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Russia and Belarus kick off impressive ‘Zapad 2017’ military drills

The Zapad 2017 international strategic military exercises take place from September 14-20 in Belarus and three regions in the western part of Russia.

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Originally appeared on RT

The joint Russia-Belarus Zapad 2017 military exercises have kicked off amid ongoing hysteria from western officials and media over their nature, numbers and purpose. RT sums up several facts you need to know to draw your own conclusions.

The Zapad 2017 international strategic military exercises take place from September 14-20 in Belarus and three regions in the western part of Russia. The drills are held by Russia and Belarus every few years (the most recent drills were held in 2009 and 2013), with their timing announced months ahead. However, this year the maneuvers have become the subject of media hype and huge scrutiny by NATO amid further Russia scaremongering.

Moscow believes that “the wave of whipping up passions” around the drill is a provocation, according to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

READ MORE: Biggest war games kick off in Sweden to practice deterrent skills against Russia (VIDEOS)

“Everything is carried out in strict accordance with international law and relevant regulations,”

he said Thursday, adding that Russian President Vladimir Putin may also attend the exercises.

The number of troops & equipment

The exercises involve up to 12,700 troops, a majority of which – 7,200 – are from Belarus, and the other 5,500 from Russia, according to official data from Russia’s Defense Ministry. Some 70 aircraft and 680 land vehicles, including 250 tanks, are also participating in the maneuvers.

Despite Moscow and Minsk repeatedly announcing the official numbers of personnel involved, some politicians have speculated over the figures, exaggerating them a dozen times over. German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen claimed that the upcoming drills would involve over 100,000 troops on the eastern periphery of NATO, showing a “demonstration of capabilities and power of the Russians.” The Russian military were “astonished” by those“baseless figures,” Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major-General Igor Konashenkov said in a statement last Saturday.

In early September, Aleksandr Turchinov, the Secretary of the Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council, came up with even more impressive estimates, saying that Zapad will involve around 240,000 troops as well as 10,000 pieces of military equipment and 100 aircraft, what contradicts any official data.

Drills are purely defensive

The Zapad 2017 drills have been designed to test the operational compatibility of the Russian and Belarusian military forces and to practice anti-terrorist operations. According to the drills scenario, extremist groups supported with arms and supplies from outside have penetrated to Belarus and Russia’s Kaliningrad Region to carry out terrorist attacks.

Moscow has repeatedly stressed that the maneuvers are purely defensive in nature and said that the imaginary aggressor does not refer to any particular nation state.

However, many have turned a deaf ear to Russia’s statements. In the run-up to the exercises, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite branded them “aggressive games directed against the West.” In July, Lieutenant-General Ben Hodges, commander of US Army forces in Europe, referred to exercises as a Trojan horse,” noting there were suspicions they could be used to move forces and equipment closer to NATO’s eastern flank.

“I would like to emphasize that apart from its anti-terrorist components, the Zapad-2017 exercise is of a purely defensive character,”

Lieutenant-General Aleksandr Fomin stated in August. He also blasted as a “myth” any allegations that they could be used as a basis to invade neighboring countries.

Russia & Belarus invited ‘anyone who wants to attend’

Speculation that the Zapad 2017 exercises are much larger than Russia has announced led to calls for more transparency. Despite the number of troops deployed under the drills not exceeding the threshold for mandatory monitoring stated in the 2011 Vienna document, Belarus has invited international monitors from various foreign countries to observe the active phase of the drills.

“We are not planning to attack anyone. In terms of what the drills will be like – we’ve invited almost anyone who wants to attend. Let them come and watch,”

Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko stated in September.

In July, Belarusian Defense Minister Andrey Ravkov, also stressedthat international organizations, including the UN, NATO, and the OSCE, as well as more than 80 foreign observers, are invited to the drills since there is “nothing to conceal.”

While the world’s attention and criticism is focused on Zapad 2017, NATO and its allies have increased their military activity on Russia’s borders. For example, Sweden is holding its largest war games in over two decades, which coincide with the Russia-Belarus drills. Apart from exceeding the number of troops participating in Zapad 2017 by several thousand, the maneuvers are aimed to prepare for a possible Russian attack.

