Russia has no illusion about sanctions being lifted and expects them to be stiffened in future, regardless of developments in Eastern Ukraine. That’s according to a leading Russian diplomat, who says Moscow can live under continuous western pressure.
“We believe that in certain directions, notwithstanding of the developments in Donbass, we should expect toughening of the sanctions pressure,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said at the Russia Arms Expo 2015 in Nizhny Tagil on Wednesday.
According to Ryabkov, the new set of sanctions introduced by Washington last week against Russian companies, including arms exporter Rosoboronexport, “mirrors the policy of complicating operations of the Russian military-industrial complex and all of the mechanism of government.”
Sanctions come in handy as a “true instrument of aggressive foreign policy” aimed at Russia, the diplomat said.
“Russia’s independent and self-sufficient foreign policy, its decisiveness to protect its sovereignty, and the consolidation of the people with the country’s leadership serve as a thorn in the side of our opponents,” Ryabkov said.
“We presume that the sanctions are there for the long haul,” Ryabkov said. “There are no reasons or illusions that sanctions are going to be lifted in the short term, at least not in the Foreign Ministry.”
“When it comes to international financial services, our colleagues from the US and the EU are set to expand their effort to seal off all capabilities. We understand that and we have to learn how to operate in the given situation,” Ryabkov said, insisting that sanctions will fail to gain the desired effect.
“We’re sorry the US has not learned that truth so far.”
Russian Economic Development Minister Aleksey Ulyukaev said Moscow is going to seek a “symmetrical answer” to American sanctions imposed on September 2.
Washington imposed sanctions on a number of Russian, Chinese, Syrian, Turkish, Sudanese and Iranian companies, believed to be involved in activities which, according to Washington, go against its Nonproliferation Act in regard to Iran and Syria.
“These are not sectoral sanctions, they are personalized, therefore we would consider some kind of a symmetrical answer,” Ulyukaev said.
In March 2014, the EU, the US and some other countries imposed individual sanctions against 21 Russian and Ukrainian officials, subjecting them to asset freezes and travel bans. Within a year, the list was extended to 150 people, including Russian Deputy Prime Ministers Dmitry Kozak and Dmitry Rogozin, as well as presidential aide Vladislav Surkov and 37 entities that, according to the EU, are “responsible for actions which undermine or threaten the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine.”
The restrictions have been prolonged until January 31, 2016.
To reciprocate, in August 2014 Moscow introduced a ban on importing meat, dairy, fruit, and vegetable products from countries that have imposed sanctions on Russia over the Ukraine conflict. The countries included EU member states and Norway, US, Canada and Australia.
European Union sanctions against Russia include restrictions on lending to major Russian state-owned banks, as well as defense and oil companies. In addition, Brussels imposed restrictions on the supply of weapons and military equipment to Russia as well as military technology, dual-use technologies, high-tech equipment and technologies for oil production. No sanctions were imposed against Russia’s gas industry.
The prime minister of Norway, Erna Solberg has described NATO’s defense spending plans as “nonsense.” The alliance wants members to spend two percent of their GDP on defense, but Oslo, one of the world’s richest countries, says it won’t meet the target.
“If I am allowed to speak, I think the percentage goal is nonsense,” she said in an interview with the Norwegian Armed Forces’ Forum Magazine, as cited by the Local. “The aim of the NATO countries must be the greatest possible defense capability, not a percentage goal in itself,” she added.
Solberg added that while meeting the two percent target may be easier for countries enjoying strong economic growth, it would be harder for those within the alliance whose economies are shrinking.
Norway’s Defense Minister Ine Eriksen Soreide said in April that for Oslo to spend 2 percent of its GDP on defense would be “very challenging” in the short term. The Scandinavian country has already said it will increase its spending this year, but this will only bring it to around 1.6 percent and short of the target that was set at the NATO summit in Cardiff, the United Kingdom, last year.
NATO’s General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg, who was also Solberg’s predecessor as Norway’s PM, said that the country could easily meet the target.
“If there is a political will, there is economic space. But it must be given priority,” he said in a visit to Norway in June. “Compared with other major initiatives we have implemented in Norway, reaching two percent is quite possible.”
