President Donald Trump on Thursday said military action against North Korea remains an option to counter its nuclear missile program, speaking ahead of a weekend when Pyongyang is expected to make another provocative move advancing its effort.
“Military action would certainly be an option,” Trump said at a White House news conference alongside the leader of Kuwait. “Is it inevitable? Nothing is inevitable. It would be great if something else could be worked out.”
Claiming that the U.S. military is stronger than ever with the addition of “new and beautiful equipment,” Trump added, “Hopefully we’re not going to have to use it on North Korea. If we do use it on North Korea, it will be a very sad day for North Korea.”
He concluded, “North Korea is behaving badly, and it’s got to stop.”
Pressure has mounted on Trump to respond as North Korea appears to be getting closer to building a nuclear weapon small enough to be compatible with a missile that can reach the United States.
North Korea appeared to carry out its sixth and most powerful test explosion of a nuclear bomb on Sunday.
Today the most important meeting will be held between General Petr Pavel, chairman of the NATO Military Committee and General Valery Gerasimov, chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces and first deputy minister of defense.
It is impossible to overestimate the significance of this event, since this is the first meeting since NATO made a decision to freeze relations with Russia. The meeting will be held in Azerbaijan’s capital – Baku, which has already become a landmark; in February 2017, Gerasimov met here with General Joseph Francis Dunford, chairman of the Joint Committee of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The February meeting once again demonstrated that Azerbaijan is a geopolitical link between Russia and the United States, having strategic relations with both countries.
Baku, as a platform for Russia’s negotiations with Western partners, is the most obvious choice. Moreover, the country has deservedly won the spot as one of the most important geopolitical centers of the region. Azerbaijan is a reliable and long-standing partner of NATO and a strategic partner of Russia, and Moscow trusts it.
All this contributes to the fact that both Russia and the West trust Azerbaijan as the host country and consider it the most successful platform for important negotiations. The fact that the information about this meeting appeared in the Russian media on the day of holding the meeting, became one of the proofs of the highest professionalism of the host party.
However, in February, the news of Gerasimov’s meeting with Dunford leaked to the US media, but not to the Azerbaijani one.
The subject of the negotiations between Gerasimov and Pavel is likely to be related to a number of topical issues of military cooperation, which today determines the situation in the whole region. One of the main issues today is the establishment of direct and consistent contacts between Moscow and NATO in order to prevent the emergence of potential miscalculations and unite against the only real enemy – global terrorism.
However, if one ignores the quite rich agenda of the relations between the two world powers, and returns to the venue of the meeting, it becomes obvious that this meeting has become yet another message demonstrating the true position Baku has on the international arena.
Baku has long established itself as a NATO partner, which can and should be trusted. Azerbaijan, remaining an independent country that has good relations with almost all its neighbors, plays an important role in the transit of cargo for coalition troops in Afghanistan.
Big percentage of supplies for the NATO coalition goes through Azerbaijan, which is extremely important, because today transit through the territory of Russia is impossible.
Being a key component of the Northern Distribution Network of NATO, Azerbaijan provides a secure route for 40 percent of NATO-supported International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.
Azerbaijan is an active participant in international anti-terrorism efforts. Azerbaijan and the US work together to counter nuclear proliferation and drug trafficking, as well as to ensure security in the Caspian Sea region and beyond.
Elmira Tariverdiyeva is the head of Trend Agency’s Russian news service
The Russian-Belarusian Zapad-2017 (West-2017) exercises, scheduled for 14–20 September, have for many months been the core of an information war between Russia and NATO, in which Ukraine and Belarus have also participated.
The media have presented these exercises as allegedly the biggest military undertaking carried out in recent years by the armed forces of the Russian Federation (together with its Belarusian ally) in the immediate vicinity of the borders of NATO states, which could form the basis for the annexation of Belarus and/or a strike at Ukraine.
Although it is hard to dispute the scale and breadth of these exercises, they are only a small part of Russia’s preparation for a potential military showdown with NATO. The real engagement of troops in these exercises will not be the largest, in terms of the scale and the force employed, or the most important in the Russian army’s preparation to carry out its plans during wartime in (from its perspective) the western strategic direction.
The training exercises reported in the media, which have mainly been carried out on Russian training grounds from May to August this year, have not been an essential element of these preparations in 2017. These exercises, held jointly with the Belarusian component (in operational terms the Belarusian army should be considered as an integral part of the Russian armed forces in the western strategic direction), were nominally merely a preparatory stage to the Zapad-2017 exercises.
The exercises involving Russian troops alone should be considered as more important, especially those checking the combat readiness of the units which have been newly created or expanded in the last three years. Compared to the period in which the previous exercises (Zapad-2013) were held, Russia’s military potential in the western strategic direction, especially its land forces, has doubled in size.
