Five Killed As Burst Hot Water Pipe Floods Russian Hotel

 

At least five people including a child died in the Russian city of Perm on Monday when a broken heating pipe flooded their hotel rooms with scalding water, investigators said.

The accident happened in a small private hotel located in the basement of an apartment block in the industrial city in the Urals region, some 1,100 kilometres (700 miles) east of Moscow.

“At least five people died and a further three were taken to hospital with burns,” the Investigative Committee, which probes major incidents, said in statement.

Those who died were all staying at the Karamel hotel, which has five single and double rooms, according to its website.

The hotel did not have an emergency exit while the water pipe that burst dated back to 1962, the building’s managing company said in a statement.

Hot water is piped under streets at a high temperature to supply homes in Russia and when these pipes burst, the scalding water and steam can cause fatal accidents, with cars sometimes plunging into holes that open up in roads.

Investigators have opened a criminal probe into the provision of dangerous services to consumers.

Erdogan Hopeful For ‘Important Step’ In Libya Ceasefire

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivers a speech as he stands in front of a huge screen during the Annual Evaluation Meeting for 2019 at the Bestepe National Congress and Culture Center in Ankara on January 16, 2020.
Adem ALTAN / AFP

 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday said he hoped for an “important step” to cement Libya’s fragile ceasefire at an international peace conference in Germany.

“We see the Berlin summit as an important step on the way to cementing the ceasefire and a political solution,” Erdogan told reporters at an Istanbul airport before leaving to attend the talks.

Progress in peace efforts after the January ceasefire “should not be sacrificed to the ambitions of blood and chaos merchants”, he said.

Libyan Strongman Khalifa Haftar launched an offensive last April against Tripoli, the seat of the UN recognised Government of National Accord.

After months of combat killing more than 2,000 people, a ceasefire took effect on January 12 backed by both Turkey and Russia, which is accused of supporting Haftar.

READ ALSO: Trump Lawyers Present Defense For ‘Dangerous’ Impeachment

Ankara strongly supports the Tripoli government led by Fayez al-Sarraj and sent troops to Libya after signing military and maritime deals with the GNA.

Erdogan, who is already angry over Haftar’s abandoning ceasefire talks in Moscow early this week, also slammed Greece for hosting the Libyan commander.

Haftar paid a surprise visit to Athens on Thursday.

Erdogan accused Greece of acting with “revenge” after it was not invited to the Berlin talks.

“Greece is seriously disturbed because it was not invited to Germany,” Erdogan said.

And he said Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis was playing a “wrong game” and taking “wrong steps” on Libya.

AFP

Russian PM Resigns Over Constitutional Reform Calls

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev meet with members of the government in Moscow on January 15, 2020.  AFP

 

Russia’s government resigned in a shock announcement on Wednesday after President Vladimir Putin proposed a shake-up of the constitution.

The announcement by Putin’s longtime ally Dmitry Medvedev came after the president used his annual state of the nation address to call for a nationwide vote on a package of constitutional reforms.

The resignation raises deep questions about the long-term shape of Russia’s political system and the future of Putin, who is due to step down at the end of his fourth Kremlin term in 2024.

A few hours after the Russian leader’s address, Medvedev and Putin appeared alongside each other on national television to say the government was stepping down.

Medvedev said the constitutional proposals would make significant changes to the country’s balance of power and so “the government in its current form has resigned”.

“We should provide the president of our country with the possibility to take all the necessary measures” to carry out the changes, Medvedev said. “All further decisions will be taken by the president.”

Putin thanked Medvedev — who also served as Russian president for four years from 2008 — expressing “satisfaction with the results that have been achieved.”

The changes Putin proposed on Wednesday would transfer more authority to parliament, including the power to choose the prime minister and senior cabinet members, instead of the president as under the current system.

Other changes would see the role of regional governors enhanced and residency requirements tightened for presidential candidates.

