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Experts warn Ukraine’s nuclear power plants in grave condition

Kiev’s Russophobia is putting the world at risk of multiple nuclear meltdowns

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(Oriental Review) – With the onset of winter and the increasing strain on Ukraine’s energy system, the threat of a new nuclear disaster in Central Europe is becoming more than just a theoretical danger. According to analysts from Energy Research & Social Science(ERSS), there is an 80% probability of a “serious accident” at one of Ukraine’s nuclear power plants before the year 2020. This is due both to the increased burden on the nuclear plants caused by the widespread shutdowns of Ukraine’s thermal power plants (the raw material they consumed – coal from the Donbass – is in critically short supply) and also because of the severe physical deterioration of their Soviet-era nuclear equipment and the catastrophic underfunding of this industry.

Should such an incident occur, the EU would not only be faced with the potential environmental consequences, but also – given the recent introduction of visa-free travel – a large-scale exodus of Ukrainians out of contaminated areas.

Let’s start by taking a brief tour of the Ukrainian nuclear industry:

Ukraine currently has four operating nuclear power plants: the Zaporizhia (the largest in Europe, with six reactors and a combined power output of 6,000 MW), the Rivne (four reactors and a combined power output of 2,880 MW), the Khmelnitskiy (two reactors and a combined power output of 2,000 MW), and the South Ukraine (three reactors and a combined power output of 3,000 MW):

The Chernobyl plant with its four reactors was finally shut down for good in 2000.

Of the 15 nuclear reactors currently operating in Ukraine, 12 were brought online during the Soviet era, prior to 1990. All of them rely on the classic type of VVER nuclear reactors that were designed during the 1960s and 1970s at the Kurchatov Institute in Moscow. Those reactors should have a maximum life expectancy of 30 years. But as of today, 10 of the 15 reactors operating in Ukraine have already outlasted their expected service life.

And all the while, the strain on Ukraine’s crumbling reactors constantly increases due to the dramatic decline in the availability of anthracite reserves from the Donbass at the country’s thermal power plants (by mid-2017, electricity production at Ukraine’s thermal power plants had dropped to almost half of 2013’s output, down to just over 50 billion kWh per year). According to Energoatom, the state company that runs Ukraine’s nuclear plants, in 2016 those plants were operating at only 65.5% of their total capacity, but by January 2017 they were up to 77.6%.During the first half of 2017, Ukraine’s nuclear power plants produced more than 45 billion kWh of electricity (up 13% compared to 2016), which means that they were responsible for 58% – an unprecedented share – of the country’s total energy matrix.

Today Ukraine is desperately squeezing out the last drops of use from its decrepit Soviet-era nuclear facilities.

The situation is being aggravated by Ukrainian energy officials, who are under political pressure to find a substitute for the nuclear fuel made by the Russian company TVEL. Thus at a number of reactors they have made repeated attempts to instead use a product made by the Westinghouse Electric Company, an American-Japanese corporation.

It is astonishing how the Ukrainians have entirely ignored the painful experiences of the Czechs. Back in 1996, the Czech Temelín nuclear plant (built by the Soviet Union) signed a contract with Westinghouse. After the reactors at the plant were fed an American fuel that had been designed to mimic the Russian TVEL product, the plant was forced to repeatedly refuel the reactors ahead of schedule, because the American assemblies leaked and exhibited structural defects. The scientists at Westinghouse could not correct the problem. In addition to the threat of a nuclear accident, the faulty fuel assemblies significantly increased the costs of producing electricity, since the reactors had to be continually shut down to replace the American parts. As a result, after yet another major accident in January 2007, the Czech Republic refused to purchase further fuel from the US and by 2010 Temelín had fully returned to the use of Russian TVEL products.

The Czech Temelin nuclear power station had effectively got rid of the counterfeit Westinghouse fuel by 2010.