Zapad-2017 as a tool of information war
Russia treats the Zapad strategic exercises, which have been held every four years since 2009, as part of its information war with the West each time. However, whereas between 2009 and 2013 the propaganda impact of the reports about the exercises was largely local, limited mainly to the three Baltic states and Poland, as a result of the Russian aggression towards Ukraine and the three years and counting of war in the Donbas in 2017, it has now become one of the main factors affecting the relations of Russia with all the North Atlantic Alliance, as well as those Baltic Sea states which do not belong to NATO.
Since the beginning, Russia has treated the preparations for the Zapad-2017 exercises, on the one hand, as part of its intimidation of the general public in the countries directly bordering Belarus and Russia, though reports are transmitted mainly through Belarussian or Ukrainian media.
On the other hand, by gradually the deprecating reports about the scale and nature of the military threat (which have mainly been disseminated via Belarusian or Ukrainian media), it has been deepening the divisions between the ‘new’ and ‘old’ members of the European Union, on a wave of alleged anti-Russian hysteria generated by the former.
Most likely in response to the Russian propaganda machine, the Zapad-2017 exercises have been used for the first time as an essential element in the information policy of NATO (and the United States), and also (in the regional dimension) by Ukraine. Unlike previous Zapad exercises, it is the message from Kiev which should currently be considered the most alarmist, and (thanks to the tension in Russo-American relations) it is being legitimised to a great degree by the North Atlantic Alliance.
The Zapad-2017 exercises are the core of the information war between Russia and NATO which has been going on uninterrupted since November 2016, when the plans of the Russian Federation’s Defence Ministry regarding an increase in military railway transports between Russia and Belarus in 2017 were disclosed.
The number of 4162 cars contracted for the period from 1 January to 30 November 2017 (a figure several times larger than in previous years) was reported in the media as enabling a possible attack on Belarus by up to 30,000 soldiers, i.e. almost the entire Russian 1st Guards Tank Army. The consequence of this was a series of reports over the next few months stating that after the end of the exercises, the Russian group would remain in Belarus as occupation forces.
Such reporting gained particular intensity in the first quarter of this year, when once again the government in Minsk simulated a more intense desire for rapprochement with the West – a move which suggests that this also was an element of Belarus’s own information war. Then comments appeared (particularly in the Ukrainian media) suggesting that the Russian soldiers transported to Belarus would be used to strike at Ukraine.
It was only in August, on a wave of studies (emerging from Poland, among others) justifying the possibility of such a scenario, that Russia issued reports and figures indicating that the actual figure for the use of rolling stock in the Russian-Belarusian military exercises applied to the whole of the year 2017, and not just the Zapad-2017 exercises.
Russian representatives also began to supply data on the number of forces and vehicles planned for involvement in the exercises, including 12,700 soldiers (7200 from Belarus and 5500 from Russia, about 3000 of whom will be based in Belarus), 70 aircraft and helicopters, 680 armoured fighting vehicles (including 250 tanks), 200 artillery units (barrel, missile and mortar) and 10 ships.
These numbers are much lower than those cited in the previous media reports, especially those coming out of Ukraine. According to the National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine, the entire Zapad-2017 exercises were to have included 230–240,000 soldiers, over 10,000 units of heavy weapons, 100 aircraft and helicopters, and 40 ships.
Reports such as these should be considered as an attempt to mobilise Western (particularly American) support for Ukraine (especially in the area of defence).The official Russian data should be considered as being far closer to the real figures, although they have been deliberately reduced to less than 13,000 soldiers, the ceiling figure which would have required the implementation of confidence- and security-building measures, including the mechanisms for observation exercises provided for in the OSCE’s Vienna Document.
This has been backed up not only by the Russian army’s practice up to now, but above all by the conditions, starting with the capacity of the training grounds designated for the exercises in Belarus (4 general military grounds and 2 for air training) and Russia (3 in the Kaliningrad, Leningrad and Pskov oblasts).
Nevertheless, the total number of forces and resources involved in the Russian and Russian-Belarusian training projects in the western strategic direction since spring 2017 may be up to ten times greater than those involved in the Zapad-2017 exercises.
Russian training activity in the western strategic direction in 2017
The Zapad-2017 exercises are the culmination of a series of training projects carried out in the western strategic direction in 2017.
From the perspective of Minsk, they will be the biggest military event since the Zapad-2013 exercises, although from the perspective of Moscow, Zapad-2017 is just another project involving the forces and vehicles of the Western Military District, which from the training perspective are neither the biggest nor the most important of their kind.
Starting in spring this year, the training grounds in Belarus and the Western Military District of the RF have seen at least several dozen projects in the field of mobilisation and combat readiness, redeployments, troop regrouping and advances, tactical exercises on training grounds etc., involving formations of all types of troops and services, from a minimum of battalion level up to and including division level.
To better evaluate the scale of these projects, it should be noted that the training projects in the Zapad-2017 exercises will mostly be carried out at battalion level, up to brigade level. In terms of the exercises to be carried out jointly with the Belarusian army, special attention should be paid to the projects based on support and security for the general military formations, the scale of which exceeds the requirements to prepare the subunits for the Zapad-2017 exercises.