Aside from the United States, traditional NATO allies have found meeting the target a taxing affair. Germany allocates 1.2 percent of its GDP, the Netherlands 1.3 percent and Spain less than 1 percent. France is the only Western European country that is boosting defense spending. However, some Eastern European nations are increasing their military expenses citing what they call Russian aggression. Lithuania, for instance, wants to allocate twice as much on defense as it did last year.
The largely unobservant public had previously been under the impression that the Baltic Sea was a zone of peace and stability, thinking that all the region’s states lived in harmony with one another. This may have been the case prior to 1991, but immediately afterwards, NATO’s expansion into the Baltic basin seriously upset the balance of power, as the incorporation of Poland and the former Soviet Baltic States in 1999 and 2004 attests. Through this manner, NATO was able to surround Kaliningrad and directly push up against part of Russia’s western border.
The military tension remained just below the surface (literally), until Shadow NATO states Sweden and Finland started initiating highly publicized ‘Russian sub’ scares, designed with the sole intent of scaring their publics into formal NATO membership and opening up an additional front in the New Cold War. Taking it further, this is all part of NATO’s new policy of regional blocs, as Brussels hopes to see the formation of a ‘Viking Bloc’ that would apply pressure against Russia in the Arctic. The most dangerous development, however, is with Finland, which is capitalizing off of the sea scare to call up nearly one million reservists (1/5 of the total population) in the event of a “crisis situation”, thereby presenting a dangerous test run in conflict escalation that might be applied all over Europe in the future.
To put everything into focus, it’s best to begin by documenting the latest hysteria stemming from supposed ‘Russian sub’ sightings. Sweden started the trend when it claimed to be hunting a believed-to-be Russian sub back in October, and when nothing came out of the stunt except for a scared public and a couple million dollars spent, Stockholm continued to insist that it had evidence that a foreign sub did trespass through its waters, but curiously kept the details to itself. Be that as it may, it didn’t stop legislators from increasing the defense budget by a whopping $1.18 billion for the period 2016-2020, earmarking an additional $945 million for the future purchase of two subs, and announcing plans to reopen a military base on the Baltic island of Gottland. The ultimate irony is that there was never a ‘Russian sub’ to begin with, and that it was eventually revealed that the whole scandal started over a simple workboat, thus making it seem like Sweden exaggerated the situation simply to push through more defense funding and militarize its society against Russia.
Being the regional leader that it is, it appears as though Sweden’s spectacle of the phantom Russian sub rubbed off on Finland, which soon after its latest elections began detonating underwater charges against its own suspected ‘Russian sub’. Finnish political analyst Jon Hellevig assessed that this was simply Helsinki’s application of Stockholm’s decades-long tactic of using phantom Russian subs to increase the population’s acceptance of future NATO membership. While Finland isn’t a de-jure member of the alliance, both it and Scandinavian military hegemon Sweden signed a NATO host nation agreement last fall to intensify their relations with the bloc, essentially making them Shadow NATO members in an even deeper capacity than Ukraine has become (the latter of which has been the bone of contention sparking the New Cold War in the first place).
Given such a relationship, it may not even be needed for either state to formally join NATO at this point, since the alliance can already reap the resultant military advantages of their territory in any possible anti-Russian crisis scenario. However, putting the provocative issue up for a referendum vote or making a unilateral government decision in this regard might be a forthcoming tactic towards creating the aforementioned crisis needed to ‘justify’ the indefinite hosting of NATO troops in those countries. It’s quite clear that Sweden is already de-facto participating in NATO, since they just partook in the group’s “Dynamic Mongoose” anti-submarine drills off the Norwegian coast. This would have obviously raised eyebrows among its domestic citizenry had it not been for the earlier ‘Russian sub’ scare that created the social pretext for its acceptance, showing how such false crises can be manipulated by the media for predetermined military gain.
