U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirms new envoy with Azerbaijan to dilute Russia’s grip on the European energy

Source: Caspian News

The United States Senate’s Committee on Foreign Relations confirmed the appointment of Earle Litzenberger, a career member of the U.S. Foreign Service, as the next ambassador to the Republic of Azerbaijan on Thursday.

Litzenberger’s most recent job was Senior Advisor in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs at the State Department. He has also served as the Deputy Chief of Mission to the U.S. Mission to NATO; the U.S. embassy in Belgrade, Serbia; and the U.S. embassy in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

“President Trump has reiterated the importance of energy and security cooperation with Azerbaijan in all the letters he addressed to the government in Baku,” Shahinoglu said.

At a time when the U.S. is looking for ways to dilute Russia’s grip on the European energy market, fossil fuel resources in Azerbaijan are being leveraged to help diversify European supplies. President Trump voiced his support for the Southern Gas Corridor – a billion-dollar natural gas mega project that starts at the Shah Deniz gas field in the Caspian Sea and ends in southern Italy. The corridor will deliver, starting in 2020, 10 billion cubic meters (bcm) of natural gas each year to Europe, enough to power 10 million homes. The corridor is also supplying Turkey with an additional six bcm of natural gas per year.

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Fears for sovereignty as the EU takes over members’ armies

Source: Cyprus Mail

Like other member states, Cyprus has signed up to Pesco which critics say means nations are effectively sub-contracting their militaries out to the EU, thus ceding their sovereignty

By Elias Hazou

A year ago, when the European Union was rolling out its Permanent Structured Cooperation (Pesco), some commentators cautioned that we were witnessing the birth pangs of an EU military structure, an essential ingredient in the creation of a European super-state.

At the time such warnings were waved off as hyperbole or ‘conspiracy theory’. Today, EU leaders – including President Nicos Anastasiades – are freely speaking of an ‘EU army’. And meanwhile Cyprus’ own involvement in Pesco is picking up steam.

Before going any further, it cannot be emphasised enough that the phrase ‘EU army’ is a misnomer. The bloc is not out to establish its own armed forces out of scratch. Rather, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the goal is to integrate the existing militaries of EU member states. Thus, the correct term would be EU military unification.

David Ellis, a journalist who has been tracking the issue for years, says it’s vital to make that distinction.

In an email, Ellis, director of Strategic Defence Initiatives, told the Sunday Mail:

“I stress that the EU is seeking to unify national militaries under single-point command and control of all defence services in the EU zone. Why create a military or defence industry of its own when the EU can commandeer the existing ones for free?

“The EU will then issue tax bills to pay for what is now its own military structures. Therefore, this is in no way an ‘EU army’ on initial ownership grounds. Besides, we see that all armed services are within the scope of EU military unification.”

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U.S. Navy may stop docking in Haifa after Chinese take over port

Source: J. POST

The US Navy has acknowledged that its longstanding operations in Haifa may change once a Chinese firm takes over the civilian port in 2021, prompting Israel’s national security cabinet to revisit the arrangement, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
Haifa, the nation’s largest port city, regularly hosts joint US-Israeli naval drills and visits from American vessels. But a 2015 agreement between Israel’s Transportation Ministry and Shanghai International Port Group (SIPG) – a company in which the Chinese government has a majority stake – has raised intelligence and security concerns that are only now prompting an interagency review.
That agreement granted SIPG control over the port for 25 years. The Chinese company has committed $2 billion to the project and, according to state-run media, plans to transform the port’s bay terminal into the largest harbor in the country.
A representative of the Sixth Fleet said the navy’s partnership with Israel remains “steadfast.”

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Moscow To Set Up Military Base In Caribbean

Source: TASS

According to military envoys, Russian authorities have made a decision (and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro did not object) to deploy strategic aircraft to one of Venezuela’s islands in the Caribbean Sea, which has a naval base and a military airfield. Ten years ago, Russian experts and Armed Forces commanders had already visited the island of La Orchila, located 200 kilometers northeast of Caracas. Venezuelan laws prohibit the setup of military bases in the country, but a temporary deployment of warplanes is possible.