On 19–25 May, Belarus saw the largest ever exercises by electronic warfare units, which involved a total of 1500 soldiers from both armies. The logistical exercises carried out on 21–25 August, one element of which was a security operation for the pipelines supplying fuel to the frontline troops, should be seen in a similar light. These exercises proceeded on two different tracks, one as a Russian-Belarusian project (2500 soldiers from both countries on the territory of Belarus) and the other as purely Russian (3000 soldiers on the territory of the Russian Federation, which also included interoperability training in wartime with the transmission network operators).
Of the projects preparing for Zapad-2017 carried out on the territory of Belarus, attention should also be paid to the training for engineering (13–15 June), communications (10–14 July), chemical defence (21–25 August) and air defence formations, in which aircraft from bases in Russia were moved to Belarusian airfields (23–25 August).
The summer training period for various kinds of exercise (which started in June) included the majority of the units in the Russian Federation’s Western Military District; this means that the formations comprising units for the Zapad-2017 exercises have effectively been in a state of permanent training.
This principally concerns the Airborne Troops; the Baltic Fleet, together with its subordinate air-land grouping in the Kaliningrad oblast; and the 1st Guards Tank Army. It is also worth noting the two bilateral regimental exercises (in July, the 98th Airborne Division from Ivanov, with the participation of the 31st Air Assault Brigade from Ulyanovsk, at the training ground near Pskov; and in August, the 76th Air Assault Division from Pskov, with the participation of the above-mentioned 31st LAB and the 45th Spetsnaz Brigade), in both cases involving 2500 soldiers, at least 300 units of heavy weapons and several dozen planes and helicopters.
During the Zapad-2017 exercises we can expect a much lower involvement of the airborne troops, at the level of tactical battalion groups.
Of the projects for the 11th Army Corps in the Kaliningrad oblast, attention should be paid to the brigade exercises of the 336th Naval Infantry Brigade from Baltiysk (in June) and the regimental exercises of the 7th Mechanised Regiment from Kaliningrad (in August), as well as the exercises by the 244th Artillery Brigade and the 25th Missile Brigade (nominally a coastal defence unit, armed with Bastion systems capable of destroying ground targets with Kalibr missiles).
It must be stressed, however, that most of the maritime, land and air units which have been deployed in Kaliningrad have been training since June, and the 11th Army Corps has already held exercises four times (including twice in August). The units of the 1st Guards Tank Army, especially its two main tactical formations, the 2nd ‘Tamanskaya’ Mechanised Division and the 4th ‘Kantemirovskaya’ Armoured Division, should also be regarded as active.
The tank crews of the 4th AD have also undergone some exercises in Belarus, conducted in mid-June. The most important elements of the 1st Guards Tank Army’s training, however, took place in August: checking the combat readiness of the tactical formations and the support and security units of the 1st Army (achieving combat readiness and preparation for deployment, 15 August) as well as the new automated command and control system (from 28 August).
Probably the largest tactical exercise carried out in 2017 in the Western Military District involved not the units assigned to participate in the Zapad-2017 exercises, but rather the mechanised divisions formed as part of the newly created 20th Army – the 3rd and the 144th MDs.
On 14–18 August, a bilateral exercise was carried out at the training ground in the Voronezh oblast, including both the above-mentioned tactical formations (the participating units simulated a clash of opposing forces), in which 2000 soldiers and 600 units of heavy weapons took part.
In the training projects which will make up the Zapad-2017 exercises, we should not expect any simulated clashes between formations of more than 1000 soldiers. In addition to those mentioned, we should note what will probably turn out to be the biggest Russian air defence exercises this year, which were carried out in the Western Military District at the beginning of July (5000 soldiers and 2000 units of arms and military equipment, including 100 aircraft and helicopters), as well as exercises by the Railway Troops in building crossings (on 1 August, they constructed a bridge 400 m in length across the Oka River; and on 24 August, a 1-km-long bridge on the Volga; for comparison, the crossing built on the Dnieper by engineering units in the context of the exercises in Belarus was 300 m in length).
The growth of Russia’s military potential in the western strategic direction
In the period between the Zapad-2013 and Zapad-2017 exercises, the Russian groupings in the western strategic direction changed diametrically. In all types of troops and services, the potential for growth has mainly been achieved through extensive large-scale technical modernisation, although in the case of the Land Forces, and to an extent the Airborne Troops, the most important factor was the formation of new units and the expansion of those already existing.
It is noteworthy that the Western Military District is hosting most of the tactical formations which have been newly created in recent years, and those created in the other military districts have also been deployed in the western strategic direction (in the Rostov oblast, as part of the Southern Military District) or just beyond the Urals as part of the second strategic echelon in the western direction (in the Central Military District).
Meanwhile, no new tactical formations have been created in the Russian Far East. During the period in question, two new army headquarters have been created (the 1st Guards Tank Army in Moscow and the 8th Army in Novocherkassk), as well as three army corps (the 11th in Kaliningrad, the 14th on the Kola peninsula, and the 32nd in Crimea). The 8th Army and the 32nd Corps (both directed towards Ukraine) have received most of the newly created units.