Moreover, around 40,000 NATO troops and allied forces have taken part in various military drills in Europe this summer, according to Air Force Brigadier General John Healy, who directs the drills of US forces in Europe. Eighteen NATO exercises, including Noble Partner in Georgia, occurred in the Black Sea Region alone, close to the Russian border, in summer 2017.

READ MORE: US plans ‘global’ drills to counter Russia & other ‘complex threats’ – top US military official

At the same time Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria joined separate US-led Saber Guardian 2017, which took place this summer. Around 25,000 service members from 22 allied and partner nations were involved in the drills, making them the largest of the 18 Black Sea region exercises this year.

Earlier, Ukraine hosted the US-led Sea Breeze 17 naval drills, involving around 2,500 troops and more than 30 ships from 17 participating countries.

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Russia’s Lukoil Halts Oil Swaps In Venezuela After U.S. Sanctions

Under the new wide-ranging U.S. sanctions, Venezuela will not be able to import U.S. naphtha which it has typically used to dilute its heavy crude grades.

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Via Oilprice.com


Litasco, the international trading arm of Russia’s second-biggest oil producer Lukoil, stopped its oil swaps deals with Venezuela immediately after the U.S. imposed sanctions on Venezuela’s oil industry and state oil firm PDVSA, Lukoil’s chief executive Vagit Alekperov said at an investment forum in Russia.

Russia, which stands by Nicolas Maduro in the ongoing Venezuelan political crisis, has vowed to defend its interests in Venezuela—including oil interests—within the international law using “all mechanisms available to us.”

Because of Moscow’s support for Maduro, the international community and market analysts are closely watching the relationship of Russian oil companies with Venezuela.

“Litasco does not work with Venezuela. Before the restrictions were imposed, Litasco had operations to deliver oil products and to sell oil. There were swap operations. Today there are none, since the sanctions were imposed,” Lukoil’s Alekperov said at the Russian Investment Forum in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

Another Russian oil producer, Gazprom Neft, however, does not see major risks for its oil business in Venezuela, the company’s chief executive officer Alexander Dyukov said at the same event.

Gazprom Neft has not supplied and does not supply oil products to Venezuela needed to dilute the thick heavy Venezuelan oil, Dyukov said, noting that the Latin American country hadn’t approached Gazprom Neft for possible supply of oil products for diluents.

Under the new wide-ranging U.S. sanctions, Venezuela will not be able to import U.S. naphtha which it has typically used to dilute its heavy crude grades. Analysts expect that a shortage of diluents could accelerate beginning this month the already steadily declining Venezuelan oil production and exports.

Venezuela’s crude oil production plunged by another 59,000 bpd from December 2018 to stand at just 1.106 million bpd in January 2019, OPEC’s secondary sources figures showed in the cartel’s closely watched Monthly Oil Market Report (MOMR) this week.

By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com

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Germany Pulls Rank on Macron and American Energy Blackmail

Why France’s Macron, at the last minute, attempted to undermine the project by placing stiffer regulations is a curious question.

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Authored by Finian Cunningham via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


It was billed politely as a Franco-German “compromise” when the EU balked at adopting a Gas Directive which would have undermined the Nord Stream 2 project with Russia.

Nevertheless, diplomatic rhetoric aside, Berlin’s blocking last week of a bid by French President Emmanuel Macron to impose tougher regulations on the Nord Stream 2 gas project was without doubt a firm rebuff to Paris.

Macron wanted to give the EU administration in Brussels greater control over the new pipeline running from Russia to Germany. But in the end the so-called “compromise” was a rejection of Macron’s proposal, reaffirming Germany in the lead role of implementing the Nord Stream 2 route, along with Russia.

The $11-billion, 1,200 kilometer pipeline is due to become operational at the end of this year. Stretching from Russian mainland under the Baltic Sea, it will double the natural gas supply from Russia to Germany. The Berlin government and German industry view the project as a vital boost to the country’s ever-robust economy. Gas supplies will also be distributed from Germany to other European states. Consumers stand to gain from lower prices for heating homes and businesses.

