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NATO to Set Up its First Air Base in Western Balkans

The EU has also gone on the offensive.

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NATO believes that the Western Balkans is a region of strategic importance. The summit that was held July 11-12 specifically expressed support for the Euro-Atlantic aspirations of the Balkan countries. Macedonia was officially invited to join the alliance.

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On the eve of the summit, Deputy Secretary General of NATO Rose Gottemoeller stressed that NATO supported the process of reform in Kosovo, including the creation of its own regular armed forces. That idea has strong support in Washington, although by establishing its own military, Kosovo would be in gross violation of the existing international agreements. UN Security Council Resolution 1244 states explicitly that no other military presence, with the exception of KFOR and the Serbian army, shall be permitted without the mandate of the UN Security Council.

The Florence Agreement (Article IV of the 1996 Dayton Peace Accords) affirms that regional stability should be maintained with the assistance of the OSCE, not NATO. The creation of a Kosovo military would mean that a regular force was being established within the territory of Serbia, which is a party to the Florence agreement.

NATO has already allowed Kosovo to set up a professional security force, which is to join the Partnership for Peace (PfP) program and then develop into a regular armed forces that is able to meet NATO standards. This idea is being floated at a time in which the concept of the creation of Greater Albania is gradually taking shape, which would include Kosovo, parts of Macedonia such as Tetovo, the Presevo Valley in Serbia, and parts of Montenegro such as Malesija.

The EU has also gone on the offensive. Croatia joined it in 2013. Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia are EU candidate states. Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo are signatories to Stabilization and Association Agreements with the bloc. In 2016, Bosnia and Herzegovina formally submitted an EU membership application.

Efforts to reduce the region’s energy “dependence” on Russia are underway, as an element of the policy of “squeezing Moscow out.” The Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) project is in the construction phase and will eventually stretch from the Caspian Sea to Albania and northward to other Western Balkan countries, as well as Italy.

The next step is the building of a floating liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal on Krk, a Croatian island, thus making the countries of the region pay much more for American sea-transported energy than Russia’s natural gas that is supplied by pipeline. The Krk project is to include Slovenia, Hungary, Bosnia, and Serbia.

The NATO-EU Statement on the Implementation of the Joint Declaration envisages close cooperation between the two groups, which will increase Western influence in the region. That’s what Russia opposes. It rejects the wisdom of an approach in which the region is viewed as a battlefield between the West and Russia (which is supposedly vying for influence), forcing the nations of the region to take sides. The truth is, they don’t have to. For instance, Serbia can derive significant benefits by promoting complementary relationships with the EU and the Russian-led EAEU.

The Atlantic Council’s report, titled “Balkans Forward: A New US Strategy for the Region,” which was released in late 2017, attracted a lot of attention. It calls on the West to double down on countering Russia’s influence in the region, including by means of a permanent American military presence in the Balkans that would “anchor the United States’ ability to influence developments.”

Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo, which was built on Serbian soil without consulting that country’s own government, is not enough. The Heritage Foundation echoes this view, offering guidelines to spur US diplomatic, economic, and military efforts to drive Russia out while bringing the US in. The think tanks from the National Committee on American Foreign Policy and the East-West Institute chimed in with their joint report, titled “Time for Action in the Western Balkans,” which was published in May.

The think tanks’ recommendations are followed by suggestions from governments. Here is the latest example. On Aug. 4, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama announced that NATO plans to build its first air base in the Western Balkans near the municipality of Kucove in south-central Albania. Construction is to start this year. The new facility will be used for air supply, logistic support, air patrolling, and training. The base will also be used by the Albanian air forces. The US Army’s Bondsteel base in Kosovo is used by KFOR but it lacks an airstrip for planes.

On Aug. 2, Kosovo’s President Hashim Thaci said in an interview with VOA’s Albanian Service, “Kosovo’s border with Serbia needs to be redefined, or corrected.” Whatever he meant, no mention was made of any need for Serbia’s consent or United Nations-approved procedures. Mr. Thaci feels free to make such statements because he senses the West’s support behind him.

Meanwhile, tensions in northern Kosovo are rising after the Aug. 4 deadline to establish Serb-majority municipalities in Kosovo with limited autonomous powers was missed. The Kosovo provincial government has not kept its promises. Such a move is necessary in order meet the provisions of the EU-brokered 2013 Brussels Agreement, which is intended to normalize relations between Serbia and Kosovo.

