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North Korea launches most powerful missile in its history

According to the United States, the missile launched by the DPRK can hit “anywhere in the world”.

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After an unusually long respite in missile and nuclear tests given the current political atmosphere, North Korea has launched a ballistic missile for the first time since the 15th of September.

The launch was confirmed by South Korean authorities after Japan detected pre-launch radio activity from the DPRK which Tokyo indicated is often a prelude to a test launch.

The missile landed in the Sea of Japan not far from the Japanese coast and is believed to be an intercontinental ballistic missile, the most powerful of its kind ever tested by North Korea.

Sputnik reports,

“The missile flew at least 10 times higher in space than the orbit altitude of the International Space Station and could have a range of 6,500 miles if it had flown on a standard trajectory, according to Yonhap. The ISS orbits roughly 250 miles above earth”.

Commenting on the launch, US Defense Secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis stated that the latest missile launched by North Korea was, “higher, frankly, than any previous shot they have taken”. He further stated that such a missile could hit “anywhere in the world”.

Russia and China continue to push for a double-freeze on military tests and drills on both sides of the 38th parallel while Moscow in particular has called for a tripartite economic cooperation plan between Russia, the DPRK (North Korea) and the ROK (South Korea):

The contrasting Russian/Chinese vs. US models for geo-economic diplomacy

“The genesis of Russia’s North Korea policy is best apprehended through an understanding of Russia’s diplomatic and economic goals for Asia and the so-called wider ‘Global South’. Russia’s manner of achieving things in the diplomatic arena, is linked indelibly with Russia’s wider geo-economic style of diplomacy. For Russia, peace and cooperation are achieved through initiatives involving economic inter-connectivity. By establishing joint-economic projects, in areas including  energy cooperation and the establishing of new trading zones (free trade or with substantial reductions in traditional tariffs), Russia aims to ease geo-political pressure points through the incentive of prosperity that comes through countries having mutual shares in multilateral endeavours.

One sees this in the Middle East where Russia continues to enhance cooperation with Syria, Iran, Iraq and Lebanon–all members of the geo-political northern bloc of the Middle East, while also maintaining good relations with Saudi Arabia, it’s rival Qatar and America’s traditional ally in Tel Aviv, while also re-starting intensified good relations with Egypt.

In East Asia, Russia continues to expand relations with South Korea, in spite of Seoul’s ties to Washington. It is no coincidence that South Korea is increasingly responsive to Russian diplomatic measures at a time when trade between the two-countries looks set to rapidly expand.

Implicit in the burgeoning relationship between Moscow and Seoul is the prospect for the tripartite economic cooperation initiative between Russia and the two Korean states, that was first proposed by Vladimir Putin at the Eastern Economic Forum held in Vladivostok shortly after this year’s BRICS summit.

Both North and South Korean officials, including President Moon Jae-in attended the meeting. Officials from both Korean states were responsive to Putin’s proposals for joint economic initiatives, including the possibility of energy and logistical transport corridors that would link all thee countries.

At the time and in subsequent statements, the North Korean government said that the only thing prohibiting Pyongyang from embracing the proposals immediately, was continued fears about threats to the DPRK’s security due to increased US military activities in South Korea.

This is why the double-freeze is crucial for the success of such joint initiatives and it is why Russia is in close contact with South Korea regarding the matter. According to the double-freeze, North Korea must halt the testing of new weapons, while South Korea, the US and Japan must do the same, while also ceasing with provocative military exercises in the region.

Russia is clearly attempting to convince South Korea to help and de-escalate joint US military activities in the region, something President Moon Jae-in has been receptive to in the past. In late October of this year, Seoul and Beijing reached an agreement whereby it would appear South Korea has agreed not to receive further US made and operated THAAD missile systems, a key demand from China. As a result, South Korea and China have quickly normalised economic and diplomatic activities, while the contents of the agreement have only been partly revealed.

A similar agreement will need to be struck with Russia, entailing further commitments from Seoul to de-militarise certain aspects of US made armaments in the country, in order for Russia to feel confident in further leveraging the DPRK to reciprocate.

Russia is perfectly clear about how seriously it takes the security concerns in both Korean states and it will certainly take intense negotiations with both sides to reach a point where the double-freeze can take shape.

In many ways, China is now in closer communication with South Korea than with its historic Northern partner. While China remains fully committed to the double-freeze and to joint regional economic initiatives as part of the One Belt–One Road project, China’s relations with Pyongyang are at an all time low. Under Kim Jong-un, Pyongyang and Beijing have failed to see eye to eye on numerous occasions. However, Russia’s relationship with Pyongyang is, if anything, growing stronger and China is happy for Russia to take the diplomatic lead in this area. In this sense, one should not over-hype the strains between Beijing and Pyongyang as the US under Donald Trump is often inclined to do. In reality, as long as Russia continues in its diplomatic discussions with both Korean states and with China, all parties will eventually be satisfied, as each party will be able to air its concerns to a receptive diplomatic partner.

