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Armenia may now be shifting toward Europe – but there’s a catch

Yerevan badly needs nuclear energy, but the EU wants to force the country to shut down its power plant

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(New Eastern Outlook) – In November 2017, the Republic of Armenia (RA) plans to sign an important treaty with the European Union. The document is known as the “Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement” (CEPA). In the view of its supporters, the expansion of cooperation with the EU as a result of the CEPA implementation should benefit the Armenian economy. However, the conditions put forward by the European party make people doubt the benefits of the agreement for the Republic of Armenia.

One of the important requirements of the EU, which Armenia must fulfill in accordance with the CEPA, is the closure of the Armenian nuclear power plant.

The Armenian (Metsamor) NPP is located near Metsamor in the Ararat Valley, 28 km from Yerevan. More than 100 Soviet enterprises and organizations, most of which belonged to the RSFSR, took part in the construction of the station and the manufacture of necessary equipment, and after the collapse of the USSR, it was taken over by the Russian state corporation “Rosatom.”

The first power unit of the Armenian nuclear power plant was launched in 1976, and the second unit was put into operation in 1980. The project of the station was developed taking into account the seismic activity of the Armenian highland. The increased strength of the buildings, the monolithic slab in the basement and the hydro-depreciation system made it possible to prevent an accident during the devastating Spitak earthquake of December 1988. The earthquake claimed tens of thousands of lives and caused tremendous damage to the Armenian infrastructure and industry, but there was no radiological catastrophe. Moreover, the Armenian NPP remained fully operational.

However, in fear of new ground tremors, the Soviet leadership decided not to take the risk, and in early 1989, the operations of both units of the nuclear power plant were ceased. The Armenian SSR then shifted to using hydrocarbon fuel as its main energy source. Armenia does not have its own larger or smaller oil and gas fields. Therefore, hydrocarbons were supplied by rail and gas pipelines from the Azerbaijan SSR, the Turkmen SSR and the RSFSR. After the dissolution of the USSR and the beginning of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict in Nagorny Karabakh, the shipments by Azerbaijan were stopped. The transit of Russian energy carriers through the territory of Georgia also became impossible due to the military activities in Abkhazia and Ossetia. Turkey, which supported Azerbaijan in the Karabakh conflict, blocked all communication through the Turkish-Armenian border. Armenia thus found itself blockaded.

After that, the energy crisis of 1992-1995 broke out in Armenia, which became a difficult page in Armenian history. The relaunch of the Armenian Nuclear Power Plant helped overcome it. In 1993, the Government of Armenia decided to begin rehabilitation work on the second power unit of the station. The first unit was then already partially dismantled and was not fit for restoration. In November 1995, Power Unit No. 2 of the Armenian Nuclear Power Plant was put back into operation again.

At present, the station generates up to 40% of all the electricity consumed in the RA. Despite the successful operation of two Armenian thermal power plants and several dozen hydropower stations, as well as energy exchange with Iran, it remains a strategically important target for Armenian energy security. Therefore, for many, the demand of the European Union to close the Armenian nuclear power plant is puzzling: do the expansion of cooperation with the EU and the possibility of the introduction of a visa-free regime cost 40% of electricity?

It should be noted that the EU has long been pushing for the closure of the Armenian Nuclear Power Plant. This issue has been raised periodically in the negotiations between Brussels and Yerevan since the early 2000s. Also, Azerbaijan and Turkey have for many years been demanding that the station operations be discontinued. However, these two countries have been engaged in a long-standing conflict with Armenia, and there is nothing surprising about their desire to try and weaken it. Nevertheless, the motives of the EU leadership are not yet very clear.

Usually, the supporters of the station closure are explaining their position in terms of security considerations. Thus, on 26 April 2017, the day of the 31st anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan once again called upon the international community to turn its attention to the Armenian Nuclear Power Plant. It was stated that the station was built based on the same technologies as the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, that it is located in a seismically hazardous zone, and that no major repairs have ever been carried out on it in all its years of existence, as the RA does not have the means to fully maintain its nuclear power plant. According to the representatives of the Azerbaijani Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Armenian NPP poses a threat to the lives of millions of people in the region of the Caspian, Black and Mediterranean seas.

Most of these statements are untrue. First, the Armenian NPP does not have much in common with the Chernobyl NPP. As mentioned above, the plant was designed taking into account the increased seismicity of the construction area. At the Armenian NPP, VVER-440 reactors were installed that are much more stable than the RBMK reactors operating at Chernobyl. Secondly, the operation of the station is constantly supervised by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which has repeatedly confirmed its security. Other international organizations are also in agreement with the IAEA.