The Viking Bloc
Everything going on in Scandinavia right now, from the phantom ‘Russian sub’ scares to the de-facto NATO-ization of the region’s last formal holdouts, is designed to create the northern component of NATO’s regional bloc strategy. In sum, the alliance is reverting to history and using Polish interwar leader Josef Pilsudski’s Intermarum concept to establish a Baltic-to-Black-Sea coalition of anti-Russian states to which it can more efficiently outsource its military prerogatives, all per the Lead From Behind strategy. The ‘Viking Bloc’ which consists of the Greater Scandinavian states of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, and Finland (centered on Sweden, possibly incorporating Estonia and Latvia as well) is envisioned to complement the emerging Commonwealth Bloc of Poland, Lithuania, and Ukraine (centered on Poland), and the forthcoming Black Sea Bloc of Romania, Bulgaria, and Moldova (centered on Romania, possibly even expanded to Georgia).
Focusing more specifically on the characteristics of the Viking Bloc, its members have a maritime identity, so it’s predicted that they’ll focus their activity on the Baltic Sea, North Sea, and Arctic Ocean, accordingly making them all one large naval base. Sweden’s demographic and economic strength makes it the obvious leader amongst the identified members and the control node of its activity, while wealthy Norway can provide the natural resources needed to keep it running. Denmark controls the entrance to and from the Baltic Sea, and together with its colony country of Greenland, Iceland, and Norway, the three can patrol the North Sea and Arctic Ocean in hunting ‘Russian subs’. It’s also not a coincidence that all of these states are members of the Arctic Council, meaning that this dialogue configuration has essentially become one of confrontation between North America & the Viking Bloc on one side and Russia on the other. The odd member out of this naval configuration is Finland (also a member of the Arctic Council), which has recklessly adapted a land-based anti-Russian policy that’s bound to ratchet up tension with its neighbor. One should also note that the Viking Bloc’s members signed a multilateral defense cooperation agreement in April that basically institutionalized the organization as an official regional bloc.
The Finnish Amphibian
The most dangerous sub-bloc strategy being adopted by NATO is its Finnish affiliate’s advance preparation of 900,000 reservists in the event of a “crisis situation”, which obviously could only refer to a military conflict with Russia. The Finnish government is trying to account for all of its former reservists aged 20-60 in order to inform them of what their “crisis situation” role would be, as well as to collect updated information about them. This dramatic movement of anti-Russian initiatives from sea onto land represents an amphibious strategy that’s likely only in its initial test-run phase. NATO wants to gauge Russia’s reaction and monitor its response in order to fine-tune this template for eventually export throughout the bloc as a whole.
The Finnish Amphibian is a very simple strategy. All that the practicing states or regional blocs have to do is report on a phantom ‘Russian sub’ sighting, preferably with as much media paranoia as possible but providing no proof whatsoever, and then use the subsequent buzz to justify the potential mobilization of a massive land-based reservist force. This leads to the militarization of society within the targeted state and initiates a siege mentality that makes its citizens feel as though they’re constantly under some type of Russian attack. None of the accusations have to be proven, let alone even seen by the citizens themselves, so long as the media and supportive political figures repeat the chorus of conflict enough to make it believable. An added touch would be to implement Sweden’s strategy of publicly accusing 1/3 of all Russian diplomats there as being spies, which when coupled with the existing paranoia about phantom ‘Russian subs’, sends the populace’s paranoia into overdrive and all but assures that they’ll support whichever military or surveillance solutions their government or NATO suggests.
NATO’s northernmost regional fighting group, the Viking Bloc, owes its speedy creation to the utilization of phantom ‘Russian sub’ scare tactics to galvanize support for this new initiative. Greater Scandinavia is rapidly being transformed into one giant NATO naval base that’s meant to confront Russia on the neighboring high seas. As destabilizing as that is, it moves into the realm of flashpoint danger with the fact that Finland is preparing to mobilize 1/5 of its population against Russia, thus presenting an amphibious land-based component to the majority sea-focused strategy. Even worse, the template of using false sea-based scares to ‘justify’ massive land-based mobilizations could likely be applied elsewhere in Europe, thereby serving as an ideal model of militarization all throughout NATO. It’s this hybrid of media-military strategic collaboration that may eventually prove to be more destabilizing than the unveiling of the Viking Bloc itself.
