern Sea Route being exploited by adversary powers like Russia and China.

UK Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson recently joined the chorus of warnings, saying Britain would “stay vigilant to new challenges” by “sharpening our skills in sub-zero conditions, learning from longstanding allies like Norway or monitoring submarine threats with our Poseidon aircraft.”

But Russia is better positioned both legally and physically to oversee the Arctic and, while still dangerous, the bellicose statements carry little weight for the reality on the ice, experts have told RT.

Bravado for domestic consumption

Williamson’s promise to defend NATO’s northern flank from Russia must be viewed “in the context of current UK domestic politics,” believes security analyst and former UK army officer Charles Shoebridge. With Brexit just around the corner, Williamson is drumming up the Russia and China threats so that other European nations aren’t “tempted to turn to the EU for its security, but must continue to rely on the US and UK through NATO.”

Ultimately, he could be aiming just for political gain.

With the UK in political turmoil it often appears that Williamson is even positioning himself as a future candidate to replace Theresa May as PM.

Likewise in the US: James Foggo's “nobody's lake” comment was tellingly lacking in detail as to how exactly the US is going to keep Russia out of the Arctic, says retired colonel Mikhail Khodarenok.

“James Foggo’s statements at this point are of a purely political nature. It’s telling that he never clarified how exactly the US Navy is going to accomplish that task. Are they going to create naval groups in the Arctic Ocean, seize important coastal areas, channels, naval bases and ports? But that means war with a nuclear power, one which would see unrestricted use of weapons of mass destruction.”

Dangerous free-for-all

War can be averted, the experts believe, though the danger of escalation is very real. The situation, according to Khodarenok, is complicated by the vagueness of international law regarding the Arctic.

James Foggo’s statement is a fresh indication that the Arctic is becoming an arena of global rivalry over transport lanes and natural resources,” Khodarenok said.

World history knows no precedent of such a rivalry playing out without considering military factors.

Shoebridge, on the other hand, believes that when faced with the danger of an armed incident spiraling into “uncontrolled escalation,” cooler heads will prevail.

“Despite the confrontational language they might use, most leaders of most states want to avoid this,” he said.

Also on rt.com US plans expansion to Arctic in bid to challenge Russia, but can it?...

Questionable claims and capabilities

The US seeks to deny Russia and China the use of the Northern Sea Route – but the lane goes along the Russian coastline, which, under international law, gives Russia a degree of control over it, something Russia should lean on when defending its rights to use the waters, says Khodarenok.

Besides, while Foggo wants Russia and China out of the “nobody's lake,” he admits American companies can’t use it either, since their vessels are too big for local conditions. Besides, Russia is the only world power with a significant icebreaker fleet, which makes it the only one capable of rendering aid to ships that have an emergency while sailing there.
On top of that, Russia has been reviving its military installations that guard the area, including radar arrays and permanent military bases. Abandoning those is not an option, since that would mean losing a vital strategic foothold.

For Russia the Northern Sea Route has defense significance as well, since it provides access to all of the world’s oceans, as well as the ability to maneuver between theaters relying only on the capabilities of the Russian Navy.

At the end of the day the only ones undoubtedly standing to profit from the opening of the Arctic arena are military industrial contractors – with the US 2nd Fleet revived for the sole purpose of containing Russia’s Arctic ambition, Navy contracts are bound to follow.

Also on rt.com Cold War is good for business: US contractors rejoice at the new Red Scare...

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We must be ready to use ‘hard power’ against Moscow and Beijing – UK defense chief

The UK must be ready to use ‘hard power’ against Russia and China, defense chief Gavin Williamson has said. The remark has raised eyebrows in Moscow, which calls it “irrelevant” to reality and aimed at securing a larger budget.

The UK needs to strengthen its "lethality" and must be ready to "use hard power" to uphold it interests against nations like Russia and China, Secretary of State for Defense Gavin Williamson said on Monday.