“It is the right idea to include Venezuela in long-range aviation missions,” military expert Colonel Shamil Gareyev told the newspaper, adding that it was also economically reasonable. “Our strategic bombers will not only not have to return to Russia every time, but also won’t perform aerial refueling while on a patrol mission in the Americas. Our Tu-160 aircraft arrive to their base in Venezuela, conduct flights, execute their missions and are then replaced on a rotating basis. This is how it should be done,” he said.

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AFRICOM and State Department re-establishes ‘permanent diplomatic presence’ in Somalia

Source: Stars Stripes & AP 

America’s top commander for Africa made a rare visit to war-torn Somalia, meeting with local leaders to discuss security in a country where U.S. forces quietly serve in a fight against militants.

U.S. Africa Command’s Gen. Thomas Waldhauser also met Tuesday with the newly appointed U.S. ambassador to Somalia, Donald Yamamoto, who is in the process of establishing a permanent American diplomatic mission.

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The United States says it has re-established a “permanent diplomatic presence” in Somalia for the first time in 27 years.

The State Department late Tuesday said “this historic event reflects Somalia’s progress in recent years and is another step forward in formalizing U.S. diplomatic engagement in Mogadishu.”

Read  More: Stars Stripes & AP 

U.S. Imposes Sanctions on Retired Israeli General Over Role in South Sudan’s Civil War

Source: Haaretz

The United States says it has sanctioned three people over their roles in South Sudan’s civil war, including a retired Israeli major general, Israel Ziv.

In a statement Friday, the U.S. Treasury said Ziv and South Sudanese businessman Obac William Olawo led entities whose efforts extended the conflict, while South Sudanese official Gregory Vasili took part in “actions that have undermined peace, stability and security.”

“Ziv used an agricultural company that was nominally present in South Sudan to carry out agricultural and housing projects for the government of South Sudan as a cover for the sale of approximately $150 million worth of weapons to the government, including rifles, grenade launchers and shoulder-fired rockets,” the Treasury said.

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Russian military establishes a new base just north of US-held Tanf region

Source: Almasdar News

The Russian military has reportedly established a new base a few kilometers away from the U.S.-held Al-Tanf region.

According to reports from southern Syria, the newly established Russian base will maintain a large presence of Russian and Syrian military personnel.

The new Russian base is located near the Zarqa Crossroad, which was the site of intense clashes between the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and the U.S.-backed Jaysh Mughawar Al-Thoura group last night.

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UK to establish military base in Kuwait

Source: Yenisafak

Kuwait and the U.K. have reached an agreement to establish a British military base in the Gulf state, local Kuwaiti media reported Thursday.

The private Alrai newspaper said the two countries concluded a deal to establish the British military base in Kuwait.

The daily, citing diplomatic sources, said officials from both countries will meet on Thursday to discuss aspects of cooperation between the two sides.

The newspaper also quoted Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Khaled al-Jarallah while denying any link between the British base and a border dispute between Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

 

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United States and Australia developing a Papua New Guinea naval base to curb China

Source: BBC

The US says it will join Australia in developing a naval base in Papua New Guinea (PNG), in an apparent move to curb China’s growing influence.

Vice-President Mike Pence said the three countries would work together on the facility on Manus Island.

Australia announced last month that it would work with PNG to develop the island’s Lombrum Naval Base.

“We will work with these two nations to protect sovereignty and maritime rights in the Pacific islands.”

Lombrum, which was a major US naval base during World War Two, holds a strategic position overlooking busy trade routes.

 

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Top U.S. General: Iran-Backed Militias in Iraq a Threat to U.S. Forces

Source: Breitbart 

Some factions from the Baghdad-sanctioned umbrella organization for mainly Tehran-allied Shiite militia groups known as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) are helping Iran expand its nefarious activities in Iraq, a top U.S. Department of State (DOS) official indicated this week.

His remarks echoed the U.S. general tapped to command American forces in the Middle East.

During his confirmation hearing last week, Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie Jr., the new chief of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), McKenzie told lawmakers that some PMF factions — namely Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH) and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (AAH) — are not entirely under the control of the Iraqi government and are working directly for Iran.