The biggest stumbling block to the entire process is the United States and the reasons for this have everything to do with Washington’s approach to geo-politics and geo-economics. Contemporary US geo-politics, especially in the Trump era, appears to boil down to merely two things:

1. Attempts to create points of tensions along key areas of One Belt–One Road

2. Attempts to exploit as many traditional conflicts as possible, so as to sell more expensive military hardware to traditional partners

Increasingly, these two elements of US foreign policy go hand-in-hand. One sees it in respect of the US arming India and siding with India in its disputes with both China and Pakistan. One sees it in the Middle East where the US continues to sell expensive weapons to Saudi Arabia while encouraging Riyadh’s anti-Iranian rhetoric. One sees it  in South East Asia where the US is openly trying to stand in the way of would-be rapprochement between Vietnam and China and of course, one sees it in East Asia where Trump has touted weapons sales to Japan as a means of ‘containing’ North Korea.

Far from de-escalating conflicts, the US model of geo-economics seeks to exploit conflicts for the sake of weapons sales. Nowhere is this more true than in respect of the Korean crisis, where one of the world’s longest standing frozen conflicts has heated up due to the US rhetoric against North Korea which seemed to spontaneously become highly aggressive starting in April of 2017.

Russia has far fewer economic ties to the United States than China. Russia’s goal therefore is to use diplomatic skill to try and convince the US to be a less obstructionist power in the aforementioned conflicts. As this is likely to fail, Russia looks increasingly to built its economic relations with traditional US partners and in doing so, show the United States that the zero-sum mentality which is implicit in its foreign policy, is not economically prudent and mutually beneficial in the long term.

This strategy involves helping traditional US partners, who often act as though fully dependant on the US, to achieve and more independent and consequently balanced foreign policy, thus giving these states their own form of leverage to use against the authoritarian style of US foreign policy.

Russia’s relationship with South Korea is a demonstrative of such a policy. With this context in mind, the following are the key highlights from Igor Morgulov’s speech in South Korea.

“Unfortunately, I have to say that the apocalyptic version of developments in this region exists and I very much hope that there will be enough common sense among the regional community to prevent this negative scenario from happening….

…I do not think that the tightening of pressure would lead to the results, which the authors of such policy expect. I am sure that if the goal is to make North Korea to abandon nuclear weapons and missile programs, it would be the last thing which North Koreans will give up as a result … further strengthening of sanctions against North Korea may lead this country to the brink of humanitarian crisis…

…Does someone believe in illusions that the words of the US President on ’fire and fury’ attack or constant North Korean threats to turn magnificent city of Seoul into ‘sea of flames’, does someone really think that these threats could cut the knot, which for so many years have been tied around the peninsula? We would be naive to think that any of the sides in this confrontation is going to give in under pressure…

…What theme of talks could be proposed in the first place? It is very simple: the principles of peaceful coexistence. I’m sure that that the lack of such an agreement on principles of mutual coexistence sparks mutual mistrust and bad blood [between the United States and North Korea]…

…The alternative to dialogue and negotiations does not exist. But in order to start this dialogue, it is important to first of all slow down and breath out, as they say…

…A mutually negative influence of [North Korean missile] tests and [US] drills is beyond doubt…

…We have presented the points of this roadmap to both sides [North Korea and the United States], I want to note that this plan has not been dismissed right away, neither in Washington, nor in Pyongyang…

…Moreover, we have engaged in discussion of some elements of this plan separately with the United States and with North Korea, which shows that a discussion based on this suggestion is possible. The work began, but, unfortunately US actions in October-November, I mean the military drills, have seriously impeded our dialogue on settlement based on this roadmap…

…We believe that on the second stage of roadmap implementation the intra-Korean dialogue could be resumed. We know that our South Korean friends are ready for such work and hope that the North will also show interest…

…The gas project is at the most advanced stage of the implementation, but the political situation unveiling on the [Korean] Peninsula does not let [us] bring the project into life. We hope that the political conditions for the implementation of this project, which is beneficial for all three sides, will emerge in the foreseeable future”.

This speech represents Russia’s most clear indication that it indirectly, yet unambiguously blames the US for obstructing the joint-economic initiatives between the two Korean states and Russia and that the prolonging of such tensions can only be mutually detrimental to all sides. While Russia still must convince the US down from its obstructionist position, it is clear that when it comes to offering practical, workable and mutually beneficial proposals for East Asia, Russia is taking the diplomatic and economic lead”.

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Rod Rosenstein resigns from his post before President Trump can fire him

Rosenstein’s comments about secretly recording the President backfire, and resignation may throw the Mueller Russiagate probe into question.