Delivering a speech at the Royal United Services Institute in London, he accused "resurgent" Moscow of boosting its "military arsenal" to bring former Soviet states like Georgia and Ukraine "back into its orbit."

Also on rt.com Britain’s ‘backyard’? UK wants to deploy 800 troops to defend ‘interests’ in the Arctic...

The UK defense chief lashed out at Beijing as well, warning the audience that China is "developing its modern capability and commercial power."

We have to be ready to show the high price of aggressive behavior, ready to strengthen our resilience.

The politician made the remarks as London prepares to send its largest warship, the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, to the South China Sea on a mission to enforce freedom of navigation rights.

Williamson’s statement was met with a mixed reaction in Russia, with the nation’s embassy in the UK calling it “completely irrelevant” to reality, yet “worrying” in its militaristic spirit.

“Certainly, it’s convenient to threaten society with the so-called ‘Russian threat’, distracting it from the relevant internal and external problems that Great Britain faces today,” the embassy said in a statement.

“Apart from that, the British minister is pursuing a very particular goal with such statements: painting our country as an ‘aggressor’, he is trying to steadily expand the state funding of the UK’s military-industrial complex.”

Williamson, 42, is known for pushing Britain to reassert its role as an influential military power. He also often makes headline-grabbing bombastic statements. In September, commenting on plans to send British troops to the Arctic, he called the region the nation’s "backyard."

At the end of last year, he unveiled plans to build military bases in the Far East and the Caribbean, suggesting that it will help the UK to become a "true global player" after leaving the EU.

During the tensions over the Skripal poisoning case, Williamson went on a fiery tirade against Moscow, saying that Russia should "go away and shut up."

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Cuba To Welcome 5 Million Visitors In 2019

This year could be a banner year for Cuban tourism.

As the Caribbean island continues to court foreign vacationers, the tourism ministry announced that they expect over five million visitors in 2019.

If the island hits their goal, it will be the 12th consecutive year of growth in tourism numbers for the Pearl of the Antilles, with 7.4% growth between 2018 and 2019, said the ministry. Tourism incomes are estimated to exceed 3 billion dollars in Cuba in 2019 , according to the ministry.

Experts say that the expansion of accommodation choices – including five-star hotels in Havana – as well as the increase in competitively priced hotels and casa particulares has resulted in more interest for vacationers. Additionally, in November, Havana will celebrate its 500th year anniversary.

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“Five million is realistic,” said John McAuliff, executive director of Fund for Reconciliation and Development, in an email. “Americans are slowly waking up to the reality that they are still free to travel independently under the Support for the Cuban People license.”

Continuing, he said that “the number could go even higher if Congress ends all restrictions on travel by Americans. Under Democratic control, the House could match bipartisan support in the Senate to allow normal travel and agricultural sales.”

The top two tourism markets remain Canada and the United States, although Americans are still prohibited from visiting Cuba for tourism explicitly. (Americans can still travel to Cuba legally under one of these 12 permitted categories.)

Cuba has also launched promotional campaigns recently to attract more travelers from the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain as well as emerging markets like China, Vietnam and South Africa.

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Although regulations dictate that Americans are not allowed to go on a ‘typical’ beach vacation while exploring the country, Steve Powers, owner of Hidden Treasure Tours in Long Beach, New York, said during last month's New York Times Travel Show that traveling to Cuba legally remains a great deal as compared to the rest of the Caribbean, thanks to cheap, commercial flights from the US.

In 2018, the island welcomed 4.78 million visitors with less than one million of those travelers arriving by cruise ship.

  • Published in Cuba

New Integrity Initiative leak: Make Muslims love NATO, target anti-frackers, plan for nuclear war

A new batch of leaked files from the covert influence network exposes how the Integrity Initiative recruits high-flying businessmen for intel ops, shows UK Muslims “why NATO matters” and prepares for nuclear conflict with Russia.

With the UK Foreign Office and NATO-backed organization still //medium.com/@hitthehybrid/kremlin-campaign-against-institute-for-statecraft-92aa73ce4ec9" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reeling from previous leaks whose authenticity it has not attempted to disprove, the fifth tranche of internal communications was uploaded to a public server this week under the name of hacktivist group Anonymous.