Norway has started massive military exercises, involving 5,000 servicemen, in the northern parts of the country near the border with Russia, the largest such drills in nearly 50 years.
The country’s military launched drills dubbed “Joint Viking” on Monday in the northern regions of Lakselv and Alta in the Finnmark County, which border Russia’s Murmansk region.
The exercises will include the Norwegian army, navy, air force and civil defense troops (Heimevernet).
Aleksander Jankov, a spokesman for the Norwegian Armed Forces, said 400 military vehicles and all types of weapons will be used in the drills, which are the largest to take place in the region since 1967.
According to Norwegian media, the massive exercise is to show that Norway has the ability to defend Finnmark.
Prior to the kickoff army spokesman Vegar Gystad said, “If we’re to have a credible defense that can defend the entire country, we also have to train in the entire country.”
The war games come amid tensions between the West and Russia over the crisis in Ukraine.
Norway, a member of the Western military alliance NATO, suspended all military cooperation with Russia after the Black Sea Peninsula Crimea voted to break away from Ukraine and rejoin the Russian Federation in March, 2014.
Meanwhile, NATO plans to expand its military presence in Eastern Europe amid the crisis in Ukraine and has held numerous war games over the past year. In 2014, NATO forces held some 200 military exercises, with the alliance’s General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg having promised that such drills would continue.
In addition, the defense ministers of NATO’s 28 member states agreed on February 5 to establish six new command and control posts in the Eastern European nations of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Bulgaria and Romania.
Moscow has repeatedly condemned NATO’s exercises and military buildup toward its borders.
A network of fake base mobile stations that can snoop on leading politicians’ mobile phones, as well as ordinary people, has been discovered in central Oslo, some outside Norway’s parliament and the prime minister’s residence, according to a report.
Investigative journalists from the Aftenposten newspaper have detected a number of places in the capital with suspicious mobile activity. They teamed up with two security companies to help track down fake base stations, which confirmed that spy equipment has been used in downtown Oslo.
According to the newspaper, false base stations, known as IMSI catchers, have been most probably used to monitor the movements of high-ranking officials, specifying who enters parliament, government offices and other buildings in the area. It could also be used to snoop on phone calls of selected people in the area.
An IMSI catcher (International Mobile Subscriber Identity) is a telephony eavesdropping device for monitoring mobile phone traffic and movement of mobile phone users. IMSI catchers are used in a number of countries, including the US, by law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
Under Norwegian law, only the National Security Agency (NSM) and police are authorized to use eavesdropping equipment.
The Security service (PST) has launched an investigation in central Oslo, following the Aftenposten report, to find out who installed the surveillance equipment.
The Local has quoted security operatives as saying that a number of organizations could be responsible for the false base stations.
“It could be private actors or state actors,” the PST’s Arne Christian Haugstøyl said.
“I can’t on the basis of these discoveries say that it is a foreign intelligence agency, but I can say that we know that foreign intelligence agencies have this kind of capacity. And in our preventive work we advise those looking after Norwegian interests not to talk about sensitive issues on mobile phones,” he noted.
A dramatic video clip showing a young boy heroically rescuing a young girl amid a hail of gunfire in Syria has racked up millions of YouTube viewings and has been trending heavily on other social media platforms.
The mainstream media and US government jumped on the video as evidence of the absolute depravity of the Assad regime. What kind of monster purposely targets children?
Wrote the International Business Times :
The incident certainly is not the first time that Pro-Assad gunmen have targeted children in the nearly four years of the bloody civil war in Syria.
Liz Sly, the Washington Post Beirut bureau chief covering Syria, Lebanon, Iraq — and presumably an expert in the area? — promoted the video on her Twitter page, adding “wow” in her comments. Sly’s reporting consistently agitates for more US involvement in Syria on the side of the rebels, her anti-Assad bias is solidly established.
Then the “experts” chimed in. According to the London Daily Telegraph (article since consigned to the memory hole), the experts have “confirmed the authenticity” of the video.
Then the US State Department chimed in to magnify and focus the propaganda, tweeting that a boy “hero” rescued a girl from an Assad regime sniper firing on civilians.