Seraphim Hanisch

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The Washington Times broke the story that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein resigned from his post. He submitted his resignation to Chief of Staff John Kelly.  At present the breaking story says the following:

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is out at the Department of Justice.

Axios reported that Mr. Rosenstein verbally resigned to White House Chief Of Staff John Kelly, but CNN said that he is expecting to be fired.

Sarah Isgur Flores, a Department of Justice spokeswoman, declined to comment on the reports.

Mr. Rosenstein’s departure immediately throws Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russian collusion probe into chaos.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the investigation, leaving Mr. Rosenstein in charge.

President Trump mulled firing the No. 2 at the Department of Justice over the weekend.

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This report came after Fox News reported that the Deputy AG was summoned to the White House. Fox reported a little more detail:

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is heading to the White House expecting to be fired, sources tell Fox News, in the wake of a report that he suggested wearing a wire against President Trump and invoking the 25th Amendment to remove him from office last year.

This is a developing story, however one major factor that comes under consideration is the fate of Robert Mueller and his Russiagate investigation, which was authorized by Rosenstein. CNBC had this to say in their piece:

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is resigning Monday, according to Axios, which cited a source familiar with the matter.

NBC News’ Pete Williams, however, reported that Rosenstein would not resign of his own accord, and that he will only depart if the White House fired him. He will refuse to resign if asked to do so, Williams added.

Rosenstein was at the White House when Williams reported this on the air. However, President Donald Trump is in New York for the United Nations General Assembly.

Bloomberg later reported that the White House accepted Rosenstein’s resignation, citing a person familiar with the matter.

Rosenstein’s expected resignation will immediately raise questions about the fate of the ongoing investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller, who is probing Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, and possible obstruction of justice by President Donald Trump.

Rosenstein’s job security was called into question after The New York Times reported last week that the No. 2 DOJ official had discussed invoking the 25th amendment to remove Trump, and had also talked about surreptitiously recording the president.

Rosenstein oversees the special counsel investigation, and has appointed Mueller to run the Russia probe last year, after Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the case.

The special counsel’s office declined to comment on the report.

The White House did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment on Axios’ report. The Justice Department did not immediately respond to CNBC’s inquiry.

Trump has repeatedly blasted Mueller’s inquiry, which also is focused on possible collusion with Russia by members of the Trump campaign.

He has called the investigation a “witch hunt,” and has repeatedly vented frustration about Sessions’ recusal, which directly led to Mueller’s appointment by Rosenstein.

Rosenstein’s expected departure comes on the heels of a guilty plea by Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort to conspiracy charges related to his consulting work in Ukraine, which predates his role on the campaign.

As part of the investigation, Mueller’s team has been locked in an ongoing back-and-forth with Trump’s legal team over an in-person interview with the president.

Trump’s lawyers, including former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, have signaled that Trump is unwilling to sit for an interview, calling it a “perjury trap” and setting up a potential challenge for Mueller to subpoena the president.

This story is developing. Please check back for updates.

 

 

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European Council crushes Theresa May’s soft Brexit dream (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 116.

Alex Christoforou

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UK Prime Minister Theresa May hoped that the European Council was ready to see things her way, in terms of proceeding with a soft Brexit, which was essentially no Brexit at all…at least not the hard Brexit that was voted on in a democratic referendum approximately two years ago.

Much to May’s surprise, European Council President Donald Tusk delivered a death blow verdict for May’s Brexit, noting that EU leaders are in full agreement that Chequers plan for Brexit “will not work” because “it risks undermining the single market.”

Without a miracle compromise springing up come during the October summit, the UK will drift into the March 29, 2019 deadline without a deal and out of the European Union…which was initially what was voted for way back in 2016, leaving everyone asking, what the hell was May doing wasting Britain’s time and resources for two years, so as to return back to the hard Brexit terms she was charged with carrying forward after the 2016 referendum?

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss what was a disastrous EU summit in Salzburg for UK PM Theresa May, in what looks to be the final nail in May’s tenure as UK Prime Minister, as a hard Brexit now seems all but certain.

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Via Zerohedge

Tusk was speaking at the end of an EU summit in Salzburg, where the leaders of the 27 remaining states in the bloc were discussing Brexit. He said that while there were “positive elements” in May’s Chequers plan, a deal that puts the single market at risk cannot be accepted.

“Everybody shared the view that while there are positive elements in the Chequers proposal, the suggested framework for economic co-operation will not work, not least because it is undermining the single market,” Tusk said. He also said that he could not “exclude” the possibility that the UK could exit the EU in March with no deal.

May has been urging her European counterparts to accept her controversial Chequers plan which has split both the Conservative party and the broader UK population after it was thrashed out back in July. However, despite the painfully-slow negotiation process, which appears to have made little headway with just a few months left, the UK is set to leave the EU on March 29 2019 – with or without an exit deal.