Ukraine has been experimenting with American-made clones of Russian fuel assemblies since 2005. That was the year that Energoatom shipped six TVS-WR assemblies manufactured by Westinghouse to the South Ukraine nuclear plant and began their pre-installation inspection. As a result of their experiments, it was concluded that the American fuel assemblies were defective. However, they still decided to proceed to the next stage of the experiment – the annual loading of the reactor using this fuel. In 2008, Energoatom and a Swedish subsidiary of Westinghouse signed an agreement to supply the South Ukraine nuclear plant with enough American fuel for the scheduled annual partial refueling of the three reactors from 2011 to 2015.

However, as early as April 2012, malfunctions in the American assemblies were noted at the reactors of the South Ukraine nuclear plant. In an emergency procedure, all the TVS-WR assemblies were completely unloaded from the reactors after they were found to be damaged, mainly due to structural flaws in the spacer grids. As a result, in 2013, following a thorough inspection, Ukraine’s State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate instituted a total ban on the use of American fuel at Ukrainian nuclear plants.

But the victory of the Revolution of Dignity has once again cleared the path for American TVS-WRs to be used in Ukraine. In April 2014, Kiev carefully reassembled the torn-up scraps of its old contract with Westinghouse and decided to give things another go. The media reported that American fuel was subsequently loaded into reactor no. 3 at the South Ukraine nuclear plant (March 2015), reactor no. 5 at the Zaporizhia nuclear plant (June 2016), and reactor no. 2 at the South Ukraine nuclear plant (August 2017). The consequences were soon evident.

In February 2016 there was an emergency shutdown of reactor no. 3 at the South Ukraine nuclear plant “due to an increase in the level of coolant in the steam generator.” As local residents reported on social media, the area surrounding the nuclear plant was immediately cordoned off by the military. And on March 23, 2016, operations at the South Ukraine nuclear plant were completely suspended for an entire day!

The Zaporizhia nuclear plant has already undergone a dozen emergency shutdowns of its reactors since 2014. For example, in November 2015, military troops in the Zaporizhia region beefed up their safety measures after the reactors at the nuclear plant suffered an emergency power loss – all of the soldiers and officers were issued special equipment to protect themselves from radiation and chemicals. But no official comment was forthcoming about the incident.

Curiously enough, in May 2015 the Guardian published a bombshell report, claiming that over 3,000 spent nuclear fuel rods were being stored in metal casks in an open-air yard on the grounds of the Zaporizhia nuclear plant. Apparently these were Russian TVEL assemblies that had been hastily stored after being replaced with the TVS-WRs. This would seem to indicate that experiments to introduce the defective fuel rods into the reactor cores at the Zaporizhia nuclear plant were being conducted long before the reactor was officially brought online using American fuel in June 2016.

This being the case, the time line of accidents at the Zaporizhia nuclear plant can be viewed in a different light:

Nov. 28, 2014 – There was an emergency shutdown of reactor no. 3 after the automatic system that prevents damage to the core was activated.

July 18, 2015 – There was an emergency shutdown of reactor no. 1 in connection with the automatic shutdown of the pump responsible for cooling the nuclear reactor.

April 11, 2016 – There was an emergency shutdown of reactor no. 6 at the Zaporizhia nuclear plant in connection with the depressurization of the gas system of the turbogenerator. The local media reported a 10-fold increase in radiation levels around the station.

May 18, 2016 – There was an emergency shutdown of reactor no. 4 due to damage to the transformer.

August 14, 2016 – Reactor no. 5, the first at Zaporizhia to have been loaded with the Westinghouse knockoff product, was sent out for repairs.

Sept. 20, 2016 – Reactor no. 6 was taken off-line for “scheduled maintenance” (at the very start of the winter heating season!).

Oct. 24, 2016 – There was an emergency shutdown of reactor no. 2, only two and a half weeks after being overhauled.

In March 2017, at the peak of the energy crisis, that same reactor had to be taken off-line again.

April 18, 2017 – There was yet another emergency shutdown of reactor no. 6.

In early August 2017, reactor no. 4 was taken off-line for “scheduled maintenance work.”

As a result, only two of the six reactors at the Zaporizhia nuclear plant are currently fully serviceable. Overall, the accident rate at Ukraine’s nuclear plants has increased 400% since 2010!