For example, in August-September 2017, The World Association of NPP Operators audited the operation of the Armenian NPP. A panel of experts from eight countries assessed the plant performance in terms of international safety standards. Following this assessment, some of them stated that the level of safety of the Armenian NPP is higher than that of most European nuclear power plants.

The European Union also recently had the opportunity to verify the plant’s security: in the summer of 2016, a group of experts from the European Nuclear Safety Regulators Group and representatives of the European Commission conducted an expert assessment of the report on the “stress test” at the Armenian NPP. It should be recalled that, after the accident at the Japanese station “Fukushima-1” in 2011, it was decided that all European nuclear power plants were to undergo a “stress test,” during which reactors were supposed to operate under conditions close to the conditions of the Fukushima accident. A number of non-EU countries, including Armenia, also voluntarily decided to conduct such tests.

With regard to the maintenance of the Armenian NPP, to which, according to the Azerbaijani MFA, the RA does not have any funds allocated, it should be recalled that, since the relaunching of the station in 1995, Russian specialists from Rosatom have been carrying out the planned repairs. Rosatom is currently in the process of extending the operating life of Power Unit No. 2 of the Armenian NPP in accordance with the agreement that the Russian Federation and Armenia concluded in 2014. In May 2017, the RA Ministry of Energy stated that two thirds of these works had been completed. The Russian party took over the financing of the modernization of the nuclear power plant by allocating Armenia a credit of USD 270 million and a grant of USD 30 million.

Thus, the statements coming from Azerbaijan about the threat posed by the Armenian NPP to the whole region appear groundless. Many experts believe that the large-scale company deployed by Azerbaijan and Turkey against the atomic energy of the Republic of Armenia only has the goal of weakening its old enemy, inflicting it with maximum damage by any means. There is even a perception that the closure of the nuclear power plant is necessary for Azerbaijan in connection with its military plans.

It should be recalled that in April 2016, after more than 20 years of armistice, some fighting broke out between the armed forces of the RA and the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic on the one hand and the Azerbaijan troops on the other. The fighting was soon halted, but after that, some high-ranking Azerbaijani officials began threatening Armenia with a missile attack. One of the reasons why these threats are not yet feasible is the state of the Armenian NPP. Local weather conditions are such that in the event of Azerbaijani missiles hitting a station loaded with nuclear fuel, the wind would carry the resulting radioactive cloud back to Azerbaijani territory. Thus, the NPP is not only an important source of energy for Armenia, but also a defense barrier against military blackmail.

If the behavior of Azerbaijan and its ally Turkey seems understandable, the reason for their support by the European Union is unclear. The EU is not offering Armenia any specific substitution for its nuclear energy. There are only unclear promises of investment in renewable energy sources. Given the precarious financial situation of the EU, its promises should not be relied upon. The RA itself does not have the means to change its energy in a revolutionary manner. It is argued that once it accepts the EU conditions and signs the СЕРА, the country will immediately undergo a new energy crisis or become energy dependent on the countries that would agree to supply Armenia with hydrocarbons. If it were Azerbaijan, the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic could forget its independence. Perhaps Brussels, which is now concerned about the integrity of the EU after Brexit and the events in Catalonia, would welcome such a result.

However, the Armenian Nuclear Power Plant is clearly not scheduled to close in the near future. As mentioned above, Rosatom is now working to extend its term of service to 2026. The possibility of building a new unit equipped with a more modern and safe Russian VVER-1000 reactor is still being discussed. In October 2017, the Russian company TVEL (a subsidiary of Rosatom specializing in the production of nuclear fuel) and the management of the Armenian NPP signed a new major contract for the fuel supply.

At the end of October 2017, there was held a regular meeting of the Security Council for Nuclear Energy under the President of Armenia, at which Armenian leader Serzh Sargsyan stated that the preservation and development of nuclear energy remains a strategic direction for the country.

All this clearly contradicts the conditions of the СЕРА. The EU may have to reconsider its requirements if it wants the treaty to be signed.

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Is the Violent Dismemberment of Russia Official US Policy?

Neocons make the case that the West should not only seek to contain “Moscow’s imperial ambitions” but to actively seek the dismemberment of Russia as a whole.

The Duran

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Authored by Erik D’Amato via The Ron Paul Institute for Peace & Prosperity:


If there’s one thing everyone in today’s Washington can agree on, it’s that whenever an official or someone being paid by the government says something truly outrageous or dangerous, there should be consequences, if only a fleeting moment of media fury.

With one notable exception: Arguing that the US should be quietly working to promote the violent disintegration and carving up of the largest country on Earth.