“Today in our society there is a clear demand for change,” Putin said in his address. “People want development, they are striving to move forward in their careers, in their education, in becoming prosperous.”

The package of reforms would be put to a national vote, he said, without specifying when.

“We will be able to build a strong prosperous Russia only on the basis of respect for public opinion,” the 67-year-old leader said.

 ‘Leader for life’ 

Speculation has swirled about changes to Russia’s political system that would allow Putin to stay on after 2024.

Some have suggested he could remain as a prime minister with increased powers or in a powerful behind-the-scenes role.

It was unclear how, if at all, the constitutional changes could affect Putin’s future role.

But leading Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny said he expected any referendum to be “fraudulent crap” and that Putin’s goal remained to be “sole leader for life”.

Russia last conducted a referendum in 1993 when it adopted the constitution under Putin’s predecessor Boris Yeltsin.

Putin has held a firm grip on the country since coming to power with Yeltsin’s resignation in 1999, staying on as prime minister when Medvedev took the presidency.

Re-elected to a six-year term in 2018, Putin has seen his approval ratings fall to some of their lowest levels, though still far above those of most Western leaders.

Recent polls put Putin’s rating at 68-70 percent, up a few points from a year ago but down from a high of more than 80 percent at the time of his last election.

Hit by Western sanctions over the 2014 annexation of Crimea, Russia’s economy has stagnated and most Russians have seen their disposable income fall.

Frustration boiled over last summer, with thousands taking to the streets of Moscow to protest the exclusion of opposition candidates from local elections, leading to wide-scale arrests and long jail terms for a number of demonstrators.

The state of the nation address — delivered in the Manezh exhibition hall next to the Kremlin — is one of three big annual Putin events, along with a marathon press conference and live phone-in where he takes questions from the Russian public.

Libya Strongman Leaves Moscow Without Signing Ceasefire Deal

This handout picture released by the Russian Foreign Ministry on January 13, 2020 shows Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (R) welcoming Libya's military strongman Khalifa Haftar (L) in Moscow. HO / RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY / AFP
This handout picture released by the Russian Foreign Ministry on January 13, 2020 shows Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (R) welcoming Libya’s military strongman Khalifa Haftar (L) in Moscow. HO / RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY / AFP

 

Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar left Moscow on Tuesday without signing a ceasefire agreement aimed at ending nine months of fighting, leaving the future of a fragile truce uncertain.

The commander’s abrupt departure in the early hours of Tuesday was a setback for an international diplomatic push in recent days, though Moscow insisted it would continue mediation efforts.

Haftar and his allies were in Moscow on Monday for talks with the UN-recognised government headed by Fayez al-Sarraj and based in Tripoli.

Sarraj’s government has been under attack since last April from forces loyal to Haftar, who is based in the east of the oil-rich North African country with his own loyalist politicians.

The two sides agreed to a ceasefire brokered by Russia and Turkey that took effect at the weekend and were in Moscow to sign a long-term agreement.

The talks raised hopes of an end to the latest fighting to wrack Libya since a 2011 NATO-backed uprising killed longtime dictator Moamer Kadhafi.

READ ALSO: Libya Warlords Meet In Moscow To Sign Ceasefire Deal

But after seven hours of negotiations, only Sarraj had signed on to the agreement and Russian officials confirmed to AFP that Haftar’s delegation had left without signing the deal.

“We will pursue our efforts in this direction. For now, a definitive result has not been achieved,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at a press conference in Sri Lanka.

Russia, European powers and Libya’s neighbours “are working in the same vein and motivating all Libyan sides to agree rather than continue sorting things out by force”, Lavrov said.

Russian state news agency RIA Novosti quoted a source in Haftar’s stronghold Benghazi as saying he did not sign because the agreement did not spell out a timeline for disbanding groups allied with Sarraj’s Government of National Accord (GNA).