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The Pentagon Is Declassifying Lots of Info About What’s in Orbit

Source: Popular Mechanics

These orders come from the top, and are part of the larger U.S. government effort to spur the commercialization of space. The largest sign of this change in policy is the transfer of space traffic management from the Pentagon to the Department of Commerce. U.S. Strategic Command officials say the move to declassify is “based on guidance in Space Policy Directive-3” which stipulates that Commerce will be responsible for making space safety data available to the public, while the Department of Defense will still be in charge of keeping an authoritative catalog of man-made space objects.

That catalog is accessible to the public via a website, space-track.org. The site provides what are called two-line element sets, or TLEs, that encode the position and probable movement of an object in orbit.

For example, amateur trackers are following the movements of an Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) satellite as it moves toward geostationary orbit. These satellites serve as emergency communication during a nuclear war. They can also defeat intentional jamming from enemies, surging their signal strength to overwhelm any noise, while nulling antennas pinpoint the attack and dampen the signal with counter-noise.

In other words, it’s the kind of satellite position that the Pentagon may not want to advertise accurately on a public website.

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Russia is stepping up its political and military presence in Africa with Wagner Mercenaries

Source: Assenna

THE MAN SPEARHEADING RUSSIA’S AFRICAN RISE

It may be difficult to spell or pronounce, but if the name Yevgeny Prigozhin rings a bell, it’s beacuse he was indicted for interfering in the 2016 US election.

The Russian businessman is also alleged to have helped Russia seize parts of Ukraine and turn the tide in the war in Syria.

Prigozhin is known as Vladimir Putin’s “chef” because of his catering company and links to the Kremlin.

According to Bloomberg, he’s now the man spearheading a deep reach into Africa with an army of mercenaries to take control and gain influence.

Prigozhin and his army of soldiers and operatives are offering security, arms training and electioneering services in exchange for increased control of the region, the media company reported last week.

This can be seen across the continent. In Sudan, the Wagner group has reportedly won gold and diamond concessions.

Original Post News.AU -Map reveals how Russia is building up its presence across Africa

Resource Wars: Trump’s new Africa strategy takes sharp aim at China, Russia

Source: AP

The Trump administration on Thursday announced a sharp refocus of its Africa strategy to counter what it called the “predatory” practices of China and Russia, which are “deliberately and aggressively targeting their investments in the region to gain a competitive advantage.”

National security adviser John Bolton laid out the new strategy in remarks at the Heritage Foundation, saying the U.S. will now choose its African partners more carefully. He took special aim at China, accusing it of wielding “bribes, opaque agreements, and the strategic use of debt to hold states in Africa captive to Beijing’s wishes and demands.”

Addressing members of Congress on Wednesday, Assistant Secretary of State Tibor Nagy was the latest to warn of China’s increasing economic, military and political influence in Africa, a continent with some of the world’s fastest-growing economies and trillions of dollars’ worth of natural resources. Africa’s population is set to double by 2050, he said, a “demographic tsunami.”

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Unilateral military action into northeast Syria ‘unacceptable’: Pentagon

United States is supporting the Kurdish forces in Northeastern Syria. PKK, YPG

Source: Reuters

The Pentagon said on Wednesday that any unilateral action into northeast Syria was of grave concern and “unacceptable,” after Turkey announced that it would launch a new military operation in the region within days to target Kurdish militia fighters.

“Unilateral military action into northeast Syria by any party, particularly as U.S. personnel may be present or in the vicinity, is of grave concern. We would find any such actions unacceptable,” Commander Sean Robertson, a Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement.

Robertson said that the United States was committed to Turkey’s border security but that the fight against Islamic State was not over and the Syrian Democratic Forces remained a “committed partner” against the militant group.

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Turkish Armed Forces and 14,000 strong FSA army ready for Turkey’s Euphrates PKK operation

United States is supporting the Kurdish forces in Northeastern Syria. PKK, YPG

Source: YenisaFak

The Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) ordered the Free Syrian Army (FSA) three days ago to prepare 14,000 troops for an operation targeting the east of Syria’s Euphrates River, according to information obtained by Yeni Şafak daily. The FSA was told to prepare armaments and equipment for the operation.

Turkey will launch an operation in the east of the Euphrates in a few days to liberate the region from the PKK terrorist organization, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced on Wednesday.

“It is time to realize our decision to wipe out terror groups east of the Euphrates,” Erdoğan said.