New divisions have also been deployed in the 20th Army (Voronezh). In total, between 2015 and 2017 four new divisions have been created (three mechanised: the 3rd, 144th and 150th MDs in the western strategic direction, in the Western and Southern Military Districts; and one armoured: the 90th AD in the Central Military District).
The Russian army’s tactical formations are being systematically expanded up to wartime status; the newly-created divisions each have four regiments of combat potential which are comparable to brigades (which have the same structures and sizes of general military subunits), and additional regiments have also been created in the previously existing 2nd MD and 4th AD of the 1st Guards Tank Army.
The creation of new military formations has been accompanied by the formation of brigades and regiments to provide support and security at army level. The nature and structure of the airborne troops have also been changed; at present they are defacto mechanised formations with increased capacity for rapid redeployment, with a destructive force comparable to the classic mechanised formations (especially after the divisions and brigades of air assault tank companies, and ultimately of tank battalions, are included).
The newly created reconnaissance brigades, which combine various elements including electronic surveillance, should be associated with the western military direction (so far only the Eastern Military District has not received any such units). As of June this year, thirty battalion and company tactical groups from Western Military District units had the status of immediate response forces. Fifteen of them have also received the status of so-called shock subunits.
The technical modernisation of the western strategic direction is proceeding at a rate comparable with that observed in the other strategic directions, although the process is distinct from those others in several ways. Units in European Russia have been the main recipients of new command and communications systems and electronic warfare equipment, as well as Ratnik personal equipment for the ‘soldier of the future’; they are also the first to have received the elements of the integrated command structure, together with equipment for tactical data exchange for ranks up to and including private (with the Ratnik equipment).
The western strategic direction is also getting the majority of the new or modernised arms of the Land Forces (including T-72B3 tanks, which since their upgrade now have the same battle potential as T-90 tanks), as well as Su-34 battlefield support aircraft (frontline bombers) and Mi-28 attack helicopters. As of mid-2017, the proportion of new and modernised weaponry in units in the Western Military District was 45%; therefore, we should see the rate of modernisation observed as guaranteeing that the planned ceiling of 70% will be achieved by 2020.
In the first half of 2017 the Western Military District received 500 units of offensive heavy weapons, and another 500 units should reach those groupings in the second half of the year.We should assume that the Western Military District will be the first recipient of the new generations of weapons, including T-14 tanks on the Armata platform (the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation have ordered 100 tanks of this type, to be delivered by 2020; at present one test company has been equipped with sixteen T-14 tanks) and Su-57 fifth-generation multi-role combat aircraft (T-50 PAK FA).It is noteworthy that the rearmament of units in the Kaliningrad region is proceeding at relatively the slowest pace in the western strategic direction.
On the one hand this can be seen as a political demonstration (for example, the rearmament of the 152nd Missile Brigade with the Iskander system is still being treated as an element of gameplay with the United States, i.e. as a ‘response’ to the deployment in Poland of elements of the American missile defence system); on the other, it represents a rational assessment of the military situation in the region (increasing the range of destructive weaponry, mainly by introducing Kalibr rockets, allows the Russian army to achieve any aim it wishes in the area of Central Europe without the need to use the infrastructure in the Kaliningrad region, which is potentially the most vulnerable to destruction by the local forces of NATO states).
Russia’s use of the Zapad-2017 exercises as the starting point for a military operation – the occupation of Belarus, a strike at Ukraine or even blocking the Suwalki Gap (which the exercises’ political scenario, disclosed on 29 August, might suggest), and the possible amputation of the three Baltic states from the rest of the NATO area – SHOULD BE CONSIDERED AS EXTREMELY UNLIKELY.
Undertaking such an action, along the model of 2008 (the attack on Georgia after the Kavkaz-2008 exercises), would mean that Moscow had acknowledged as essential the military necessity to counter the actual (or even formal) integration of Ukraine with Western structures, or the presence of the US military in that country (or in the Baltic states to any significant degree).
Carrying out such an operation would be accompanied by non-military measures: in the first place, a massive information campaign to discredit the potential enemy, which as a result would justify the use of military force – at least to the Russian public.
On the other hand, the condition for such an operation would have to be Moscow’s relative certainty that there would be no real combat response from the Western states and structures (especially the US and NATO). It should be assumed that in the present situation, the above-mentioned conditions for Russia to launch another military operation have not been met. However, Russia’s actions in the military sphere over recent years indicate that its preparations for a possible armed conflict in Europe are being carried out consistently, and are permanent in nature.
The armed forces of the Russian Federation have reached a level of ability that would allow the relatively smooth implementation of any military operation in the area of the former Soviet Union (albeit in the case of the three Baltic states, only upon the assumption of the effective disinterest of the US, which currently must be considered unlikely).