Opposing sides

Western powers are keen to stabilise Libya — home to Africa’s largest proven crude reserves — following years of turbulence since the 2011 killing of Kadhafi.

Since the start of the offensive against Tripoli, more than 280 civilians and about 2,000 fighters have been killed and 146,000 Libyans displaced, according to the United Nations.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made a joint call for a ceasefire, which started at midnight Sunday and was welcomed by the United Nations.

The leaders of Turkey and France on Monday called for a more permanent truce which would pave the way for a political process, while Germany was preparing a summit on Libya this month.

Putin late on Monday discussed the talks in Moscow with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the Kremlin said, following her visit to Moscow Saturday.

Turkey and Russia’s diplomatic initiative came despite the countries being seen as supporting opposing sides.

Ankara dispatched troops — in a training capacity, it said — to support the GNA in January in a move criticised by European powers and US President Donald Trump.

The GNA has signed agreements with Ankara assigning Turkey rights over a vast area of the eastern Mediterranean, in a deal denounced by France, Greece, Egypt and Cyprus.

Russia has been accused of backing pro-Haftar forces, which are supported by the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt — all regional rivals of Turkey.

Several hundred Russian mercenaries are reported to be in Libya supporting Haftar. Putin said any Russians in the country are not in Moscow’s pay.

 

AFP

Libya Warlords Meet In Moscow To Sign Ceasefire Deal

A fighter loyal to the internationally recognised Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) walks past a vehicle in an area south of the Libyan capital Tripoli on January 12, 2020. Mahmud TURKIA / AFP

 

The heads of Libya’s warring sides were to meet in Moscow on Monday to sign a ceasefire deal ending nine months of heavy fighting.

The meeting follows a diplomatic push by Turkey and Russia, which is keen to bolster its status as a powerbroker in the Middle East and step into a diplomatic void left by what observers see as a partial US retreat.

The two sides are expected to sign an agreement on the terms of a ceasefire that took effect over the weekend, raising hopes of an end to the fighting that has wracked the oil-rich North African country since a 2011 NATO-backed uprising killed longtime dictator Moamer Kadhafi.

The UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli, headed by Fayez al-Sarraj, has been under attack since last April from forces loyal to strongman Khalifa Haftar, who is based in the east of the country.

Haftar and Sarraj were to meet in Moscow for talks along with “representatives of other Libyan sides”, the Russian foreign ministry said, with Turkey and Russia’s foreign and defence ministers acting as mediators.

Russian news agencies reported representatives of the two sides had arrived for talks, but it was unclear if Haftar and Sarraj would meet face-to-face.

The ceasefire initiative was launched by President Vladimir Putin and Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who jointly called for a truce in Istanbul last week.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Putin on Saturday and he supported her drive to hold a peace conference sponsored by the United Nations in Berlin soon.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte was also due in Turkey on Monday to discuss the situation in Libya with Erdogan.

‘Turn page on past’

Sarraj on Monday called on Libyans to “turn the page on the past, reject discord and to close ranks to move towards stability and peace”.

His comments came after a ceasefire began at midnight on Sunday (2200 GMT on Saturday) in line with Putin and Erdogan’s joint call.

Sarraj confirmed the ceasefire had taken effect.

Since the start of the offensive against Tripoli, more than 280 civilians and about 2,000 fighters have been killed and 146,000 Libyans displaced, according to the United Nations.

Turkey and Russia’s diplomatic offensive came despite the countries being seen as supporting opposing sides.

Ankara dispatched troops — in a training capacity, it said — to support the GNA in January in a move criticised by leading European powers including Britain and France and US President Donald Trump.

Russia has been accused of backing pro-Haftar forces, which are supported by the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt — all regional rivals of Turkey.

Several hundred Russian mercenaries are reported to be in Libya supporting Haftar but Putin said on Saturday that any Russians in the country were not in Moscow’s pay.

‘Second Syria’

The head of Libya’s High Council of State, Khaled al-Mechri, said the ceasefire would pave the way for the revival of the political process.