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China plans underwater AI base in South China Sea

Source: UPI

China is planning to build a deep sea base for unmanned submarine science and defence operations in the South China Sea, a centre that might become the first artificial intelligence colony on Earth, officials and scientists involved in the plan said.

China is planning an underwater sea base, a latter-day “Atlantis” that runs on artificial intelligence that could aid Beijing in defense operations in the South China Sea, according to a recent press report.

The South China Morning Post reported Monday China is building the center that could become the “first artificial intelligence colony on Earth.”

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Secretive Malaysian External Intelligence Organisation (MEIO) has over 1,000 personnel worldwide

Source: The Star

A little-known Malaysian spy agency, whose letter to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was leaked, has more than 1,000 agents and non-covert personnel posted around the world.

This and other little-known facts about the Malaysian External Intelligence Organisation (Meio) came to light during a media conference held by the lawyer of the agency’s former head Datuk Hasanah Abdul Hamid.

“I am not authorised to say how many agents, officers and operatives are maintained by the agency, but I can tell you it’s well over 1,000 all over the world and it’s important that such a leak should not have happened,” he said.

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Documents reveal Australia’s secret arms deals with nations fighting Yemen’s bloody war

Source: ABC AU

The Australian Government has approved the export of dozens of shipments of military items to Middle Eastern countries embroiled in the bloody Yemen war, a conflict dogged by accusations of war crimes and indiscriminate civilian killings.

Internal Defence Department documents obtained under Freedom of Information (FOI) and from parliamentary hearings reveal since the beginning of 2016, Canberra has granted at least 37 export permits for military-related items to the United Arab Emirates, and 20 to Saudi Arabia.

They are the two countries leading a coalition fighting a war against Houthi rebels in the Middle East’s poorest nation, Yemen.

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‘U.S. and the PKK are after Daesh’s gold reserves in Syria’

Source: YeniSafak

The U.S. and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) are after Daesh’s seven-ton gold reserves in Syria as they prepare to seize the terror group’s stronghold in eastern Syria, according to a former senior Daesh member.

Speaking exclusively to Yeni Şafak daily, former Daesh finance responsible Abu Zeid al-Ambari revealed the true intentions of the U.S. and PKK as they prepare to attack the final Daesh stronghold in Syria.

Abu Zeid also pointed that Daesh has 17 tons of silver in the besieged city of Hajin in Deir Ezzor, noting that Daesh had 13 tons of gold in its coffers in mid-2016.

“Only seven people knew where the gold was hidden; two were killed, one went missing; and now the U.S. and PKK are trying to seize the gold,” said Abu Zeid.

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Why is Israel forging secret ties with Sudan?

Source: Al Monitor

Israel’s Channel 10 revealed Nov. 27 that an Israeli Foreign Ministry envoy secretly met with Sudanese officials in 2017 in Istanbul, one of whom is close to current Sudanese Ambassador to Washington Mohammed Atta, who previously served as Sudan’s intelligence chief. The meeting paved the way for diplomatic overtures.

The head of the Sudanese-Israeli Friendship Association, Taraji Mustafa, revealed Nov. 30 that Tel Aviv wants to distance Khartoum from Iran and prevent the flow of weapons from its ports to the Sinai Peninsula and then to Hamas.

Israel might prioritize diplomatic ties with Sudan for security considerations, mainly to stop the arms supply to Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Israeli daily Maariv reported Dec. 1 that Israel has been conducting regional contacts, mostly in secret, with Arab countries such as Sudan, to market security tracking technology to stop weapons from reaching Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Arms are first transported from Libya to Sudan, all the way to Sinai and Gaza.

 

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Chinese oil firm hunts for overseas assets

Source: Hellenic Shipping News

China’s overseas oil and gas acquisitions fell to their lowest level in a decade, as volatile oil prices and geopolitical headwinds made deal making harder for Beijing, but state-backed firms are undeterred in their plans.

Some 14 deals worth US$2.36 billion have been recorded so far this year – a second year of declines, according to Refinitiv data. If there are no agreements in the next three weeks, this year will rank as the lowest in terms of number of deals in the last 10 years and the smallest by value in 11 years.

The record level of dependence on imports has accentuated China’s strategic need to acquire assets overseas to enhance energy security.