One problem: the whole thing was a fake. The Norweigan Film Institute, funded by the government of NATO-member Norway, chipped in $30,000 for the film to be produced in Malta and released publicly without informing viewers that it was not authentic footage.
The filmmakers made it clear to the Norwegian government in their funding application that they would not reveal that the footage was fake and authorities raised no objection to the operation.
The BBC wrote about how so many people were fooled by the film:
So once the film was made, how did it go viral? “It was posted to our YouTube account a few weeks ago but the algorithm told us it was not going to trend,” Klevberg said. “So we deleted that and re-posted it.” The filmmakers say they added the word “hero” to the new headline and tried to send it out to people on Twitter to start a conversation.
By the time its inauthenticity had been established, millions were outraged at the Assad government. Propaganda depends on framing the issue first. No one reads corrections once a false story is printed.
How convenient this is at a time when so many NATO member countries and the usual interventionist suspects are pushing hard for the US government to retool its Syria anti-ISIS campaign to first target the Assad government for destruction.
This episode should demonstrate how easy it is for governments to hide behind willing accomplices and the social media to produce and disseminate propaganda.
State Department Spokesperson Marie Harf recently drew some ridicule for stating that US evidence “proving” Russian involvement in the shoot-down of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine came from “social media” sources. Perhaps those “social media” sources she urges us to rely upon are similarly supported and funded by governments with an agenda to push.
They are lying to us.
What’s your image of Denmark? Apart from the Little Mermaid, Carlsberg beer and H.C. Andersen perhaps something with decency, welfare, development aid, equality and peace?
Unfortunately, that image is outdated. During the last good 15 years Denmark has participated in wars on/in Yugoslavia and Afghanistan, it was an occupying country in Iraq for four years and a main bomber nation of Libya.
The government’s decision earlier today to send 7 F16s to fight with the U.S. increases the risk of terror actions against Denmark.
It must have been known for quite some time since, about a month ago, the Danish government decided to send a Hercules transport plane with humanitarian aid to Iraq. Most likely, it was a set-up because it was immediately changed into a Hercules transport plane + 55 soldiers to assist the U.S. and the Kurds.
Today’s decision is a violation of the UN Charter – the spirit of the Preamble as well as Article 1 which states that peace shall be established by peaceful means – and, later, only when everything has been tried and found in vain can a military action be decided.
Denmark must now calculate with Danish casualties and, even worse, with taking responsibility for scores of innocent civilians’ death – something that can’t be avoided when targeting individuals from the air.
The decision documents that Denmark has learnt nothing from the earlier – failed – wars and that it does not have alternative expertise.
The common sense, solidarity and humanity that characterised Denmark, at least to some extent, about 20 years ago is now eradicated and replaced by thoughtless militarism; its only guideline has been and is: Accept willingly and unconditionally what the US does and follow it when it calls upon you to do its dirty job – His Master’s Voice.
If you think I exaggerate: There is not one major policy or decision the last 30-40 years where Denmark has shown the courage to stand up against Washington.
Millions of dollars are allocated to state-financed research institutes, military analysis centres and mainstream thinking that “explains” and legitimizes the policies. (The only peace research institute, COPRI, which was very well evaluated by international scholars was destroyed by the government of Anders Fogh Rasmussen who also made Denmark an occupying power – only to be rewarded with the position of NATO Secretary-General).
It is my judgement that the decision to participate in the war on Iraq was the largest foreign policy blunder in Denmark since 1945.
I wrote ”Predictable Fiasco” in which the present situation in Iraq was predicted fairly precisely and I presented a 20-point plan on what to do instead of war.
Thus I don’t know how to characterise a decision by a Social Democratic-led government to go to war in Iraq for a second time!
PM Helle Thorning Schmidt presented the decision around lunch time today Friday September 26. Each of her arguments and assumptions were dubious, anti-intellectual and constructed to suit the event
1) She said that this was not a war because ISIS is not a state (!!) – now you know the level of what followed.
But this is war no matter what her spin doctors may have invented. Those who in the thousands will be killed – ISIS people as well as civilians – can’t see it as anything but war. And nothing but military equipment is being used.