The head of Russia’s contact group to Tripoli, Lev Dengov, said the two rivals would have to determine in the Russian capital “the terms of the future settlement in Libya, including the possibility of signing an agreement on the ceasefire and its details”.

“They will have separate meetings with Russian officials and emissaries of the Turkish delegation, which is cooperating with Russia on this issue,” said Dengov, quoted by Russian news agencies.

“Representatives of the United Arab Emirates and Egypt will probably be present as observers at the talks.”

Europe and North Africa have also launched a diplomatic offensive to try to prevent Libya, with the increased involvement of international players in its conflict, from turning into a “second Syria”.

European governments, including former colonial power Italy, fear that Islamist militants and migrant smugglers, already highly active in Libya, will take further advantage of the chaos.

King Abdullah of Jordan on Monday warned that thousands of fighters have left Syria for Libya and “that is something we in the region but also our European friends will have to address in 2020”.

 

AFP

Turkish Boat Sinks After Crash With Russian Tanker

 

 

Three people were missing after a Turkish fishing boat and a Russian-flagged tanker collided on Friday off Istanbul’s northern coast, the Turkish coastguard said.

The Turkish boat sank after the collision around 0330 GMT, the coastguard said in a statement.

Three people were rescued and search-and-rescue efforts were ongoing for the three that remained missing, around the area of Kilyos where the Bosphorus meets the Black Sea.

The Russian tanker named GLARD-2 was travelling to the Aegean region of Izmir from Russia, the coastguard said.

The cause of the incident was not immediately clear.

Russia Challenges WADA Doping Ban

Russia Flag

 

Russia on Friday formally contested a four-year ban from major sporting events over doping violations that President Vladimir Putin has condemned as “unjust,” the head of its RUSADA anti-doping agency said.

“In accordance with established procedure, today we have sent a package of documents to the World Anti-Doping Agency,” RUSADA director general Yury Ganus told reporters in Moscow.

“The package contains a notice about disagreement with WADA sanctions.”

Ganus, who has long argued for a major crackdown by Russia against doping cheats, warned that the legal challenge could backfire, however.

The formal statement of disagreement with WADA will trigger an appeal process against the ban at the Lausanne-based Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

WADA confirmed Friday in a statement it had received the RUSADA package and would promptly refer the matter to the CAS, whose decision will be final and binding for all involved.

Ganus, whose rigorous stance puts him at odds with his own government and supervisory board, argues that Moscow needs to accept the sanctions and own up to its faults in order to be able to reform.

He, however, said he was obliged to relay the position of the supervisory board.

He said he also sent a letter to WADA informing the anti-doping agency of his personal stance.

“I regret to inform you that all my attempts, including attempts to introduce changes to the RUSADA notice, have failed,” said the letter.

Ganus told AFP on Thursday that “it is practically impossible” to contest the ban.

WADA this month banned Russia for four years from major global events, including the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, over manipulated doping data.

Under the sanctions, Russians will still be allowed to compete, but only as neutrals and if they can demonstrate that they were not part of what WADA believes was a state-sponsored system of doping.

Putin has called the sanctions politically motivated, indicating a lengthy legal battle loomed.

He argued that the majority of Russian athletes were clean and should not be deprived of the right to compete under the Russian flag due to the actions of some individuals.

Outgoing WADA president Craig Reedie said the organization “remains convinced that it made the right decision on December 9,” when the ban was officially instituted.

“The proposed consequences are tough on the Russian authorities while robustly protecting the integrity of clean sport around the world,” he said. “We will defend that decision with the utmost vigor at CAS.”

 ‘Considerable risks’ 

Ganus warned that contesting the doping ban could in fact make matters worse because CAS could make sanctions against Russia more severe.

“We are creating a platform for it. We themselves are creating risks,” he said.