“The balance sheets of the big three Chinese state-backed oil majors have never look better, with a combined cash pile of 500 billion yuan [US$72.3 billion] and their net debt leverage at the lowest level in many years,” said Sanford Bernstein senior analyst Neil Beveridge.

“But the politics and rising resource nationalism in developed markets like Canada and Australia have definitely become more difficult while the US is clearly off limits.”

 

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Moscow Deploys Latest Electronic Warfare Systems in Kaliningrad

Source : The Jamestown Foundation

According to reserve Lieutenant Aleksandr Viktorov, a signals intelligence specialist, it is no coincidence that such EW complexes are being deployed in Kaliningrad and (allegedly) in Belarus: “Why the western direction? Because recently, reconnaissance aircraft, unmanned and manned, are often in close proximity to our borders and can transfer various kinds of telemetry information. For example, about the frequencies of air-defense systems, military airfields—any information that may further affect the outcome of hostilities.”

On October 28, the Russian Ministry of Defense confirmed that the latest version of the Samarkand EW system had been deployed to Kaliningrad and other strategic areas. At least 16 of these new systems were deployed in 13 units, as part of a wider program costing 61 million rubles ($920,000) and scheduled for completion by November 2019. Moscow-based Russian military specialists believe that the Samarkand EW system is designed to jam an adversary’s communication systems; it would target enemy command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) assets and operate against GPS (including by “spoofing”), confusing enemy coordinates. Military analyst Vladislav Shurygin notes that the Samarkand is a suppression system, meaning that when enemy forces attempt to conduct operations within its zone, they will experience problems with communications and all electronic equipment, ranging from sights to guidance systems (Izvestia, October 28).

In addition to moving the system into Kaliningrad, some reports suggest it may also have been deployed in Belarus, though the Belarusian defense ministry has denied this (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, October 30; Izvestia, October 28)

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Finnish intel says Russia and China continue to actively deploy assets

Source: New Europe

“Several foreign intelligence agencies are operating actively on Finnish soil. Cyber-espionage campaigns are also targeted regularly at Finland,” said Pelttari when presenting the Security Intelligence Service’s (Supo) report, which specifically named Moscow and Beijing as the two principal actors that are actively stationing agents and carrying out activities inside the country.

Supo’s report linked Russia’s spy agency, the FSB, and its military intelligence counterpart, the GRU,  to cyber-espionage campaigns targeting governmental institutions, private and state companies that have been contracted by the Finnish government, and other corporations that are engaged in product development and service production in the energy sector.

China’s intelligence service has been publicly linked to cyber-espionage operations that utilise existing maintenance systems and new kinds of malware to hack into both private and state entities whose “The product development has been of particular interest for the Chinese.

Supo offered a stark warning to its counterparts across Europe and the United States when it said it is becoming increasingly difficult for intelligence services to thwart clandestine espionage campaigns by both the Russians and Chinese due to rapidly changing technological advances that the FSB and MSS, China’s spy service, effectively harness and use to their advantage.

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A small island gets caught in China’s Pacific power game with West

Source: Nikkei Asian Review

Bougainville’s huge copper reserves and independence vote draw global interest

A small island has found itself caught in the escalating battle for influence in the South Pacific.

On both economic and diplomatic fronts, Papua New Guinea’s autonomous region of Bougainville has become a key piece in the game between Beijing, on one side, and the U.S. and its allies on the other.

With Bougainville holding one of the world’s largest untapped deposits of copper, Chinese and Western companies are weighing the prospects for reopening its Panguna copper mine — closed since a vicious civil war broke out in 1989. The island is also set to hold an independence referendum on June 15, potentially creating a new country that could vote in international forums such as the United Nations.

John Momis, president of the Autonomous Bougainville Government, told the Nikkei Asian Review that Chinese businesspeople raised the matter of investing in the mine on a visit to PNG ahead of last month’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation in the capital, Port Moresby.

The peace agreement signed by the PNG government and island leaders in 2001 created the ABG and set the stage for the referendum. Chinese involvement with the mine would give Beijing a direct role in the economic future of a newly independent nation as it seeks to secure resources and expand its strategic network. It would also boost China’s sway in its power game against the U.S. and regional rivals such as Australia.

Read More:Nikkei Asian Review