It remains unclear whether Russia could implement its policy objectives by military means, which would in reality need Moscow to use its military factor. It must be assumed that, in the case of a maintenance of the status quo – i.e. the lack of any greater military support from NATO for Ukraine (of a kind which would actually influence the growth of the Ukrainian army’s potential), or the Alliance’s constant, significant military presence in the Baltic States – Russia would disregard the direct use of military force to implement its policy objectives at least until the end of the football World Cup, which it will host in June and July 2018; this event is treated in Moscow as a matter of high prestige. However, we should not expect the Russian Federation to cease or even limit its use of the military factor as a tool of its information war with the West.
Appendix. Changes in the numbers of expanded general military operational formations, tactical formations and units of the Land Forces of the Russian Federation in the western strategic direction between 2013–2017 (as of mid-2017).
 Комментарий Департамента информации и печати МИД России относительно соблюдения в подготовки ходе учениям к транспарентности мер «Запад-2017», http://www.mid.ru/ru/foreign_policy/news/-/asset_publisher/cKNonkJE02Bw/content/id/2845944. It is noteworthy that previously – as the first to do so – the Russian defence ministry reported about 280 units of heavy weapons (combat vehicles and artillery) and 25 aircraft; we should assume that the data is consistent with the later report by the Russian foreign ministry, and that it applies only to the Russian army’s equipment which was planned for deployment in Belarus.
 According to the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE), tanks, combat armoured vehicles, artillery guns of 100-mm calibre and above, combat aircraft and combat helicopters.
 The report by the Russia Deputy Defence Minister, Aleksandr Fomin, deserves attention for its reference to the participation in Zapad-2017 by units of the FSB and the National Guard, which hitherto had been standard practice only in internal Russian exercises. The participation of groups from outside the Defence Ministry confirms that the exercises also include scenarios for possible pacification (occupation) after the attack by operating forces, and that the National Guard is preparing for tasks which in Soviet times had been performed by the troops of the NKVD.
 In the armoured and mechanised brigades and regiments of the Land Forces of the Russian Federation, the number and structure of the general military subunits (mechanised battalions or tank battalions) is identical.
Moscow expressed complete rejection and profound regret over searches at the Russian trade mission in Washington, Russian president’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov said on Sunday, adding that the Russian-US relations continue to degrade.
“Evidently, we can express profound regret over this violation of international law,” he told journalists. In his words, such actions “undermine international law” and “run counter to the convention on diplomatic relations.”
“It cannot but cause utter rejection and profound regret,” he stressed. “Steps are being made (by the US) that entail further degradation of the Russian-US relations.”
“A month ago, one could think that there were no further worsening in our relations but the US side is demonstrating that is can go further and further on that path,” Peskov noted. “We regret it.”
The Kremlin spokesman refrained from answering the question about Moscow’s possible response measures. “Let us wait until the Russian head of state expresses his point of view on that matter,” he said.
When asked whether Putin has been informed about what happened in Washington, Peskov answered in a question, “And how do you think?” “When one of the biggest world nations tramples down international law, the president of another biggest world nation is immediately informed about that,” he added.
On August 31, the United States authorities demanded Moscow close its consulate general in San Francisco, trade mission in Washington and its office in New York by September 2.
Earlier, the Russian foreign ministry said in statement that on September 2 the United States authorities had seized the buildings of Russia’s consulate general in San Francisco and trade mission in Washington, which are Russia’s property and enjoy diplomatic immunity.
Apart from that, Russian personnel was denied access to the premises the Russian trade mission rents in New York. Moscow described the seizure of Russian diplomatic property in the United States as an openly hostile step and called on the US authorities to return the diplomatic facilities immediately.
MOSCOW, September 3. /TASS/. Russia calls on the U.S. authorities to return immediately the diplomatic property (buildings of the Consulate General in San Francisco, trade representations in Washington and New York), or Washington would bear the entire responsibility for further degradation of the relations, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Sunday.
“On September 2, the U.S. authorities seized buildings of the Russian Consulate General in San Francisco and the Trade Representation in Washington, which are the Russian property enjoying the diplomatic immunity,” the document reads. “To Russian representatives have been closed access also into the building of the Trade Representation’s branch in New York.”
“We are calling on the American authorities to think better of it and to return immediately the Russian diplomatic facilities. Otherwise, the U.S will bear the entire responsibility for the continuing degradation of the relations between the countries, on which depend a lot the global stability and international security,” the Foreign Ministry said.
“We consider this situation as a clearly hostile act, as Washington’ grave violation of the international law, including the Vienna Convention on Diplomacy and Consular Relations, the bilateral Consular Convention,” the Foreign Ministry said.
The outrageous step of the American authorities “is in line with the actual expropriation in December last year of the Russian-owned diplomatic residential facilities near Washington and New York,” the ministry said. “In the seized buildings now are the U.S. intelligence services, supported by the armed police.”.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Baltic Post.
WASHINGTON, September 3. /TASS/. US officials told Russian diplomats they would make a video record in the building of the Russian trade mission in Washington after de-facto assuming control over it, a spokesman for Russia’s embassy in the US said on Saturday.
“Our staff left the trade mission’s territory. US officials remain there. We have no idea of what they are doing there now. It was claimed that they would make a video record there,” Nikolai Lakhonin said.