“First of all, it would be a public hearing,” he said, adding that some officials could request that the Court of Arbitration for Sport toughen up rather than soften the punishment against Russia.

He referred to the position of United States Anti-Doping Agency chief Travis Tygart who has called for a blanket ban on Russian athletes at the Tokyo Olympics.

Tygart said that allowing “neutral” Russian athletes to compete at the Olympics in 2016 and 2018 had been ineffective.

“WADA must get tougher and impose the full restriction on Russian athlete participation in the Olympics that the rules allow,” Tygart said in November.

Speaking to AFP on Thursday, Ganus said he had information that his British counterpart could also call for severe sanctions against Russia.

The suspension was handed to Russia over falsifying data from a doping testing laboratory that was handed to WADA earlier this year as part of a compliance re-instatement process.

The significant extent of state-sponsored doping in Russia, notably between 2011 and 2015, was revealed in an independent report by sports lawyer Richard McLaren, released in 2016.

The issue has dealt a colossal blow to the status of post-Soviet Russia as a major sports power after hosting events such as the 2013 World Athletics Championships, the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and the 2018 World Cup.

The Sochi Games later became notorious for the number of doping violations by prominent Russian athletes.

The doping scandal has also divided Russian sports stars, with three-time world champion high jumper Mariya Lasitskene calling for sports officials to be held to account over the ban.

AFP

Russia Extends Detention Of US Man In Spy Case

 

Bauchi Assembly Crisis: Court Orders Parties To Maintain Status Quo

 

A Russian court on Tuesday extended until late March the pre-trial detention of a US man already held in jail for a year despite Western requests for his release.

Paul Whelan, who also has Irish, Canadian and British citizenship, was arrested on December 28 last year for allegedly receiving state secrets.

On Christmas eve the Moscow City Court extended his detention by another three months, to March 29, a court spokesman told AFP.

He risks up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

Whelan, 49, has denounced the case against him and said he is being held “hostage” for a possible prisoner exchange.

On Monday, US charge d’affaires Bart Gorman and diplomats from Canada, Ireland, and Britain visited Whelan in Moscow’s high-security Lefortovo prison, bringing him food and Christmas greetings from family and supporters.

“It’s two days before Christmas. A holiday Paul Whelan will spend alone in Lefortovo,” the US embassy quoted Gorman as saying.

“In the past 12 months, Paul has not heard his parents’ voices. Bring Paul some Christmas cheer and let him call home.”

Whelan, a former US marine, maintains he has been framed and that he took a USB drive from an acquaintance thinking it contained holiday photos.

His lawyer Vladimir Zherebenkov has said the acquaintance that handed over the drive is the only witness against Whelan while the rest of his longtime acquaintances in Russia gave witness statements in his defence.

During a previous court hearing in October, Whelan insisted that he was not a spy.

“Russia thought they caught James Bond on a spy mission, in reality they abducted Mr Bean on holiday,” he has said.

Whelan and his supporters claim that the American has been mistreated in jail.

Moscow has rubbished the claims, saying foreign diplomats have regular access to Whelan and calling the complaints a “provocative line of defence”.

“Whelan’s complaints concerning the conditions of detention and actions of investigators have never once been confirmed,” the Russian foreign ministry has said.

AFP

Russian Airstrikes Kill Five Children In Syria

 

syrian ceasefire

 

At least eight people, including five children, were killed Tuesday in Russian airstrikes on a school in northwest Syria sheltering displaced civilians, according to a war monitor.

The strikes targeted the village of Jubass near the town of Saraqeb in southern Idlib province, killing civilians sheltering in and near a school, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Since Thursday, regime forces supported by Russian airstrikes have taken control of dozens of towns and villages in the area.

They are now less than four kilometres (two miles) from the strategic city of Maaret al-Numan, the head of the Britain-based monitor, Rami Abdel Rahman, told AFP.