As before, it features the London-based group clandestinely meddling in various areas of civilian life for the benefit of its own undeclared objectives.

Also on rt.com Integrity Initiative wipes website pending probe into ‘theft’ of disturbing leaked data...

Top business executives on ‘patriot’ list

The Integrity Initiative’s network of loyal journalists and academics has already been uncovered, but “speaking notes” for an address given in Israel in the summer of 2018 by its director, Daniel Lafayeedney, show that its scope of intelligence asset recruitment is much broader.

Additionally, his words blow apart the group’s half-hearted assertions that it is not a branch of military intelligence by another name, but simply a public organization fighting Russian disinformation.

Also on rt.com Integrity Initiative’s anti-Russia crusaders spread ‘the very definition of propaganda’...

“We have supported the creation of special Army reserve units (e.g. 77 Bde and SGMI – Specialist Group Military Intelligence) with which we now have a close, informal relationship,” the document says.

“These bring in, as reservists with a special status, individuals who are very senior civilian experts in some relevant area, such as Hedge Fund managers, senior bankers, Heads of PA companies, etc. I.e. people whom the Army could never afford to hire, but who donate their time and expertise as patriots.”

Elsewhere, Lafayeedney, who calls the Integrity Initiative not a “think tank” but a “do tank,” boasts that its work is “very sensitive as we feed it into the highest levels of MOD [Ministry of Defence] and the armed forces.”

Among the dozens of “patriots” listed in the leak are Ian Cohen, managing director at HSBC Global Asset Management, Phil Jolley, “executive partner at IBM and the UK national lead on ‘Blockchain’ technologies” and start-up adviser Ren Kapoor, MBE, whose mission within “the project” is “to provide advice and training to NGOs on budgeting, legal compliance and a range of issues with which they need to comply in order to remain legal and to survive financially.”

‘Investigating’ Russian funding recipients

A document called “Finding the money” outlines an apparent plan to “target” organizations in the West which were recipients of funding from Russia, even if they did not in any way break the law.

“If we can identify a likely target (eg a university with an anti-fracking agenda) they will run this as an academic exercise, an experiment. The behaviour of an organisation may help identify it as a suitable target to investigate. Universities can sometimes be very untransparent re their funding,” says the document, which apparently was formed from a discussion involving the aforementioned Ian Cohen, and Perry Fawcett, a prominent executive also on the “patriot” list.

“Money coming out of Russian corporations is likely to reach its destination through a blue chip company. Look at which Russian companies have shares in which UK companies. Also look at eg Russia buying the port in Herzogovina; the potential for it becoming a Naval base,” the document states.

The authors themselves appear to be wary of the ethical and legal implications of attacking legitimate institutions, as well as basing their work on little more than unauthorized sleuthing.

Also on rt.com Integrity Initiative is the biggest story of 2018 – but not because of anything it did...

“The biggest danger is making the answer fit the question, ie finding what you are looking for when it really isn’t there. Would damage our reputation,” the document reads, as if its very existence isn’t an indictment of the Integrity Initiative.

Straight-faced discussion of post-nuclear conflict with Russia

It is not inherently morally dubious to analyze possible conflict scenarios. But leaked minutes from what appears to be a high-powered “joint workshop” for the Institute for Statecraft (the Integrity Initiative’s parent organization, and the Center for Naval Analyses – the top Pentagon-affiliated military think tank) show a readiness to contemplate a possible full-scale nuclear war with Russia that would be hair-raising even for Cold War veterans.

One of the most alarming aspects is the apparent overstatement of Russia’s hostile intent within this bubble – believing that your enemy wants to destroy you justifies almost any action from your own side, and leads to a mutual escalation of mistrust.

Also on rt.com Senators propose change of doctrine so Russia could respond with nukes to any ‘strategic strike’...