The Kosovo Serbs say they would declare autonomy if Kosovo’s rulers’ fail to produce a draft statute of the Community of Serb Municipalities (ZSO). That agreement provides for the merger of the four Serb municipalities in the north (North Mitrovica, Zvecan, Zubin Potok and Leposavic), which are subject to Kosovo law. This urban district would have powers over economic development, education, healthcare, and town planning.

On Aug. 4, Kosovo PM Ramush Haradinaj warned Serbs in the northern section of the province that their potential “attempt to proclaim autonomy” would be met with a response, obviously meaning the use of force. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic vowed action to protect his compatriots residing in Kosovo. KFOR is in a state of combat readiness, because NATO has failed to prevent a conflict between Kosovo and Serbia.

KFOR entered Kosovo in 1999. The Albanian government of the Serbian province fully depends on the West. As recent events convincingly illustrate, after all these years, nothing has been done to solve the problems of the Serb minority or even to get closer to a solution. The ethnic divisions in Macedonia and Montenegro remain. Bosnia Herzegovina is still a divided country on the brink of armed conflict.

The Western Balkans has not become a second Hong Kong or Singapore, even after some of the regional countries joined the EU. Neither the ethnic nor the religious divisions were successfully addressed after several Balkan nations joined NATO. If there is any outside security threat, it comes from the North Atlantic Alliance, which has proven its readiness to use force to reach its goals in the region.

A NATO air force base in Albania will hardly make the life of ordinary people living in the Western Balkans better or more secure, but it will certainly bring the concept of Greater Albania closer to reality.

Via Strategic Culture

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Joolz ArtSpitAM Hants Recent comment authors
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Joolz Art

As much as l like reading the Duran, this story has so many holes in it and is just another bit of Serbian propaganda against Kosovo. Headline say first NATO airbase in Balkans and then goes on to speak about Kosovo, without saying where the airbase will be, could be in Macedonia, Montenegro or Albania, but not in Kosovo. Kosovo already has the largest military base outside of the US so there is no need, or space for another one. The article shows an Albanian flag with and ISIS flag, but no description of what the photo is about. The… Read more »

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Spit

“The EU has also gone on the offensive.” This war, America cannot win, You should focus on Freedom of speech, not Russia, not China not those Papers even the Indians wont wipe their holes with.
The EU has a Russia right next door, a Russia that is ripe.
The EU has also gone on the offensive.
I hope not.

AM Hants
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AM Hants

The UN Charter, when first discussed in Yalta, Crimea, Russia, back in 1945, was based on ‘self determination/will of the people’. The argument is explained in Resolution 26/2625. The same argument, NATO used in their final report of Kosovo. THE KOSOVO CRISIS IN AN INTERNATIONAL LAW PERSPECTIVE: SELF-DETERMINATION, TERRITORIAL INTEGRITY AND THE NATO INTERVENTION… https://www.nato.int/acad/fellow/99-01/kumbaro.pdf There was no vote in Kosovo, whilst NATO members, ignored the wishes of the people of Crimea, following their referendum. Yet, they both used the same argument? So why would the NATO members, ignore the wishes of the people of Crimea? Was it because NATO… Read more »

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Theresa May’s soft Brexit plan continues to fail, as EU now pushing for UK to leave (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 138.

Alex Christoforou

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Theresa May’s soft Brexit strategy has been such a monumental failure that even Brussels negotiators are now pushing for the UK to simply leave the union, in what has becoming a British debacle, and a thorn in the Conservative Party’s side.

Many media pundits and analysts are now asking if the latest impasse in Brexit talks means that we are indeed seeing the last days of Theresa May?

While much of the mess the Conservative Party finds themselves in because of Brexit is squarely Theresa May’s fault, much of the damage done by May’s inability to close the deal on Brexit will not go away, even if she does.

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss Theresa May’s continued failure to obtain her soft Brexit dream, placing herself (and her Conservative Party) in such an embarrassing position, that European Union negotiators, tired of never ending talks, are eager to see Britain go away, in what will be an inevitable hard Brexit.