On Tuesday, jihadist fighters and rebels managed to retake Talmanes and an adjacent village, said the Observatory, which relies on a network of sources across Syria.

Idlib is dominated by the country’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. The region hosts some three million people including many displaced by years of violence in other parts of Syria.

The Damascus regime, which now controls 70 percent of Syria, has repeatedly vowed to take back the area.

Backed by Moscow, Damascus launched a blistering offensive against Idlib in April, killing around 1,000 civilians and displacing more than 400,000 people.

Despite a ceasefire announced in August, the bombardment has continued, killing hundreds of civilians and fighters.

Syria’s war has killed over 370,000 people and displaced millions since beginning in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.

AFP

Russia Hit By Wave Of Bomb Threats Related To Bitcoin Fraud

 

 

 

Dozens of courts, kindergartens and malls in Russia’s largest cities were evacuated on Monday over anonymous bomb threats that appear to be related to the collapse of a cryptocurrency exchange in 2017, news agencies reported.

Since November, Russia has seen a wave of similar incidents where the anonymous perpetrators accuse Russian businessman, Konstantin Malofeyev, of bitcoin fraud.

Malofeyev is under international sanctions over the Ukraine conflict.

In the latest incidents on Monday, the head of Saint Petersburg courts’ press service, Darya Lebedeva, published screen shots of emails that claimed bombs had been planted in courts, as well as kindergartens, supermarkets, shopping malls and maternity hospitals.

Similar emails have been sent almost daily to courts in Saint Petersburg and Moscow since late November, Interfax reported, with threats also made to plant bombs in the metro, hospitals, schools, none of which proved real.

It estimated 770,000 people had been evacuated in Moscow and bomb threats had targeted some 8,000 buildings since then.

Last week, 15 courts in Moscow were evacuated after threats, Interfax news agency reported, citing the city’s central court.

Saint Petersburg courts returned to work shortly after evacuations with no bombs found, but several received repeat threats, Lebedeva said.

The bomb threats, including those sent Monday, demand that Malofeyev pay back 120 bitcoins worth almost $900,000, allegedly stolen from a crashed cryptocurrency exchange.

The threats refer to WEX, a now-defunct spinoff from BTC-e, once one of the world’s largest and most widely used digital currency exchanges, where national currencies can be exchanged for bitcoins.

The alleged head of BTC-e, Russian Alexander Vinnik, was arrested in Greece in 2017 and faces money laundering charges in several countries.

Malofeyev is a businessman and founder of an investment fund. He is on United States and European Union sanctions lists for allegedly funding pro-Russian separatist fighters in eastern Ukraine.

He also runs an Orthodox Christian television channel that airs conservative views and chairs a pro-life foundation.

Malofeyev has denied any involvement in WEX or stealing bitcoins. He refused to answer detailed questions for an investigation published by the BBC Russian Service this month.

Bomb threats have also been sent to Malofeyev’s Tsargrad channel, its website says.

AFP

Challenged By China And Russia, US Launches Space Force

The Space Force will be the sixth formal force of the US military, after the Army, Air Force, Navy Marines, and Coast Guard.

 

The United States met a mounting 21st century strategic challenge from Russia and China Friday with the creation of a full-fledged US Space Force within the Department of Defense.

Acting on an ambition by President Donald Trump that had met resistance at first, the White House signaled its determination to not cede superiority in a Star Wars-like future of killer satellites and satellite-killer weapons.

Trump made the Space Force‘s creation real with the signing of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, which set the initial budget for a Pentagon force that will stand equally with the military’s five other branches.

“Going to be a lot of things happening in space, because space is the world’s newest warfighting domain,” Trump told members of the military gathered for the signing.

Seeking dominance

The Space Force will be the sixth formal force of the US military, after the Army, Air Force, Navy Marines, and Coast Guard.

“Our reliance on space-based capabilities has grown dramatically, and today outer space has evolved into a war-fighting domain of its own,” said Secretary of Defense Mark Esper.