“The reality of the Russian nuclear doctrine is that it will not back down. Especially after the amount Russia has invested, how much core Russian capital is tied into nuclear capabilities,” reads the assessment of Moscow’s nuclear policy, formulated in the aftermath of the Russian Zapad exercises in 2017, which provoked an outburst of fearmongering in the West.

“Where the West would eventually bring enough forces to push a Russian advance back [in case of a localized conflict], in that push. There would be an assessment, and the conclusion would be that regime change was in motion – It is widely believed, in that instance, they would resort to nuclear weapons.”

The most chilling part of the assessment is not just the apparent readiness to deploy the West's own weapons of mass destruction, but the logical jump to post-nuclear war combat.

“War games usually start with Russia about to, or using a nuclear weapon. We need to think about, what is Russia’s response after using a nuclear weapon,” it continues.

A saner voice might have replied that it may matter little, as by that point most people in Washington, London, and Moscow will already be dead. Are they really ready to contemplate mutual destruction for the sake of defeating the Kremlin?

‘Ignorant’ Muslims must be taught to ‘appreciate’ NATO

Here is the problem, as described by the author of a background paper from the Why NATO matters “educational” project.

“NATO’s involvement in Muslim majority countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, is interpreted by the vast majority of Muslims as NATO’s simply being hostile to Islam and Muslims per se,” says the author, partially putting such qualms down to “ignorance.”

Also on rt.com Use Hollywood films to counter China & Russia: Integrity Initiative psyop plan exposed in new leaks...

Instead, the author says, Muslims, particularly young representatives from the UK’s ethnic minorities, who are already considered “problematic,” should be taught about “NATO as an international intervention body that engages to prevent wars and conflicts and plays an important role in mediation and to bring lasting peace.”

The solution: cultivating influence with “community leaders and trusted youth workers” and sponsoring a series of supposedly open-ended workshops across the UK that discuss subjects from Sharia law to acceptable dress codes, but are in essence aimed at defusing the “tensions, fear, mistrust and hatred” of the military alliance. Chosen Muslim scholars and leaders are also to be brought out to the “safe space” of the NATO headquarters in Brussels.

“People will be encouraged to talk to their friends and families about their understanding of NATO’s role in global conflicts, including humanitarian aid in natural disaster zones,” the author states.

The paper suggests that the influencing effort is already underway, but appeals for the creation of a “well-resourced programme” that will bring about “a long-term appreciation of NATO.”

  • Published in World

Carlos Acosta to Become Director of Birmingham Royal Ballet

The Royal Ballet of Birmingham (United Kingdom) has elected Cuban dancer Carlos Acosta as its new director, according to a press release from Acosta Dance, a company founded by the artist.

Acosta, who will assume the appointment from January 2020, said about his new responsibility that 'it is a great honor and privilege to have been appointed to lead this company.

I am a great admirer of its heritage and of what David Bintley (current director) has done to establish it as one of the world's leading classical ballet companies, he added.

My ambition is to build on its classical traditions, expand its repertoire and reach out to new and more diverse audiences, to define what it is to be a world-leading classical ballet company in the 21st century' , he said.

The choreographer also stressed that in parallel to this opportunity, he will continue his work with Acosta Dance and the Carlos Acosta International Dance Foundation, as this appointment will allow him to improve and develop the opportunities he can offer to both initiatives.

For this selection, a group of international experts chose the director in an open competition, after the British Bintley announced his retirement next July, at season's end.

David Normington, the company´s chair highlighted the Birminghan Royal Ballet´s great moment and described Acosta as the 'greatest best male dancer of his generation'.

I know he will bring us his legendary art, his energy and his charisma and allow us to connect with new audience, especially in Birmingham,' he said.

Acosta, 45, was trained at the Cuban National School of Ballet, where he graduated with honors in 1991 and, three years later, became top dancer for the Cuban National Ballet.

According to specialized critics, he has become one of the greatest dancers in the world, thanks to his physical qualities and talent which have led him to join the list of important companies in the world, such as Italy, the United States and the United Kingdom.