Because so much of the discussion around US-Russian affairs is marked by hysteria and hyperbole, you are forgiven for assuming this is an exaggeration. Unfortunately it isn’t. Published in the Hill under the dispassionate title “Managing Russia’s dissolution,” author Janusz Bugajski makes the case that the West should not only seek to contain “Moscow’s imperial ambitions” but to actively seek the dismemberment of Russia as a whole.

Engagement, criticism and limited sanctions have simply reinforced Kremlin perceptions that the West is weak and predictable. To curtail Moscow’s neo-imperialism a new strategy is needed, one that nourishes Russia’s decline and manages the international consequences of its dissolution.

Like many contemporary cold warriors, Bugajski toggles back and forth between overhyping Russia’s might and its weaknesses, notably a lack of economic dynamism and a rise in ethnic and regional fragmentation.But his primary argument is unambiguous: That the West should actively stoke longstanding regional and ethnic tensions with the ultimate aim of a dissolution of the Russian Federation, which Bugajski dismisses as an “imperial construct.”

The rationale for dissolution should be logically framed: In order to survive, Russia needs a federal democracy and a robust economy; with no democratization on the horizon and economic conditions deteriorating, the federal structure will become increasingly ungovernable…

To manage the process of dissolution and lessen the likelihood of conflict that spills over state borders, the West needs to establish links with Russia’s diverse regions and promote their peaceful transition toward statehood.

Even more alarming is Bugajski’s argument that the goal should not be self-determination for breakaway Russian territories, but the annexing of these lands to other countries. “Some regions could join countries such as Finland, Ukraine, China and Japan, from whom Moscow has forcefully appropriated territories in the past.”

It is, needless to say, impossible to imagine anything like this happening without sparking a series of conflicts that could mirror the Yugoslav Wars. Except in this version the US would directly culpable in the ignition of the hostilities, and in range of 6,800 Serbian nuclear warheads.

So who is Janusz Bugajski, and who is he speaking for?

The author bio on the Hill’s piece identifies him as a senior fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis, a Washington, D.C. think-tank. But CEPA is no ordinary talk shop: Instead of the usual foundations and well-heeled individuals, its financial backers seem to be mostly arms of the US government, including the Department of State, the Department of Defense, the US Mission to NATO, the US-government-sponsored National Endowment for Democracy, as well as as veritable who’s who of defense contractors, including Raytheon, Bell Helicopter, BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin and Textron. Meanwhile, Bugajski chairs the South-Central Europe area studies program at the Foreign Service Institute of the US Department of State.

To put it in perspective, it is akin to a Russian with deep ties to the Kremlin and arms-makers arguing that the Kremlin needed to find ways to break up the United States and, if possible, have these breakaway regions absorbed by Mexico and Canada. (A scenario which alas is not as far-fetched as it might have been a few years ago; many thousands in California now openly talk of a “Calexit,” and many more in Mexico of a reconquista.)

Meanwhile, it’s hard to imagine a quasi-official voice like Bugajski’s coming out in favor of a similar policy vis-a-vis China, which has its own restive regions, and which in geopolitical terms is no more or less of a threat to the US than Russia. One reason may be that China would consider an American call for secession by the Tibetans or Uyghurs to be a serious intrusion into their internal affairs, unlike Russia, which doesn’t appear to have noticed or been ruffled by Bugajski’s immodest proposal.

Indeed, just as the real scandal in Washington is what’s legal rather than illegal, the real outrage in this case is that few or none in DC finds Bugajski’s virtual declaration of war notable.

But it is. It is the sort of provocation that international incidents are made of, and if you are a US taxpayer, it is being made in your name, and it should be among your outrages of the month.

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At Age 70, Time To Rethink NATO

The architect of Cold War containment, Dr. George Kennan, warned that moving NATO into Eastern Europe and former Soviet republics would prove a “fateful error.”

Patrick J. Buchanan

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Authored by Patrick Buchanan via The Unz Review:


“Treaties are like roses and young girls. They last while they last.”

So said President Charles De Gaulle, who in 1966 ordered NATO to vacate its Paris headquarters and get out of France.

NATO this year celebrates a major birthday. The young girl of 1966 is no longer young. The alliance is 70 years old.

And under this aging NATO today, the U.S. is committed to treat an attack on any one of 28 nations from Estonia to Montenegro to Romania to Albania as an attack on the United States.

The time is ripe for a strategic review of these war guarantees to fight a nuclear-armed Russia in defense of countries across the length of Europe that few could find on a map.

Apparently, President Donald Trump, on trips to Europe, raised questions as to whether these war guarantees comport with vital U.S. interests and whether they could pass a rigorous cost-benefit analysis.