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“Are these the last days of Theresa May?”, authored by Stephen Bush via The New Statesman:


Are these the last days of Theresa May? This morning’s papers are full of stories of plots and ultimatums to the Prime Minister unless she changes her Brexit strategy, whether from her Scottish MPs over any extension of the transition period due to concerns over fisheries policy, from her Brexiteer MPs over the backstop or from her Cabinet over practically everything.

All this before the Budget next Monday, when Philip Hammond is going to have to find some way to pay for the extra cash for the NHS and Universal Credit all while keeping to May’s pledge that debt will continue to fall as a share of GDP. So added to all May’s Brexit woes, a row over tax rises could be coming down the track.

Of course, the PM’s position has been perilous for a very long time – in fact, when you remember that her period of hegemony ran from July 2016 to June 2017, she’s actually been under threat for more of her premiership than she hasn’t. But just because you roll heads 36 times in a row doesn’t mean your chances of rolling tails aren’t 50/50 on roll 37, and May’s luck could well be running out.

But while May shares a good size of the blame for the mess that the Conservative Party are in, it’s not all her fault by any means and none of those problems will go away if May is replaced or changes tack to win over her internal opponents in the European Research Group.

Ireland has a veto over the end state and only an indefinite and legally binding backstop for the island of Ireland will do if any deal is to be signed off. It’s true to say that no deal also means a hard border on the island of Ireland, but it’s also true that it will always been in the political interests of whoever is in office in Ireland for a hard border to be imposed as a result of no deal rather than for the Irish government to acquiesce in the creation of one through a EU-UK treaty.

The DUP can bring the Conservative government to an early end so they, too, have a de facto veto over any deal that creates barriers between Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom. But the only UK-wide solution – for the backstop to encompass the whole of the United Kingdom – is nothing doing with pro-Brexit Conservative MPs who don’t want an indefinite backstop. It’s also politically tricky with many EU member states, who don’t want the default outcome of the talks to be a UK-wide backstop, which many regard as a threat to the sanctity of single market. (The only reason why it is acceptable on the Irish border is because Ireland is still a member state and because the Irish border was both the location and the cause of political violence within living memory.)

Added to that, the Conservative parliamentary party seems to be undergoing a similar psychological journey to the one that Steve van Riel described during the 2015 Labour leadership election: that groups of any kind tend to reach a more extreme position the longer an issue is debated. Brexiteers who spent 20 years saying they wanted a Norway style deal now talk of Norway as a betrayal. Leavers who cheerily talked about making Northern Ireland into its own customs area before Brexit now talk of the backstop as a constitutional betrayal. And Conservative Remainers who only reluctantly backed an In vote to avoid the political upheaval of negotiating Brexit, or the loss of David Cameron, now call for a referendum re-run and privately flirt with the idea of a new party.

Some of that is May’s fault, yes. But none of it is going to go away if she does and all of it makes the prospect of reaching a Brexit deal considerably less likely.

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Saudi Crown Prince Spoke To Khashoggi By Phone Moments Before He Was Killed: Report

The shifting Saudi narrative of the killing has been met with scepticism and condemnation from the international community.

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Via Zerohedge


In the latest bombshell report involving the Khashoggi murder, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman reportedly spoke on the phone with journalist Jamal Khashoggi moments before he was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Turkish pro-government daily Yeni Safak disclosed the new alleged details of the case in a report on Sunday, contradicting claims by Saudi authorities that Prince Mohammed played no part in Khashoggi’s murder.

“Khashoggi was detained by the Saudi team inside the consulate building. Then Prince Mohammed contacted Khashoggi by phone and tried to convince him to return to Riyadh,” the report said.

“Khashoggi refused Prince Mohammed’s offer out of fear he would be arrested and killed if he returned. The assassination team then killed Khashoggi after the conversation ended,” it added.

While the report is so far unconfirmed, the New Arab reports that so far Turkish pro-government media have been receiving a steady stream of leaks many of which turned out to be accurate, including pictures of the hit team as they entered Turkey and reports of audio recordings of the murder said to be in the possession of Turkish authorities.

Meanwhile, the Saudi version of events has been changing significantly over the past two weeks with authorities conceded Saturday that Khashoggi, the Washington Post columnist and a Riyadh critic, was killed inside the kingdom’s Istanbul diplomatic compound following a “brawl”. The admission came after a fortnight of denials with the insistence that the journalist left the consulate alive, starting on October 5, when Crown Prince MBS told Bloomberg that Khashoggi was not inside the consulate and “we are ready to welcome the Turkish government to go and search our premises”.