He made his debut as an actor last year in Yuli, by Spain's Iciar Bollain, a film where he plays himself and which has earned him the nomination for Best Newcomer at the 2019 Goya Awards.

  • Published in Culture

Double agent Skripal & daughter have ‘not spoken to family in Russia since poisoning’ – niece to RT

Sergey and Yulia Skripal, the victims of a high-profile poisoning attack in Britain, have not contacted their family in Russia since the attack in March last year, the double agent’s niece told RT.

Viktoria Skripal, Sergey’s niece and Yulia’s cousin, believes that the British authorities may be covering up Sergey’s death. The official narrative is that both he and Yulia survived the poisoning attack, but unlike her, Sergey was never shown alive. Yulia showed up for a single brief carefully orchestrated interview with Reuters in May.

According to Viktoria, the family members living in Russia, including Sergey’s elderly mother, have not heard from either of them since before the attack. Viktoria believes this to be suspicious.

Sergey is a family man, very attached to family members and a responsible person. He called his 91-year-old mother every week. After what happened in March, those calls stopped.

The British authorities say the former double agent and his daughter were targeted by the Russian intelligence in a failed assassination plot – an accusation that Moscow denies.

Also on rt.com Skripal’s Salisbury home to be partly dismantled by British military...

According to a recent report in The Telegraph newspaper, the pair is trying to get their lives back together.

“Far from being cut off entirely from her former life, Yulia has remained in touch with certain close friends who refuse to divulge a shred of information about her. A few, both British and Russian, are understood to have visited her in the summer,” the newspaper said.

  • Published in World

'UK, US look at jihadist groups as useful, are they as against terrorists as they pretend to be?'

A Times' article portraying Chechen jihadists as freedom fighters because they are anti-Russian is an attempt to whitewash a connection between the Ukrainian government and terrorist groups, former US diplomat Jim Jatras told RT.

The British newspaper published a highly controversial interview with a Chechen who is fighting against anti-government forces in Eastern Ukraine. The head of his battalion earlier admitted that his fighters waged jihad in Syria and that the leader was even part of a terror group committing atrocities in Russia.

"Some of the battalion's gunmen admit to having honed their combat skills at Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) training camps in Iraq and Syria," the article says.

Former US diplomat Jim Jatras, commenting on the timing of the article to RT, said that the editorial decision to let this information out now is perhaps because "somebody just discovered the significance of it" especially in light of President Trump's announcement to withdraw US troops from Syria after Islamic State's defeat.

 
Ukrainian Chechen volunteer battalion leader Muslim Cheberloevsky interview by Ukrainian TV in November 2017

 

He said that it has been known since 2014 that there are "Chechen fighters on the Kiev government side".

"This has been a magnet for anti-Russian elements from all sorts of countries, Georgia and from Europe, people fighting with these non-governmental militias that are allied with the Ukrainian forces. And some of them are very extreme, very radical ideologically. This should come as no surprise that somebody admits that they have this relationship with ISIS," he said. 

The British establishment, including the media and intelligent services, have been at the forefront of the anti-Russian campaign even before the 2016 US presidential election, according to Jatras. "They even had this entire group that was set up within the British government to generate anti-Russian press material."

The point of this "disinformation against Russia", he said, is "not only to blacken Russia but to make sure there could be no rapprochement between Moscow and Washington as Donald Trump has said he wants to have. And this effort has been wildly successful."

"Portraying these Chechen jihadists as 'freedom fighters', because they are anti-Russian wouldn't be necessarily unusual for the British media and you would expect that," Jatras said. 

In his view, "the real tit-bit was the fact that somebody overlooked the significance of these fellows admitting that they have this relationship with the Islamic State which supposedly is the big enemy that we have been fighting against in Syria… But nothing could be farther from the truth."

Jatras suggested that the US' real reason for being in Syria is "to try to get rid of the Assad government and also to block the Iranians and to thwart the Russian effort in that country."