Thus Macron’s belated bizarre meddling was rebuffed by Berlin. A rebuff was given too to the stepped-up pressure from Washington for the Nord Stream 2 project to be cancelled. Last week, US ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell and two other American envoys wrote an op-ed for Deutsche Welle in which they accused Russia of trying to use “energy blackmail” over Europe’s geopolitics.

Why France’s Macron, at the last minute, attempted to undermine the project by placing stiffer regulations is a curious question. Those extra regulations if they had been imposed would have potentially made the Russian gas supply more expensive. As it turns out, the project will now go-ahead without onerous restrictions.

In short, Macron and the spoiling tactics of Washington, along with EU states hostile to Russia, Poland and the Baltic countries, have been put in their place by Germany and its assertion of national interests of securing economical and abundant gas supply from Russia. Other EU member states that backed Berlin over Nord Stream 2 were Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Greece and the Netherlands.

Washington’s claims that Nord Stream 2 would give Russia leverage of Europe’s security have been echoed by Poland and the Baltic states. Poland, and non-EU Ukraine, stand to lose out billions of dollars-worth of transit fees. Such a move, however, is the prerogative of Germany and Russia to find a more economical mode of supply. Besides, what right has Ukraine to make demands on a bilateral matter that is none of its business? Kiev’s previous bad faith over not paying gas bills to Russia disbars it from reasonable opinion.

Another factor is the inherent Russophobia of Polish and Baltic politicians who view everything concerning Russia through a prism of paranoia.

For the Americans, it is obviously a blatant case of seeking to sell their own much more expensive natural gas to Europe’s giant energy market – in place of Russia’s product. Based on objective market figures, Russia is the most competitive supplier to Europe. The Americans are therefore trying to snatch a strategic business through foul means of propaganda and political pressure. Ironically, the US German ambassador Richard Grenell and the other American envoys wrote in their recent oped: “Europe must retain control of its energy security.”

Last month, Grenell threatened German and European firms involved in the construction of Nord Stream 2 that they could face punitive American sanctions in the future. Evidently, it is the US side that is using “blackmail” to coerce others into submission, not Russia.

Back to Macron. What was he up to in his belated spoiling tactics over Nord Stream 2 and in particular the attempted problems being leveled for Germany if the extra regulations had been imposed?

It seems implausible that Macron was suddenly finding a concern for Poland and the Baltic states in their paranoia over alleged Russian invasion.

Was Macron trying to garner favors from the Trump administration? His initial obsequious rapport with Trump has since faded from the early days of Macron’s presidency in 2017. By doing Washington’s bidding to undermine the Nord Stream 2 project was Macron trying to ingratiate himself again?

The contradictions regarding Macron are replete. He is supposed to be a champion of “ecological causes”. A major factor in Germany’s desire for the Nord Stream 2 project is that the increased gas supply will reduce the European powerhouse’s dependence on dirty fuels of coal, oil and nuclear power. By throwing up regulatory barriers, Macron is making it harder for Germany and Europe to move to cleaner sources of energy that the Russian natural gas represents.

Also, if Macron had succeeded in imposing tougher regulations on the Nord Stream 2 project it would have inevitably increased the costs to consumers for gas bills. This is at a time when his government is being assailed by nationwide Yellow Vest protests over soaring living costs, in particular fuel-price hikes.

A possible factor in Macron’s sabotage bid in Germany’s Nord Stream 2 plans was his chagrin over Berlin’s rejection of his much-vaunted reform agenda for the Eurozone bloc within the EU. Despite Macron’s very public amity with Chancellor Angela Merkel, Berlin has continually knocked back the French leader’s ambitions for reform.

It’s hard to discern what are the real objectives of Macron’s reforms. But they seem to constitute a “banker’s charter”. Many eminent German economists have lambasted his plans, which they say will give more taxpayer-funded bailouts to insolvent banks. They say Macron is trying to move the EU further away from the social-market economy than the bloc already has moved.