The shock of our establishment that Trump even raised this issue in front of Europeans suggests that the establishment, frozen in the realities of yesterday, ought to be made to justify these sweeping war guarantees.

Celebrated as “the most successful alliance in history,” NATO has had two histories. Some of us can yet recall its beginnings.

In 1948, Soviet troops, occupying eastern Germany all the way to the Elbe and surrounding Berlin, imposed a blockade on the city.

The regime in Prague was overthrown in a Communist coup. Foreign minister Jan Masaryk fell, or was thrown, from a third-story window to his death. In 1949, Stalin exploded an atomic bomb.

As the U.S. Army had gone home after V-E Day, the U.S. formed a new alliance to protect the crucial European powers — West Germany, France, Britain, Italy. Twelve nations agreed that an attack on one would be treated as an attack on them all.

Cross the Elbe and you are at war with us, including the U.S. with its nuclear arsenal, Stalin was, in effect, told. Hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops returned to Europe to send the message that America was serious.

Crucial to the alliance was the Yalta line dividing Europe agreed to by Stalin, FDR and Churchill at the 1945 Crimean summit on the Black Sea.

U.S. presidents, even when monstrous outrages were committed in Soviet-occupied Europe, did not cross this line into the Soviet sphere.

Truman did not send armored units up the highway to Berlin. He launched an airlift to break the Berlin blockade. Ike did not intervene to save the Hungarian rebels in 1956. JFK confined his rage at the building of the Berlin Wall to the rhetorical: “Ich bin ein Berliner.”

LBJ did nothing to help the Czechs when, before the Democratic convention in 1968, Leonid Brezhnev sent Warsaw Pact tank armies to crush the Prague Spring.

When the Solidarity movement of Lech Walesa was crushed in Gdansk, Reagan sent copy and printing machines. At the Berlin Wall in 1988, he called on Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall.”

Reagan never threatened to tear it down himself.

But beginning in 1989, the Wall was torn down, Germany was united, the Red Army went home, the Warsaw Pact dissolved, the USSR broke apart into 15 nations, and Leninism expired in its birthplace.

As the threat that had led to NATO disappeared, many argued that the alliance created to deal with that threat should be allowed to fade away, and a free and prosperous Europe should now provide for its own defense.

It was not to be. The architect of Cold War containment, Dr. George Kennan, warned that moving NATO into Eastern Europe and former Soviet republics would prove a “fateful error.”

This, said Kennan, would “inflame the nationalistic and militaristic tendencies in Russian opinion” and “restore the atmosphere of the cold war in East-West relations.” Kennan was proven right.

America is now burdened with the duty to defend Europe from the Atlantic to the Baltic, even as we face a far greater threat in China, with an economy and population 10 times that of Russia.

And we must do this with a defense budget that is not half the share of the federal budget or the GDP that Eisenhower and Kennedy had.

Trump is president today because the American people concluded that our foreign policy elite, with their endless interventions where no vital U.S. interest was imperiled, had bled and virtually bankrupted us, while kicking away all of the fruits of our Cold War victory.

Halfway into Trump’s term, the question is whether he is going to just talk about halting Cold War II with Russia, about demanding that Europe pay for its own defense, and about bringing the troops home — or whether he is going to act upon his convictions.

Our foreign policy establishment is determined to prevent Trump from carrying out his mandate. And if he means to carry out his agenda, he had best get on with it.

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Photos of new Iskander base near Ukrainian border creates media hype

But research into the photos and cross-checking of news reports reveals only the standard anti-Russian narrative that has gone on for years.

Seraphim Hanisch

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Fox News obtained satellite photos that claim that Russia has recently installed new Iskander missile batteries, one of them “near” to the Ukrainian border. However, what the Fox article does not say is left for the reader to discover: that in regards to Ukraine, these missiles are probably not that significant, unless the missiles are much longer range than reported:

The intelligence report provided to Fox by Imagesat International showed the new deployment in Krasnodar, 270 miles from the Ukrainian border. In the images is visible what appears to be an Iskander compound, with a few bunkers and another compound of hangars. There is a second new installation that was discovered by satellite photos, but this one is much farther to the east, in the region relatively near to Ulan-Ude, a city relatively close to the Mongolian border.

Both Ukraine and Mongolia are nations that have good relations with the West, but Mongolia has good relations with both its immediate neighbors, Russia and China, and in fact participated with both countries in the massive Vostok-2018 military war-games earlier this year.