The report from Energy Research & Social Science mentioned above also stressed that “[i]n Ukraine, for example, most nuclear energy accidents and incidents have not been included in databases over the past several years, although state Media confirmed their occurrence.”

In addition to the use of knockoff fuel, the biggest reason for the increased number of incidents at Ukraine’s nuclear plants has been the chronic underfunding of the industry. In the 25 years since the collapse of the USSR, literally not a cent has been invested in that sector. But in the meantime, the reactors that have outlived their 30-year lifespan either need to be closed (which would cost money that Energoatom does not have) or have their service life extended. Naturally, the Ukrainians are pursuing the second option. Ideally, when the operational life of a nuclear plant is extended, that should involve a major overhaul and updates. The estimated costs of extending the lifespan of a single reactor range from $150-180 million. But neither Energoatom nor the government of Ukraine has that kind of money, nor do they expect to find it anytime soon, hence the authorization to extend the operation of the reactors is a pure formality. Judging by publicly-accessible reports, regular 10-year extensions on the service life of Ukrainian nuclear reactors are granted readily and without arguments. However, the internal documents from Energoatom that were released this week by Cyber-Berkut paint quite a different picture.

Cyber-Berkut Documents

Cyber-Berkut obtained access to documents from government offices in Austria, Romania, Moldova, Belarus, Greenpeace, and the Bankwatch network of environmental NGOs, dated from the summer of 2017, which sound the alarm about Energoatom’s plans to prolong the operation of these old reactors.

The most informative of these is a chart drawn up by the Ukrainians listing all the grievances put forth by their foreign partners, plus their own responses (the document is primarily written in Ukrainian).

The first fact that jumps out is that Kiev arbitrarily decided to extend the operation of the reactors back in 2015, but it was not until 2017 – after the fact – that it sent that (pre-approved) program to update the nuclear plants to its neighboring countries and international environmental organizations for study.

This was a simultaneous breach of two UN Conventions that require signatories to obtain public and intergovernmental approval prior to (not after) commencing work at a nuclear power plant: the Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment (the 1991 Espoo Convention) and the Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (the 1998 Aarhus Convention). Jan Haverkamp, a recognized expert in nuclear energy and a Greenpeace staffer, writes about this issue specifically:

The Ukrainian response to him (third column) states, “The State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate [the Ukrainian acronym is ДIЯРУ – OR] is an independent body and its actions are not subject to these conventions [!!!-OR]”

Echoing Mr. Haverkamp, Bankwatch’s Romanian representative, Maria Seman, also raises a red flag:

In accordance with the Aarhus Convention, article 6 (4), public participation (along with a cross-border process to allow public participation in the Environmental Impact Assessment – EIA) should take place when all options are still open. In the case of decision-making processes that happen at many different levels, if there was no public participation in previous decisions, the public should once again be invited to take part in those decisions that were made earlier and they should still be viewed as open. This applies to reactors 1 and 2 of the South Ukraine nuclear power plant and reactors 1 and 2 of the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant, where updates were made and their license was renewed despite the red flags raised by neighboring countries and Espoo Convention Implementation Committee.”

Ukraine offered a simple, straightforward answer:

The answer to this question was provided above.”

Following are more of Maria Seman’s contentions about how Ukraine has violated international legislation: Kiev refused to notify stakeholders before making decisions about nuclear plants and now cannot guarantee that all input will be taken into account as the reactors are being updated:

However, Kiev seems relatively unconcerned, offering only mocking answers to the objections made by the foreign investigators:

Ukraine did not refuse to do anything. A delay occurred. The decisions to extend the licenses were made in accordance with national law and it was not possible to postpone them.”

There may be a conflict between the laws, but the regulatory body that made the decisions on this matter did not violate national law.”

In other words, the Ukrainians call ignoring the demands of the UN – “a conflict between the laws,” and violating the basic principles of environmental oversight – “a delay.”