“Maintaining American dominance in that domain is now the mission of the United States Space Force.”

Esper compared the Space Force‘s creation to the landmark creation of a separate US Air Force in 1947, hived off from the Army after World War II in recognition that aerial war fighting was indeed a separate domain that would be important in the future.

READ ALSO: Trump Orders Pentagon To Create U.S. ‘Space Force’

Now that recognition is extended to space, a crucial venue for both military spy and communications satellites which will be targeted by adversaries in any conflict, and the possibility of outer-space launch platforms for destructive weapons.

The Defense Intelligence Agency warned in a report early this year that China and Russia have both developed “robust and capable” space services for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

“China and Russia, in particular, are developing a variety of means to exploit perceived US reliance on space-based systems and challenge the US position in space,” it said.

China already demonstrated it could shoot down a satellite with a ground-based missile in 2007.

“Both states are developing jamming and cyberspace capabilities, directed energy weapons, on-orbit capabilities, and ground-based antisatellite missiles that can achieve a range of reversible to nonreversible effects,” it said.

Iran and North Korea, too, are increasingly able to extend their military activities into space, jamming the communications of adversaries and developing ballistic missile technologies, it noted.

Achilles heel

China and Russia have the perception “that space represents an [American] Achilles heel and that this is an asymmetric advantage for them to then take on the United States’ power,” Steve Kitay, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy, said in August.

Space will not be an Achilles heel” for the US, he said.

The new organization builds on the US Space Command already operating under the Air Force following its creation in August.

Like the Marines, which operate within the umbrella of the Navy, the Space Force will continue to be under the Air Force.

Space Command will continue on, focused on war fighting — much like the Pentagon’s regional commands like CentCom — while the Space Force will encompass broader missions like training, procurement, long-term planning and other functions.

‘Singular focus on space

The Space Force will be comprised of about 16,000 air force and civilian personnel, some already taking part in the Space Command, according to Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett.

It will have its own uniform, shoulder patches and even, eventually, its own song, just as the US Army and Navy have their own.

“The US Space Force will protect America’s national interests by its singular focus on space. The United States has the best space acumen in the world,” Barrett said.

“It’s a different sort of portfolio than what we might be thinking of when we generally think about warfighting machines,” she said.

Leading the Space Force will be Air Force General Jay Raymond, who currently runs SpaceCom.

“With the establishment of the United States Space force, we’re elevating space commensurate with its importance to our national security and the security of our allies and our partners,” said Raymond.

 

AFP

EU Opposes US Sanctions On Russia Gas Pipeline

 

European Union, Ogbonnaya Onu, Science and technology

 

The EU on Saturday voiced its opposition to US sanctions against companies building a Russian natural gas pipeline to Germany.

“As a matter of principle, the EU opposes the imposition of sanctions against EU companies conducting legitimate business,” an EU spokesman said.

The sanctions were signed off by US President Donald Trump on Friday, targeting companies building the nearly $11 billion Nord Stream 2 pipeline under the Baltic Sea.

The project aims to double deliveries of Russian natural gas to Europe’s leading economy, Germany, but US lawmakers warn it will enrich a hostile Russian government and vastly increase President Vladimir Putin’s influence at a time of heightened tension across the continent.

The European Commission, the bloc’s executive, is now analysing the likely impact of the US sanctions.

“The Commission’s objective has always been to ensure that Nord Stream 2 operates in a transparent and non-discriminatory way with the appropriate degree of regulatory oversight,” the spokesman said.

The spokesman noted that EU rules on pipelines to the bloc, which came into force in May, have been recognised by the US.

The US sanctions came just days after the EU brokered a deal between Russia and Ukraine on the transit of gas to Europe ahead of a looming New Year deadline.

Some 18 percent of the EU’s annual natural gas consumption comes from Russia via Ukraine, putting additional pressure on EU officials to broker a deal.

AFP