He added that two Russian diplomats were present during the inspection, but were ordered to leave at some point.
“They were present during the inspection – two embassy officials,” Lakhonin said. “At some point they were told to leave the territory.”
On August 31, Washington demanded that Moscow close down its Consulate-General in San Francisco and the trade mission in Washington, as well as its New York branch, by September 2. The US side says that the building’s diplomatic immunity expires on 14:00 on Saturday (21:00 Moscow time).
Head of the Russian trade mission in Washington, Alexander Stadnik, earlier told reporters that the facility was de-facto under control of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, the security and law enforcement arm of the US Department of State.
Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford used his invite to the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo in Scotland to visit British bases in the area and speak with senior United Kingdom defense leaders on a wide range of defense topics.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was invited months ago by his U.K. counterpart, British Chief of Defense Staff Air Chief Marshal Stuart Peach, to visit the tattoo and take the salute from the British units participating in the event.
“I didn’t realize how big the tattoo was when I accepted,” Dunford said during an interview on a flight back to Washington. “I learned.”
The tattoo ceremony is held at the esplanade of Edinburgh Castle the month of August, and more than 210,000 attend the event with about 100 million viewing the event on TV, according to news reports.
Earlier in the day, Dunford met with British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon and Peach to discuss a full range of issues from the South Asia strategy to the situation in East Asia – specifically North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.
“Both from my trip and the [positive] rhetoric that is coming out of Beijing is that the economic and political pressure is having an effect,” Dunford said. “It remains to be seen if the campaign will be successful, but there are indications that things are heading in the right direction.”
Chinese officials told North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that if he launched a missile toward Guam, he was on his own. China surprised the world by voting for sanctions against North Korea in the U.N. Security Council and now appears to be enforcing those sanctions, Dunford said.
Still, it is “much too early,” he said. “You can’t measure enforcement sanctions in weeks, but again the rhetoric has been positive from Beijing.”
Dunford also discussed opportunities for continued military-to-military engagement between the United States and the U.K. “We obviously have a very strong relationship with the U.K., and they are with us in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Dunford said.The chairman visited the future HMS Prince of Wales – a Royal Navy aircraft carrier being built in Rosyth, Scotland. The British ship will field American-built F-35B Lightning II aircraft.
“Any future fight is going to require a coalition, and interoperability is a critical and fundamental element of alliance and coalition warfare,” Dunford said. “This reflects the close nature of the alliance and bodes well for the interoperability.”
The chairman received positive feedback from the British leaders on the new strategy for South Asia announced earlier this week.
“It is fair to say that all of the nations that are currently contributing to the Resolute Support Mission, and certainly all of the nations who have been there since the very beginning like the U.K., … have received the strategy well,” Dunford said.
Coalition allies tell Dunford they believe the conditions-based approach is the right approach, “and that it will allow us all to have a longer-term horizon to assure our Afghan partners of our continuing support,” he said.
The strategy helps Afghan President Ashraf Ghani with his four-year plan to deal with corruption issues and economic development. “Instead of a one-year-at-a-time campaign, we can start to take a longer term approach and have confidence that the resources necessary to implement this longer term approach will be there,” the chairman said.
In addition to the British allies, Dunford spoke with other NATO allies, the Chairman of the NATO Military Committee, Czech Gen. Petr Pavel and other close partners. He noted that Army Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti, Eucom’s commander and NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe, has also spoken to allies, as has Army Gen. Joe Votel, the U.S. Central Command chief.
“We’ve touched a lot of people this week and there has been universal support for the approach we are taking,” the chairman said.
The U.S. Navy will relieve Seventh Fleet Commander Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin after a series of collisions involving its warships in Asia, a U.S. official told Reuters, as the search goes on for 10 sailors missing since the latest mishap.
“An expedited change in leadership was needed,” the official said in Washington Tuesday of the decision to relieve Aucoin of his command.
The Navy declined to comment on any plans to relieve Aucoin, which was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.
The official told Reuters that Admiral Scott Swift, the commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, would relieve Aucoin, a three-star admiral, when the two meet in Japan.
It was not clear when the formal announcement would be made. The Seventh Fleet is headquartered in Japan.
Commander scheduled to step down
Aucoin was scheduled to step down next month, with Phillip Sawyer, deputy commander of the Pacific Fleet and a submariner, slated to succeed him. Aucoin came up through the Navy’s air wing as an F-14 navigator.
The move to replace Aucoin comes days after the collision between a guided-missile destroyer and a merchant vessel east of Singapore and Malaysia before dawn Monday, the fourth major incident in the U.S. Pacific Fleet this year.
An international search-and-rescue operation involving aircraft, divers and vessels from the United States, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Australia is looking for the 10 U.S. sailors missing since the accident.
Remains found aboard damaged ship
On Tuesday, U.S. Navy and Marine Divers found human remains inside sealed sections of the damaged hull of the USS John S McCain, which is moored at Singapore’s Changi Naval Base. The Navy has not yet announced the identities of the bodies discovered.