2) As mentioned above, the decision violates the UN Charter.
3) Mission creep is already a fact. First, Denmark should send only humanitarian aid, then it changed to military aid and now 7 F16s – the next step is likely to be what is constantly denied and therefore rather safe to predict: Boots on the ground.
4) It will not be a short, limited affair – it could well last for years. ISIS may be relatively small in numbers but could grow fast – there is enough of hatred; it has a lot of funds from Western allies such as Saudi-Arabia, Qatar and Bahrein – who are playing a double game. And they have advanced weapons, a lot of it U.S.-produced, stolen from the Iraqis.
5) ISIS is the result of more than 100 years of Western arrogance in the region – wars, deceit, lies and agreements such as Sykes-Picot (1916) and Balfour – imposing of Western values, occupations (foremost Iraq), base-building, stealing of oil and coup d’etats. The list is long!
6) This action as a whole will only have one result: More terrorists. The entire ‘War on Terror’ is wrongly conceived from October 7, 2001. We can’t rid the world of terrorism by killing terrorists and ignoring the underlying causes any more than we can combat criminality by killing criminals.
Eventually there will be a blowback, a boomerang effect.
7) The Danish government now gives ISIS and others a perfect reason for targeting Denmark. It puts the security of the Danish citizens at risk – something that must be seen in relation also to the Muhammad caricatures as well as Denmark’s participation in the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.
While it is the first duty of a government to secure the lives and safety of its people, the Danish government does the opposite. To be loyal to Its Master’s Voice.
Add to this that Obama’s speech about how to combat ISIS was a manifest disappointment with neither strategy nor a vision for the future of the region. It boiled down to the bizarre: We kill people who kill people because it is wrong to kill people! (Deliver back that Nobel Peace prize medal, Mr. President!)
Finally, Denmark’s defence, security and foreign policy establishment increasingly looks like a one-party system with very little diversity.
All security research at its Institute for International Studies is financed by – you guessed it! – the Ministry of Defence. Not much research there on peace by peaceful means or alternative defence, peace-making, reconciliation, forgiveness etc.
Since 1975 when Denmark bought F16s a MIMAK has developed – a Military-Industrial-Media-Academic Complex with a degree of consent that is pathetic for a society that professes to be pluralist, democratic, humanist and open (-minded).
In particular, Denmark has been rewarded with lots of contracts for its booming military industry – and plans to waste at least US$ 5 billion on new fighter planes.
So, next week the Danish Parliament will – probably with one small left-wing party as dissenter – endorse that Denmark goes to war yet again, for a fifth time – only to cash in yet another fiasco (to be denied).
This only goes to show that democracy is forced to give in to militarism – because there is a considerable opinion in Denmark that does not support this and also did not support the four preceding wars.
Like in Norway and Sweden (exception in the latter: the xenophobic Sweden Democrats) those of us believing in international law and who have the idea that peace is better than war have no party anymore that represents our views.
In summary, the Denmark and the Norden you may think you know is changing and we need a debate about this moral and intellectual defeat under MIMAK in our countries.
But certainly people in the rest of the world who used to look up to Scandinavia should know and tell us what they think.
Rogue states, big and small, is a problem to the whole world. And the sooner they change, the better for all.
A US-led military maneuver has begun in western Ukraine, amid continued fighting between government troops and pro-Russian forces in the country’s east.
The military drill, dubbed “Rapid Trident 14,” started early Monday near Ukraine’s border with Poland and involves 1,300 troops from over a dozen countries.
According to the US army, the troops come from 12 NATO members, including Germany, the UK, Poland, Norway and Canada, as well as non-members Azerbaijan, Georgia and Moldova.
The eleven-day drills will take place near the western city of Yavoriv and will not involve the live firing of weapons.
The US Defense Ministry said the exercise will increase interoperability among Ukraine and the participating nations.
Ukrainian Defense Minister Valeriy Heletey earlier announced that NATO member states have begun supplying weapons to the country’s forces despite a truce between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russians.