Fox News provided these photos of the Iskander emplacement near Krasnodar:

Imagesat International

Fox annotated this photo in this way:

Near the launcher, there is a transloader vehicle which enables quick reloading of the missiles into the launcher. One of the bunker’s door is open, and another reloading vehicle is seen exiting from it.

[Fox:] The Iskander ballistic missile has a range up to 310 miles, and can carry both unconventional as well as nuclear warheads, putting most of America’s NATO allies at risk. The second deployment is near the border with Mongolia, in Ulan-Ude in Sothern Russia, where there are four launchers and another reloading vehicle.

[Fox:] Earlier this week, Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of Russia’s Security Council, said authorities of the former Soviet republic are being “controlled” by the West, warning it stands to lose its independence and identity as a consequence. “The continuation of such policy by the Kiev authorities can contribute to the loss of Ukraine’s statehood,” Mr Patrushev told Rossiyskaya Gazeta, according to Russian news agency TASS.

This situation was placed by Fox in context with the Kerch Strait incident, in which three Ukrainian vessels and twenty-four crew and soldiers were fired upon by Russian coast guard ships as they manuevered in the Kerch Strait without permission from Russian authorities based in Crimea. There are many indications that this incident was a deliberate attempt on the part of Ukraine’s president Petro Poroshenko, to create a sensational incident, possibly to bolster his flagging re-election campaign. After the incident, the President blustered and set ten provinces in Ukraine under martial law for 30 days, insisting to the world, and especially to the United States, that Russia was “preparing to invade” his country.

Russia expressed no such sentiment in any way, but they are holding the soldiers until the end of January. However, on January 17th, a Moscow court extended the detention of eight of these captured Ukrainian sailors despite protests from Kyiv and Washington.

In addition to the tensions in Ukraine, the other significant point of disagreement between the Russian Federation and the US is the US’ plan to withdraw from the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF). Russia sees this treaty as extremely important, but the US point of view expressed by John Bolton, National Security Adviser, is that the treaty is useless because it does not include any other parties that have intermediate range nukes or the capability for them, such as Iran, North Korea, and China. This is an unsolved problem, and it is possible that the moves of the Iskander batteries is a subtle warning from the Russians that they really would rather the US stay in the treaty.

Discussions on this matter at public levels between the Russian government and the US have been very difficult because of the fierce anti-Russia and anti-Trump campaigns in the media and political establishments of the United States. President Putin and President Trump have both expressed the desire to meet, but complications like the Kerch Strait Incident conveniently arise, and have repeatedly disrupted the attempts for these two leaders to meet.

Where Fox News appears to get it wrong shows in a few places:

First, the known range for Iskander missiles maxes at about 310 miles. The placement of the battery near Krasnodar is 270 miles from the eastern Ukrainian border, but the eastern part of Ukraine is Russian-friendly and two provinces, Donetsk and Lugansk, are breakaway provinces acting as independent republics. The battery appears to be no threat to Kyiv or to that part of Ukraine which is aligned with the West. Although the missiles could reach into US ally Georgia, Krasnodar is 376 miles from Tbilisi, and so again it seems that there is no significant target for these missiles. (This is assuming the location given is accurate.)

Second, the location shown in the photo is (44,47,29.440N at 39,13,04.754E). The date on the “Krasnodar” photo is January 17, 2019. However, a photo of the region taken July 24, 2018 reveals a different layout. It takes a moment or two to study this, but there is not much of an exact match here:

Third, Fox News reported of “further Russian troops deployment and S-400 Surface to air missile days after the escalation started, hinting Russia might have orchestrated the naval incident.”

It may be true that Russia deployed weapons to this base area in Crimea, but this is now Russian territory. S-400s can be used offensively, but their primary purpose is defensive. Troops on the Crimean Peninsula, especially at this location far to the north of the area, are not in a position strategically to invade Kherson Oblast (a pushback would probably corner such forces on the Crimean peninsula with nowhere to go except the Black Sea). However, this does look like a possible defense installation should Ukraine’s forces try to invade or bomb Crimea.

Fox has this wrong, but it is no great surprise, because the American stance about Ukraine and Russia is similar – Russia can do no right, and Ukraine can do no wrong. Fox News is not monolithic on this point of view, of course, with anchors and journalists such as Tucker Carlson, who seem willing to acknowledge the US propaganda about the region. However, there are a lot of hawks as well. While photos in the articles about the S-400s and the Russian troops are accurately located, it does appear that the one about Iskanders is not, and that the folks behind this original article are guessing that the photos will not be questioned. After all, no one in the US knows where anything is in Russia and Ukraine, anyway, right?

That there is an issue here is likely. But is it appears that there is strong evidence that it is opposite what Fox reported here, it leaves much to be questioned.

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