The main sticking point that has emerged, and left May and the EU at loggerheads, has been how to avoid new checks on the Irish border. May has claimed that her proposals were the “only serious, credible” way to avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland. She said during a press conference after the Salzburg meeting that she would not accept the EU’s “backstop” plan to avoid a Northern Ireland hard border. She said the UK would shortly be bringing forward its own proposals.

May also said that there was “a lot of hard work to be done,” adding that the UK was also preparing for the eventuality of having to leave the EU without a deal. Tusk, meanwhile, said that the upcoming October summit would be the “moment of truth” for reaching a deal, and that “if the conditions are there” another summit would be held in November to “formalize” it.

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Russia makes HUGE strides in drone technology

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The US and Israel are universally recognized leaders in the development and use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones. Thousands of American and Israeli UAVs are operating across the world daily.

The US military has recently successfully tested an air-to-air missile to turn its MQ-9 Reaper drone into an effective long-endurance, high-altitude surveillance unmanned spy aircraft capable of air-to-surface as well as air-to-air missions. This is a major breakthrough. It’s not a secret that Russia has been lagging behind in UAV development. Now its seems to be going to change with tangible progress made to narrow the gap.

Very few nations boast drones capable of high-altitude long endurance (HALE) missions. Russia is to enter the club of the chosen. In late 2017, the Russian Defense Ministry awarded a HALE UAV contract to the Kazan-based Simonov design bureau.

This month, Russian Zvezda military news TV channel showed a video (below) of Altair (Altius) heavy drone prototype aircraft number “03”, going through its first flight test.

Propelled by two RED A03/V12 500hp high fuel efficiency diesel engines, each producing a capacity of 500 hp on takeoff, the 5-ton heavy vehicle with a wingspan of 28.5 meters boasts a maximum altitude of 12km and a range of 10,000km at a cruising speed of 150-250km/h.

Wingspan: about 30 meters. Maximum speed: up to 950 km/h. Flight endurance: 48 hours. Payload: two tons, which allows the creation of a strike version. The vehicle is able to autonomously take off and land or be guided by an operator from the ground.

The UAV can carry the usual range of optical and thermal sensors as well as synthetic-aperture ground-surveillance radar with the resolution of .1 meter at the range of 35km and 1 meter at the range of 125km. The communications equipment allows real-time data exchange.

Russia’s UAV program currently underway includes the development of a range of large, small, and mid-sized drones. The Orion-E medium altitude long endurance (MALE) UAV was unveiled at the MAKS 2017 air show. Its developer, Kronstadt Technologies, claims it could be modified for strike missions. The one-ton drone is going through testing now. The Orion-E is capable of automatic takeoff and landing.

It can fly continuously for 24 hours, carrying a surveillance payload of up to 200 kg to include a forward looking infra-red (FLIR) turret, synthetic aperture radar and high resolution cameras. The drone can reach a maximum altitude of 7,500 m. Its range is 250 km.

The Sukhoi design bureau is currently developing the Okhotnik (Hunter) strike drone with a range of about 3,500km. The drone made its maiden flight this year. In its current capacity, it has an anti-radar coating, and will store missiles and precision-guided bombs internally to avoid radar detection.

The Kazan-based Eniks Design Bureau is working on the small T-16 weaponized aerial vehicle able to carry 6 kg of payload.

The new Russian Korsar (Corsair) tactical surveillance unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) will be upgraded to receive an electronic warfare system. Its operational range will be increased from 150km to 250km. The drone was revealed at Victory Day military parade along with the Korsar unmanned combat helicopter version.

The rotary wing drone lacks the speed and altitude of the fixed wing variant, but has a great advantage of being able to operate without landing strips and can be sea-based. Both drones can carry guided and unguided munitions. The fixed-wing version can be armed with Ataka 9M120 missiles.

The first Russian helicopter-type unmanned aerial vehicle powered by hydrogen fuel cells was presented at the Army-2018 international forum. With the horizontal cruising speed of the drone up to 60 kph, the unmanned chopper can stay in the air at least 2.5 hours to conduct reconnaissance operations. Its payload is up to 5 kg.

Last November, the Kalashnikov Concern reported that it would start production of heavy unmanned aerial vehicles capable of carrying up to several tons of cargo and operating for several days at a time without needing to recharge.

All in all, the Russian military operate 1,900 drones on a daily basis. The multi-purpose Orlan-10 with a range of 600km has become a working horse that no military operation, including combat actions in Syria, can be conducted without. Maj. Gen. Alexander Novikov,
the head of the Russian General Staff’s Office for UAV Development, Russian drones performed over 23,000 flights, lasting 140,000 hours in total.

Russia’s State Armament Program for 2018-2027 puts the creation of armed UAVs at the top of priorities’ list. Looks like the effort begins to pay off. Russia is well on the way to become second to none in UAV capability.

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Via Strategic Culture

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