Meanwhile, heavy fighting between government troops and pro-Russian forces continues around the eastern city of Donetsk. According to Donetsk city hall officials, six civilians were killed on Sunday in heavy shelling around the city and its airport.
Kiev accused pro-Russians of threatening the truce by intensifying attacks against government positions. This is while, on September 13, the pro-Russia forces defending a checkpoint near the village of Olenivka, south of Donetsk accused the Ukrainian army of violating the truce.
The ceasefire agreement was reached between Kiev and the pro-Russians on September 5, after Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko hammered out a compromise deal aimed at ending the heavy fighting.
Germany and Poland will lose the most trade with Russia, and neighboring Finland and Baltic states Lithuania and Latvia will lose a bigger proportion of their GDP. Norway will see fish sales to Russia disappear, and US damages would be very limited.
Russia has banned imports of fruit, vegetables, meat, fish and dairy products from the 28 countries of the EU, the US, Canada, Norway, and Australia for one year.
EU trade is heavily dependent on Russian food imports. Last year Russia bought $16 billion worth of food from the bloc, or about 10 percent of total exports, according to Eurostat.
In terms of losses, Germany, Poland and the Netherlands- the top three EU food suppliers to Russia in 2013 – will be hit hardest. Food for Russia makes up around 3.3 percent of total German exports.
French Agriculture Minister Stephane Le Foll said his government is already working together with Germany and Poland to reach a coordinated policy on the new Russian sanction regime.
Last year, Ireland exported €4.5 million worth of cheese to Russia, and not being able to do so this year is a big worry, Simon Coveney, the country’s agriculture minister, said.
Farmers across Europe could face big losses if they aren’t able to find alternative markets for their goods, especially fruit and vegetables.
Some are already demanding their governments provide compensation for lost revenue.
“If there isn’t a sufficient market, prices will go down, and we don’t know if we can cover the costs of production, because it is so expensive,” Jose Emilio Bofi, an orange farmer in Spain, told RT.
Norway’s Health Ministry is considering a proposal on regulating the circumcision of boys. Some political parties are calling on a complete ban of the practice on minors, a possibility that would affect Jewish and Muslim communities.
Two years ago, the ministry was tasked with reviewing circumcision and how it should be practiced in Norway. It is yet to finalize its stance, but intends to submit its legislative proposal before Easter next year, Health Minister Bent Hoie told Aftenposten, Norway’s largest newspaper.
The issue was brought to public attention after the recent call by Norway Children’s Ombudswoman Anne Lindboe to ban circumcision of boys before age 16, unless the procedure is warranted by medical needs.
“This is not due to any lack of understanding of minorities or religious traditions, but because the procedure is irreversible, painful and risky,” she argued.
Lindboe’s position is shared by some members of the Labor Party, which currently holds the largest share of 55 seats in Norway’s 169-strong legislative and is in opposition to the ruling Conservative-Progress coalition.
“As a modern society, we should work to eliminate practices that expose children and people to unnecessary suffering,” said Labor’s Ruth Mari Grung, who is a member of the parliamentary Committee on Health and Care Services.
A ban is also supported by the Center Party, which has 10 seats in the parliament.
Other parliamentary parties are yet to formulate their official position on the issue. Hoie, a Conservative member, who used to chair the Health Committee before getting his ministerial appointment, voiced concerns that a ban would force the groups practicing ritual circumcision underground, where the procedure would be performed by non-medics and pose greater health risks to the children.
The Norwegian lawmakers also disagree on whether circumcision should be covered by the budget under the national healthcare system. Some parties insist that ritual circumcision should be paid for by parents.
According to the newspaper, an average of about 2,000 Muslim and seven Jewish newborns are circumcised in Norway each year.
Regulation of ritual circumcision in Europe made the headlines in June, when a German court ruled that the procedure constitutes a minor bodily harm and outlawed performing it on minors. The decision sparked nationwide debate on the conflict between religious freedoms and protection of children.
The issue was further stressed in early October, when the Council of Europe branded the practice “a violation of the physical integrity of children” and called on EU members to protect children. The latter should include a ban on performing circumcision on those who cannot consent to it, the non-binding resolution said.
Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Iceland and Greenland are among the European countries where public debate on ritual circumcision of boys is hotly debated.
Norway, Russia’s closest rival in the European gas market, seems to overtaking Russia’s Gazprom. Norway boasted record high exports in 2012, while Gazprom suffered the worst numbers in 10 years.
Norway increased its exports 16% in 2012 to reach 107.6bn cubic metres, according to Europe’s key statistics office Eurostat. This is “a record level, close to the Russian gas exports to Europe,” Michael Korchyomkin, head of East European Gas Analysis, told Kommersant daily.
During the same period, Russia’s gas giant Gazprom cut sales to Europe and Turkey by 8%, according to the company’s head Aleksey Miller. That’s the lowest export level for the last decade, Korchyomkin said.
At the moment Norway is breathing down Russia’s neck in its key European market – Germany. In 2011 Gazprom supplied 30bln cubic meters out of the total 80bn cubic meters of gas Germany consumes annually. Norway sold just a bit less – 28bn cubic meters. Norway’s Statoil accounts for about 70% of the country’s exports and in 2012 signed a 10 year contract to supply gas to Germany’s Wintershall.
Norway’s lower gas prices are another tool to win customers. The country’s Petroleum Ministry is suggesting charges for gas transportation in new contracts should be significantly cut, according to Reuters citing Norwegian Petroleum Minister Ola Borten Moe.The exact price cut remains unclear, with Kommersant daily assessing it at 7%.
Competitive pricing has become a crucial issue at a time when crisis – stricken Europe can’t afford huge bills.
On Thursday Gazprom 9M 2012 IFRS results showed things are not that rosy for Russia’s’ gas monopoly. The company’s profit for the period was down 12% year on year to $27.1bn, with the net sales of gas decreasing by 8% year on year, to about $61.4bn.
Net sales exclude the amounts paid by the company in form of value added tax and customs duties.
Earlier in the week Fitch rating agency predicted a further fall of sales for Gazprom in 2013, referring to weak economic conditions and slack demand.
BOGOTA – Colombia’s government will soon begin talks that could lead to formal negotiations for peace with the country’s biggest guerrilla group, known as the FARC, according to a Colombian intelligence source.
As part of the deal to hold talks, the government has agreed that leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia would not be extradited to another country to stand trial, he said.
One aide at President Juan Manuel Santos’ office has flatly denied that any talks are taking place, but a second aide said only that any official word on peace dealings would come from Santos himself.
Details of the accord are still being worked out, but the negotiations could take place in Cuba and in Norway, the source said.
However from Caracas the editor in chief of Telesur, the Venezuelan television news channel, Jorge Botero said that secret talks date back to May in Havana with the attendance of unofficial delegates from Colombia, plus representatives from Venezuela, Cuba and Norway.
“Formal dialogue is anticipated for next October in Oslo”, said Botero. He added that from Norway representatives from the Colombian government and FARC will then travel to Havana where “they will sit to negotiate and won’t leave the table until a peace deal is reached”.
A year ago the head of FARC Alfonso Cano announced that the guerrilla was ready for talks to end the half a century Colombian internal war.
News of the peace talks is likely to anger Santos’ predecessor Alvaro Uribe who has criticised any idea of talks with the rebels and has slammed Santos for wanting “peace at any cost.”
The originally Marxist oriented FARC but now financed by drugs and which calls itself “the people’s army” defending peasant rights, has battled about a dozen administrations since surfacing in 1964, when its founder Manuel Marulanda and 48 rebels took to jungle hide-outs triggering an internal conflict involving Colombian forces and thousands of recruited guerrillas.
The group has faced its toughest defeats in recent years as US-trained special forces use sophisticated technology and spy networks to track the leaders.
The FARC string of defeats began in 2008 with a cross-border military raid into Ecuador that killed Raul Reyes its second in command. Marulanda died of a heart attack weeks later and was replaced by Alfonso Cano, who was later killed too.
- Colombia to meet with rebels in Oslo: ex-VP (thelocal.no)
- Colombian president confirms peace talks with FARC; first round Oslo in October (en.mercopress.com)