On Saturday, the kingdom announced it had fired five top officials and arrested 18 others in an investigation into the killing – a move that has widely been viewed as an attempt to cover up the crown prince’s role in the murder.

The shifting Saudi narrative of the killing has been met with scepticism and condemnation from the international community, and has left the U.S. and other allies struggling for a response on Sunday. As Bloomberg reports, France demanded more information, Germany put arms sales to Riyadh on hold and the Trump administration stressed the vital importance of the kingdom and its economy to the U.S.

In Sunday radio and TV interviews, Dominic Raab, the U.K. politician in charge of negotiating Britain’s exit from the European Union, described the latest Saudi account as not credible; French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire called for “the truth’’; and Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said his government would approve no arms sales so long as the investigation was ongoing.

Earlier on Sunday, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir acknowledged a cover-up attempt. The dramatic reversal, after Saudi officials had previously said the columnist left the building alive, has only complicated the issue for allies.

Saudi Arabia’s al-Jubeir told Fox News on Sunday that the journalist’s death was an “aberration.”

“There obviously was a tremendous mistake made and what compounded the mistake was the attempt to cover up,” he said, promising that “those responsible will be punished for it.”

More importantly, he said that Prince Mohammed had no knowledge of the events, although if the Turkish report is confirmed, it will be yet another major flaw with the official narrative.

Several senior members of US President Donald Trump’s Republican Party said they believed Prince Mohammed was linked to the killing, and one called for a “collective” Western response if a link is proved. In an interview with The Washington Post, President Trump, too, said the Saudi narrative had been marked by “deception and lies.’’ Yet he also defended Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as a “strong person,’’ and said there was no proof of his involvement in Khashoggi’s death. Some members of Congress have questioned his willingness to exonerate the prince.

“Obviously there’s been deception and there’s been lies,” Trump said on the shifting accounts offered by Riyadh.

On Sunday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan promised to disclose details about the case at a meeting of his AK Party’s parliamentary faction on Tuesday, Haberturk newspaper reported.

Meanwhile, as Western firms and high-ranked officials scramble to avoid any Saudi involvement, Russia is more than happy to step in and fill the power vacuum void left by the US. As a result, Russian businesses are flocking to attend the investment forum in Saudi Arabia, as Western counterparts pull out.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has had considerable success boosting Moscow’s influence in the Middle East at U.S. expense, by standing by regimes that fall afoul of the West, including in Syria and Iran. Last week Putin signed a strategic and partnership agreement with Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, backed by $25 billion in loans to build nuclear reactors. Until El-Sisi came to power, Egypt had been closely allied to the U.S.

Meanwhile, all eyes are fixed squarely on the Crown Prince whose position of power is looking increasingly perilous. Congressional leaders on Sunday dismissed the story proffered earlier by the Saudis, with Republican Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Bob Corker of Tennessee saying they believed the crown prince was likely involved in Khashoggi’s death.

Lawmakers said they believe the U.S. must impose sanctions on Saudi Arabia or take other action if the crown prince is shown to have been involved. Speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, the chamber’s No. 2 Democrat, said the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. should be formally expelled until a third-party investigation is done. He said the U.S. should call on its allies to do the same.

“Unless the Saudi kingdom understands that civilized countries around the world are going to reject this conduct and make sure that they pay a price for it, they’ll continue doing it,”’ Durbin said.

The obvious question is what happens and how the Saudi royal family will respond if it is pushed too far, and whether the worst case scenario, a sharp cut in oil exports, could be on the table if MBS feels like he has little to lose from escalating the situation beyond a point of no return.

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The Biggest Winners In The Mediterranean Energy War

Energy companies are flocking to the Mediterranean after oil and gas discoveries in the territorial waters of Israel, Cyprus, and Egypt.

The Duran

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Authored by Vanand Meliksetian via Oilprice.com:


Former Vice-President of the United States Dick Cheney once said: “the good lord didn’t see fit to put oil and gas only where there are democratically elected states… Occasionally we have to operate in places where, all considered, one would not normally choose to go. But we go where the business is.” Europe is surrounded by states with abundant energy resources, but supply from these countries is not always as reliable. Russia, for example, is regularly accused of using energy as a weapon. However, major discoveries of gas in the Eastern Mediterranean could mitigate dependence on Russian gas.