Ukraine seems unaware that these conventions were created in order to preclude arbitrary actions by political authorities on questions of nuclear energy. Violations of international law are a matter of concern not just for environmentalists. They are a legal issue that calls for investigation, the identification of the perpetrators, and the correction of the transgressions. Where are the international commissions, where are the criminal cases that have been filed, where are the courts and tribunals that should be avidly defending the letter of the law? Why is the Ukrainian government being allowed to ignore UN treaties that it is bound to observe? The Espoo Convention Compliance Committee and other relevant authorities must respond.

According to Mr. Haverkamp, the authors of the program to extend the licenses of the nuclear power plants do not know the first thing about risk assessment and have not learned the lessons of Chernobyl or Fukushima, because the continued use of the reactors at the South Ukraine and Zaporizhia nuclear plants raises the chance of another nuclear disaster:

In turn, the Romanian government has submitted a whole list of transgressions, omissions, and missing information. Here are just two items:

The statements [by the Ukrainians] about their policy in regard to nuclear safety are misleading, incomplete, and not supported with pertinent details …”

The documents submitted by the Ukrainians are missing important information about the assessment of the consequences of potential accidents at the nuclear power plants …”

However, the Ukrainians are not troubled with remorse for their shoddy work – their answer again takes a defiant tone. The experts in Kiev apparently believe that there are not enough qualified investigators in the Romanian government to legitimately request such information:

This information, in our opinion, may be a subject of interest to suitably qualified experts, but for the discussion of the EIA at the state level, it is superfluous.”

Representatives from other neighboring countries also complain about the lack of data necessary to fully evaluate the program to update Ukraine’s nuclear power plants.

In particular, the Ministry of the Environment of the Republic of Moldova has emphasized that the environmental impact assessment does not take into account the physical aging – resulting from bombardment by neutron fluxes – of either the reactors or the components of their radiation shield.

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection of the Republic of Belarus has requested “comprehensive information regarding the documents on the basis of which the decision was made to extend the service life of the two reactors at the nuclear power plant, as well as information regarding the updates to each reactor,” and so on.

Ukraine’s reaction: That answer lies outside the scope of our authority.

Serious concerns are being raised about the fact that the Ukrainian state agencies responsible for nuclear energy have not yet devised ways to dispose of the spent nuclear fuel and other radioactive waste, now that the service life of the reactors has been extended and given the fact that Ukraine is refusing to use Russian storage facilities. Maria Seman, for example, has this to say:

“The section on radioactive nuclear waste does not provide enough information on the total quantity of waste generated over the course of a year, nor a detailed plan for handling it, which must include storage. The on-site facilities for storing nuclear waste at the nuclear plants are limited, and the transportation of waste and spent fuel to Russia was suspended once the civil war in eastern Ukraine intensified. It is essential to request this information.”

However, Kiev seems less concerned with problem of how to dispose of radioactive waste than with offering its own rhetoric about events in the eastern part of its country. Instead of providing a substantive answer about what to do with the increasing quantity of spent fuel, the officials advised the Romanian investigator on her choice of newspapers:

There is no civil war in Ukraine – only the aggression of the Russian Federation [!!!-OR]. The author should find reliable sources of information.

Among other topics the Europeans raised for discussion with their Ukrainian colleagues: the massive doses that Kiev has decided fall within the bounds of “permissible radioactive contamination,” despite the fact that they are lethal to 50% of the population of the zone that has been thus contaminated; the sources of the funding for the impending programs to take the Ukrainian nuclear power plants off-line in the future; the absence of assessments in Energoatom’s materials regarding the impact of radiation on the rise in leukemia among children living near nuclear power plants; and so on:

Officials in Kiev either evade answering these questions or else play the fool: “What, we should keep records of every case?” (in regard to the incidence of childhood leukemia).

***

All these facts are evidence that Ukraine’s nuclear power plants not only present a genuine threat to Europe’s security, but that given the current economic situation and political instability in Ukraine, they also have no chance of bucking this negative trend. How to effectively cope with this aggravating situation should be a matter of urgent technical and political talks between the Russian and concerned EU states authorities.

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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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