What Macron, an ex-Rothschild banker, appears to be striving for is a replication of his pro-rich, anti-worker policies that he is imposing on France, and for these policies to be extended across the Eurozone. Berlin is not buying it, realizing such policies will further erode the social fabric. This could be the main reason why Macron tried to use the Nord Stream 2 project as leverage over Berlin.

In the end, Macron and Washington – albeit working for different objectives – were defeated in their attempts to sabotage the emerging energy trade between Germany, Europe and Russia. Nord Stream 2, as with Russia’s Turk Stream to the south of Europe, seems inevitable by sheer force of natural partnership.

On this note, the Hungarian government’s comments this week were apt. Budapest accused some European leaders and the US of “huge hypocrisy” in decrying association with Russia over energy trade. Macron has previously attended an economics forum in St Petersburg, and yet lately has sought to “blackmail” and disrupt Germany over its trade plans with Russia.

As for the Americans, their arrant hypocrisy is beyond words. As well as trying to dictate to Europe about “market principles” and “energy security”, it was reported this week that Washington is similarly demanding Iraq to end its import of natural gas from neighboring Iran.

Iraq is crippled by electricity and power shortages because of the criminal war that the US waged on that country from 2003-2011 which destroyed much of the country’s infrastructure. Iraq critically needs Iranian gas supplies to keep the lights and fans running. Yet, here we have the US now dictating to Iraq to end its lifeline import of Iranian fuel in order to comply with the Trump administration’s sanctions against Tehran. Iraq is furious at the latest bullying interference by Washington in its sovereign affairs.

The hypocrisy of Washington and elitist politicians like Emmanuel Macron has become too much to stomach. Maybe Germany and others are finally realizing who the charlatans are.

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Russia Readies Own Web To Survive Global Internet Shutdown

Russia is simultaneously building a mass censorship system similar to that seen in China.

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Via Zerohedge


Russian authorities and major telecom operators are preparing to disconnect the country from the world wide web as part of an exercise to prepare for future cyber attacks, Russian news agency RosBiznesKonsalting (RBK) reported last week.

The purpose of the exercise is to develop a threat analysis and provide feedback to a proposed law introduced in the Russian Parliament last December.

The draft law, called the Digital Economy National Program, requires Russian internet service providers (ISP) to guarantee the independence of the Russian Internet (Runet) in the event of a foreign attack to sever the country’s internet from the world wide web.

Telecom operators (MegaFon, VimpelCom (Beeline brand), MTS, Rostelecom and others) will have to introduce the “technical means” to re-route all Russian internet traffic to exchange points approved by the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media (Roskomnadzor), Russia’s federal executive body responsible for censorship in media and telecommunications.

Roskomnazor will observe all internet traffic and make sure data between Russian users stays within the country’s borders, and is not re-routed abroad.

The exercise is expected to occur before April 1, as Russian authorities have not given exact dates.

The measures described in the law include Russia constructing its internet system, known as Domain Name System (DNS), so it can operate independently from the rest of the world.

Across the world, 12 companies oversee the root servers for DNS and none are located in Russia. However, there are copies of Russia’s core internet address book inside the country suggesting its internet could keep operating if the US cut it off.

Ultimately, the Russian government will require all domestic traffic to pass through government-controlled routing points. These hubs will filter traffic so that data sent between Russians internet users work seamlessly, but any data to foreign computers would be rejected.

Besides protecting its internet, Russia is simultaneously building a mass censorship system similar to that seen in China.

“What Russia wants to do is to bring those router points that handle data entering or exiting the country within its borders and under its control- so that it can then pull up the drawbridge, as it were, to external traffic if it’s under threat – or if it decides to censor what outside information people can access.

China’s firewall is probably the world’s best known censorship tool and it has become a sophisticated operation. It also polices its router points, using filters and blocks on keywords and certain websites and redirecting web traffic so that computers cannot connect to sites the state does not wish Chinese citizens to see,” said BBC.

The Russian government started preparations for creating its internet several years ago. Russian officials expect 95% of all internet traffic locally by next year.

As for Russia unplugging its internet from the rest of the world for an upcoming training exercise, well, this could potentially anger Washington because it is one less sanction that can keep Moscow contained.

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