The discovery of a gas field named Tamar near the coast of Israel in 2009 set off a wave of investments in the energy sector. After 9 years, companies are flocking to the region after other discoveries in the territorial waters of Israel, Cyprus, and Egypt. Ever larger finds in the Mediterranean Sea’s Levant Basin such as the Leviathan gas field in 2010 and Zohr in 2015, have the potential to transform the strategic importance of the region.

Turkey’s energy hub ambitions

Few states in the world are geographically so well positioned as Turkey. The country controls Russia’s only warm water port in the Black Sea and serves as a bridge between east and west. Therefore, during the Cold War Ankara was an indispensable member of NATO. More recently, Turkey has the ambition to become an energy hub for Middle Eastern and Caspian energy. Ankara has had mixed successes in attracting investors and maintaining political stability.

After Israel’s significant discoveries, a U.S. backed initiative presented Turkey as an energy hub. Although a land pipeline is the cheapest option to transport gas from the Mediterranean to Europe, political developments have stalled construction. President Erdogan’s escalating public denunciations of Israel have made Jerusalem look for other options. Furthermore, relations with Europe have also been damaged which would be dependent on Turkey as a transit country.

Egypt as the regional gas hub

Egypt’s has the third largest gas reserves in Africa. Therefore, its export-oriented LNG industry came on-stream in 2004 but was shut mid-2013 due to a lack of resources. The growth of the domestic market demanded ever larger volumes, which went at the expense of exports. Instead, Egypt started importing LNG. However, the discovery of the massive Zohr gas field, the largest in the Eastern Mediterranean, has turned around the situation. Egypt imported its last shipment of LNG in September 2018.

Although relations between Egypt and Israel are far from normal, privately held companies have been able to strike a deal. Starting from the first quarter of 2019, in 10 years 64 bcm worth $10 billion will be delivered. The agreement has stirred controversy in Egypt, which until recently was exporting to Israel. However, with this deal, Cairo comes closer in becoming an energy hub.

The recent signing of another agreement, this time with Nicosia to develop a subsea pipeline from Cyprus’ Aphrodite gas field, has been another important step. Cypriot gas will be pumped 400 miles (645 kilometers) to the south to Egypt’s LNG facilities. Difficult relations with Nicosia’s northern neighbors make a pipeline to the north highly unlikely.

Cairo has been able to act pragmatically concerning its relations with its neighbors such as Israel while taking advantage of the limited amount of options for exporting gas. The obvious winner in this context has been Egypt and its LNG industry. Its chances of becoming the regional energy hub instead of Turkey have significantly increased.

Turkey’s hope for luck

All littoral states of the Eastern Mediterranean struck ‘gold’ in the shape of natural gas except for Turkey. Ankara strongly opposes the exploitation of the gas resources in the exclusive economic zone of the Republic of Cyprus without a sharing agreement with Northern Cyprus’ Turkish inhabitants. The Turkish Navy prevented ships from Italy’s Eni from performing exploratory drilling off the coast of the Republic of Cyprus.

In search of its own luck, Ankara has set up a project to start looking for gas in the EEZ of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), which is only recognized by Turkey. Kudret Özersay, TRNC deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs, proclaimed the desire to turn the TRNC into an energy and electricity hub. However, it seems unlikely that investors will be willing to participate due to political and legal reasons.

The legal situation of the TRNC is an impediment to any major decision involving a longtime commitment worth billions. From an international point of view, the region is de jure part of the Republic of Cyprus, despite holding no control over the region. The TRNC holds no seat in the WTO.

Large investments require solid legal and political support for companies to earn back their investments. The current economic situation of Turkey makes it dependent on foreign money. However, stringent due diligence rules could impede some international banks in lending the necessary funds.

The Eastern Mediterranean Sea basin promises great rewards, but the risks are also high. With Turkey potentially being the only country that doesn’t profit from the gas bonanza, Ankara has acted aggressively to get what it regards as its fair share. However, it faces a united front from the other littoral states of the Eastern Mediterranean. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that Turkey will be able to profit in the same way as Cyprus, Egypt or Israel.

By Vanand Meliksetian for Oilprice.com

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