The U.S. Navy is also working to identify a body found by the Malaysian navy about eight nautical miles northwest of the collision site.
The latest collision has prompted a fleetwide investigation and plans for temporary halts in U.S. Navy operations.
The USS John S. McCain’s sister ship, the USS Fitzgerald, almost sank off the coast of Japan after colliding with a Philippine container ship June 17. The bodies of seven U.S. sailors were found in a flooded berthing area after that collision.
The USS John S. McCain and the tanker Alnic MC collided Monday while the U.S. ship was approaching Singapore on a routine port call. The impact tore a hole in the warship’s port side at the waterline, flooding compartments that included a crew sleeping area.
High-ranking military officials have become an increasingly ubiquitous presence in American political life during Donald Trump’s presidency, repeatedly winning arguments inside the West Wing, publicly contradicting the president and even balking at implementing one of his most controversial policies.
Connected by their faith in order and global norms, these military leaders are rapidly consolidating power throughout the executive branch as they counsel a volatile president.
Some establishment figures in both political parties view them as safeguards for the nation in a time of turbulence.
Trump’s elevation of a cadre of current and retired generals marks a striking departure for a country that for generations has positioned civilian leaders above and apart from the military.
“This is the only time in modern presidential history when we’ve had a small number of people from the uniformed world hold this much influence over the chief executive,” said John McLaughlin, a former acting director of the CIA who served in seven administrations.
“They are right now playing an extraordinary role.”
Lithuania became the first former Soviet state to import a shipment of US natural gas on Monday, at a time when Washington has promised to help weaken Europe’s reliance on gas supplies from Russia.The liquefied natural gas cargo aboard the Clean Ocean tanker is highly symbolic, as Lithuania looks to cement ties and backing from Washington following Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.
Rising shipments of US natural gas, made possible by the shale revolution in the country, are increasingly pitching into regions Russia’s state-backed gas company, Gazprom, has long considered its own backyard.Lithuania has already been importing LNG from Norway since it opened its first terminal for the supercooled fuel in 2014, but is keen to show Moscow it has a variety of options, including from the world’s largest economic and military power.
“This shipment of US LNG is historic and symbolic as Russia sees Lithuania as it’s backyard and traditionally one of Gazprom’s monopoly markets,” said Agnia Grigas, an Atlantic Council fellow in Washington DC and author of ’The New Geopolitics of Natural Gas’.“
It’s also a signal from the US LNG industry showing that they can go to any region and challenge Gazprom, while Lithuania hopes to deepen commercial ties with the US to ensure Washington’s commitment and support.” Gazprom believes that its pipeline supplies can compete with US LNG on price and Moscow has criticised the US for targeting pipeline projects with possible sanctions.
Lithuania’s energy minister Zygimantas Vaiciunas said on Monday that the shipment from Cheniere Energy’s export terminal on the US Gulf Coast to the floating Klaipeda terminal in the Baltic state was, however, done at a price that was competitive with gas delivered on Russian pipelines, without revealing terms. “We are happy to reach a point where importing gas from U.S. is not only politically desirable but also commercially viable,” Mr Vaiciunas said. Alaska aside, Cheniere is the first US company to export LNG from the mainland, and has sent out more than 160 cargoes since operations started in February last year.
The majority of these are on long-term contracts though it has a number of cargoes available for sale in the spot market through its London-based trading arm. Most of Cheniere’s cargoes have gone to Latin America and Asia, but European countries have also been taking occasional shipments with US LNG reaching Spain, Italy, UK, Netherlands and Poland in the last 18 months.
US President Donald Trump said in a speech in Poland in July that US gas exports to the continent would increase, knowing US natural gas exports have found a particularly warm welcome among pro-Nato politicians in central Europe and the Baltic states.
Both sides have talked up raising shipments further. Jack Fusco, president and chief executive of Cheniere said on Monday that the company was looking “forward to continuing that relationship” with Lithuania.
LNG supplies are expected to grow almost 50 per cent between 2015 and 2020.make further inroads globally as supplies ramp up from the US and Australia as well as other sources. That is linking up regional natural gas markets and is expected, in the long run, to make the super-cooled fuel trade more like oil, with more reliance on spot deals to set prices, and giving traders a bigger role in the market.
Commodity trade house Gunvor on Monday secured a ten-year offtake deal with Equatorial Guinea to market cargoes coming out of its Fortuna Floating LNG project, which is expected to start up in 2020.
Russia currently has a grip on the European gas market, which it uses to bully its close neighbors and shush any major European states that push back on its geopolitical ambitions. U.S. Liquefied Natural Gas – LNG, it follows, will break Russia’s stranglehold. It is a cheaper and more reliable alternative. In turn, Russia will either lose market share or compete by lowering its prices.
Russia depends heavily on its energy exports. In fiscal year 2008, oil and gas revenues reached a peak, accounting for half of the Russian federal budget. However, since the global financial crisis hit the country in 2009, the Russian economy began to run fiscal deficits. In 2012, 2013 and 2014 Russia ran budget deficits representing -0.02%, -0.7% and -0.6% of GDP, respectively. The exception was the year 2011, when the Russian budget incurred a 0.8% of GDP surplus.