He said that IS "at best has been a kind of 'frenemy' that we treated as an enemy sometimes but also find it useful for larger political goals there."

 
Activists of far-right parties in front of the presidential administration headquarters in Kiev, Ukraine November 26, 2018 © Reuters / Gleb Garanich

 

He thinks this story isn't "all that surprising given the bent of the British media."  

Jatras believes the article to be an intentional attempt to whitewash the connection between the Ukrainian government and terrorist groups "while knowing that they are cooperating with the Ukrainian government."

The government in Kiev is chaotic, weak and "at the mercy of the extreme nationalist elements," the former diplomat said.

"Of course they can't control these groups like Azov battalion and others on the field. It shouldn't be surprising that when they invite other radical groups to participate in the war that are nominally not part of the official Ukrainian forces, they also cooperate with them while allowing them to continue on an independent basis. I don't see how that morally whitewashes or isolates the Ukrainian authorities from the radical politics of these terrorists," Jatras noted.

In Jatras' opinion, these jihadists have been the biggest threat to the Western world for the last couple of decades, however, the UK and the US government don't look at this that way.

"They look at these groups as useful. And this has a long history, not only going back to the efforts against the Soviets in Afghanistan, but to Bosnia, to Kosovo, to Libya, to Syria… The idea that we don't have this long relationship with these groups is extremely naive," Jatras said.

"How many people put two and two together and say 'wait a minute, this doesn't smell right.' Why is our government, why is the British government, which is a close ally of the US, working with these terrorist groups? I thought we were against terrorism. And I think it is very hard for a lot of people to look at this and say 'wait a minute, maybe we are not as against the terrorists as we pretend to be?'"

  • Published in World

Russia Launches Investigation Into BBC As Dispute With Britain Escalates

MOSCOW:  Russia's media regulator said today that it had launched an investigation into the activities of British public broadcaster the BBC, a move it described as a response to pressure being put on a Russian TV channel in Britain.

Roskomnadzor, the regulator, said in a statement it was looking into the activities of the BBC World News channel and BBC internet sites to see if they complied with Russian law.

It said its checks were in response to a decision by British media regulator Ofcom, which yesterday said that Russian broadcaster RT had broken impartiality rules in some of its news and current affairs programmes.

The Kremlin said Russian government agencies had repeatedly raised concerns about the BBC's coverage of Russia and of Moscow's actions in Syria.

"Many questions about the BBC in terms of its tendentious coverage of events, its coverage not in the style of a media actor but in a pre-planned and politically motivated way, have accumulated over a long period," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

Only the country's media regulator had the authority to examine such allegations, he said. An unnamed source familiar with the investigation was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying that the BBC's activities in Russia could be restricted if it was found to be in breach of Russian law.

The BBC said it was in full compliance.

"As everywhere else in the world, the BBC works in Russia in full compliance with the country's laws and regulations to deliver independent news and information to its audiences," said a spokeswoman.

Ofcom declined to comment.

MASK SLIPPING

Ofcom said yesterday that it was considering imposing some kind of sanction on RT, which is financed by the Russian state. It took issue in particular with its coverage of the poisoning in Britain of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter.

Britain has accused agents working for Russia's military intelligence agency, the GRU, of committing the crime, an allegation Moscow denies.

British Media Secretary Jeremy Wright also weighed in yesterday, saying what he called RT's mask as an impartial news provider was slipping.

RT rejected Ofcom's findings, saying Ofcom had ignored its explanations and not paid "due regard" to its rights.

Commenting on the launch of the Russian investigation today, Margarita Simonyan, RT's editor-in-chief, said on Twitter that Ofcom had hinted that it planned to strip her channel of its broadcasting license in Britain.

"Welcome to the brave new world," she wrote.

"I assume they (the Russian regulator) will now look to see if the BBC expresses alternative points of view with a microscope."

Russian officials have previously said that Moscow would "mirror" any action Britain takes against RT when it came to retaliating against British media operating in Russia.

  • Published in World
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