Low oil prices and a collapse in domestic demand and imports as the economy fell into recession decimated fiscal revenues in 2015. In fact, the impact of low oil prices on Russia’s fiscal revenues raised questions about the country’s long-term economic prospects as well as fiscal sustainability. With the decline of energy prices and the Russian government’s dependence on energy revenues to fund its budget—revenues from oil and natural gas represented around 52% of the Russian budget—forced the Russian government to rethink its fiscal policy. The Finance Ministry announced in early September 2015 that it had decided to suspend the fiscal rule—a law designed to limit government spending.
By 2020, the United States could be sending roughly 80 billion cubic meters of LNG to Europe a year—about two-thirds of the volume that Russia exported to Europe in 2015 and just under a third of Europe’s entire gas consumption, which is 400 billion cubic meters per year (450 billion cubic meters, if one includes Turkey). It is no wonder that conflict seems imminent.
The Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline construction project will be implemented in due time despite new US sanctions, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said on Friday 18 August.
“As far as the Nord Stream 2 is concerned, in terms of US sanctions, much will depend on uncertainty the law contains and requiring clarifications. Considering that European nations are interested in gas supplies from Russia over the Nord Stream 2 pipeline as well subject to their declining production and consumption growth, we are confident this project will be implemented within the intended timeframe. At least its implementation continues,” Novak said.
On August 2, US President Donald Trump signed the bill envisioning tougher sanctions against Russia, Iran and North Korea. The new measures allow fining European companies for participation in joint energy projects with Russia, particularly in Nord Stream – 2 and Turkish Stream.
In an effort to circumvent the sanctions imposed by the U.S. Russia has completed an energy deal with Iran. Iran can start deliveries of oil to Russia under the “oil-for-goods” program within the next month, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak told reporters on Friday.
“We are finalizing the last details of regulatory documents. I think I will respond to your question within one month,” Novak said confirming that supplies can start by the end of that term.
Moscow and Tehran may shortly agree upon conditions for sale of 100,000 oil barrels per day by Iran for Russia, Novak said earlier. Supplies can be either physical or swap-based, he added. Purchases will be made within the framework of the “oil-for-goods” deal.
Russia has turned to the Arctic to solve it’s energy crisis. Russia’s Arctic development comes as its oil production increases despite a more than two-year long supply glut and plunge in prices. But it also comes as the country’s oil fields mature.
Mikå Mered, managing partner at Polarisk, a consultancy specializing in polar issues said that Russia’s onshore oil and gas fields “are depleting and depleting fast.”
“If you are the Russian government today and if you want to keep having your oil and gas, you need to start developing offshore Arctic oil and gas fast,” he said.
The Wilson Center, a Washington-based independent research group, said in a recent report on Arctic drilling that Russia needs these new fields if it is going to maintain oil production levels of at least 10 million bpd by 2020 and beyond.
Russian oil company Gazprom Neft, the country’s fourth largest oil producer, said that four wells were now in production at the northern Prirazlomnoye field after two more were successfully started. The Prirazlomnoye field is an Arctic offshore oilfield located in the Pechora Sea, south of Novaya Zemlya, Russia.
Production from an ice-resistant offshore rig perched in the Pechora passed 43,980 barrels of oil per day (bpd), the company said. Full field development plans call for 32 wells. In March, the company said that it had reached a milestone with production of its 10 millionth barrel of oil at the field, while it revised its production schedule higher to 35 million barrels.
Russia is serious about developing the Arctic. Russia has four nuclear icebreakers with three under construction. Russia also possesses 37 Diesel-powered icebreakers with four under construction. The most powerful fleet in the Russian Federation, the Northern Fleet is based in Severomorsk on the coast of the Barents Sea along the Kola Bay 25 kilometers (16 mi) northeast of Murmansk. The Fleet consists of the flagship Kuznetsov, an aircraft carrying cruiser, heavy cruisers, cruisers, frigates, corvettes, SSBNs and SSNs plus many amphibious assault ships, hovercraft and Fleet aviation assets.
In 2012 the Russian Air Force decided to reopen Graham Bell Airfield as part of a series of reopenings of air bases in the Arctic. A major new base, named the Arctic Trefoil for its three lobed structure, was constructed on Alexandra Land. It can maintain 150 soldiers for 18 months and has an area of 14,000 square meters.
In 2017, Russian president Vladimir Putin visited the archipelago to protect Russia’s interests in the Arctic.
The depletion of resources in Russia, sanctions from the United States and increasing tension along NATOs Eastern Flank have meant that Russia is developing new oil and gas facilities in the Arctic, initiating deals with Iran, which will benefit the economies of both countries, and forging ahead with the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project.
The big issue for the Russian Federation is whether they can compete with the United States. Rotterdam, Antwerp, Hamburg and Amsterdam are gearing up for an excess of imported U.S. Liquefied Natural Gas. Will Russia be able to compete?