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First supplies of shale gas, extracted using the unconventional fracking process, could enter the British gas market as early as mid-2017, the head of shale gas firm Cuadrilla Resources told Reuters on Friday.
Britain is estimated to have substantial amounts of shale gas trapped in underground rocks and Prime Minister David Cameron has pledged to go all out to extract those reserves to help offset declining North Sea oil and gas output.
But progress has been slow as applications for shale gas projects have been held up at local government level where they have faced vocal opposition from environmental campaigners.
Cuadrilla initially wants to carry out fracking — which injects water, sand and chemicals into rock formations to release shale gas — at two sites in northwest England.
It hopes to get government approval to start operations at the sites before August.
“If we get good results from the wells … gas could go into the system next year,” said Francis Egan, chief executive of Cuadrilla, 46 percent owned by Australian engineer AJ Lucas (AJL.AX).
Gas flows from initial testing would be small but Egan said full production could start in 2018 if necessary permits are obtained.
Lancashire Council last year rejected Cuadrilla applications for fracking at the sites, underscoring local community concerns about the technique.
However, Britain has since changed planning rules to allow government intervention to approve or reject shale gas drilling permits and give priority to appeals involving the projects.
A planning inspector is expected to make recommendations on Cuadrilla’s Lancashire applications to local government minister Greg Clark by July 4 and he will then make the final decision.
Egan said he is confident the project will be approved since the government has voiced strong support for the technology, while the local authority had previously received legal advice to approve one of the applications.
The government hopes a shale gas boom will help generate jobs in the oil and gas industry which has been hard hit by a 60 percent slump in oil and gas prices in the last two years.
Gas prices in Britain remain higher than in the United States, where shale gas drillers are under severe strain from the energy market downturn.
Egan said the skills needed for fracking are broadly the same as those used in conventional gas.
“With the general environment and where the North Sea industry is going we are determined as ever to press on and secure a new gas source,” he said.
Cuadrilla expects to be able to secure service contracts much more cheaply than previously expected as it benefits from discounts due to weak demand.
Egan estimated industry services would likely be 30-40 percent cheaper than before the oil slump.
The Trumpet 06-May-16
Germany wants Europe to cooperate more on its military, according to a government paper leaked to the Süddeutsche Zeitung and the Financial Times. “In effect, the leaked draft says that Germany wants the formation of a European army,” wrote Geopolitical Futures.
The Financial Times described the paper’s proposals in an article titled “Germany to Push for Progress Toward European Army” by Alex Barker and Stefan Wagstyl: Germany is to push for progress towards a European army by advocating a joint headquarters and shared military assets, according to defense plans that could ricochet into Britain’s EU referendum campaign.
Although Berlin has long paid lip service to forming a “European defense union,” the white paper is one of the most significant for Germany in recent years and may be seized by anti-integration Brexit campaigners as a sign where the bloc is heading.
They explained that the report was scheduled to be published after the British referendum, as the idea of a European army is unpopular in the United Kingdom. Their article continues: In this and other areas, its tone reflects Germany’s growing clout and confidence in pursuing a foreign policy backed by elements of hard power. Initiatives range from strengthening cyberwarfare abilities to contentious proposals to relax the postwar restrictions on army operations within Germany.
“German security policy has relevance—also far beyond our country,” the paper states. “Germany is willing to join early, decisively and substantially as a driving force in international debates … to take responsibility and assume leadership.”
Jan Techau, a former defense official at Carnegie Europe, said: “This is the time of a new Germany. This is probably the first time a German defense white paper is something like important.” …
At the European level, the paper calls for “the use of all possibilities” available under EU treaties to establish deep cooperation between willing member states, create a joint civil-military headquarters for EU operations, a council of defense ministers, and better coordinate the production and sharing of military equipment. …
Resistance to serious defense integration is well entrenched in many EU states and has hobbled efforts to make meaningful progress in common defense. … However, about 37 EU security missions have been launched since 2003, including recent operations in Mali and against piracy. If vigorously pursued in Brussels, Germany’s call for joint civil military headquarters would be an important step in enhancing the bloc’s capabilities and ambitions. Geopolitical Futures notes that much of the reason for this, comes from America:
That Germany would push for such a move is in line with a number of dynamics that have developed in recent months. The most important of these has been the U.S. putting substantial pressure on the Europeans to shoulder more of the defense burden in Europe. At the center of that conversation is nato. Many ridiculed Donald Trump when he called nato “obsolete” in March and said the U.S. was paying too much to the military alliance, but in that particular case Trump touched a very raw nerve. … The Germans may now be saying that nato is not the most effective way for Europe to defend itself. The suggestion is that a new military alliance may be necessary to fix the one that isn’t working.
Germany is taking U.S. pressure seriously from a public relations viewpoint. Besides these most recent leaks, federal budget proposals in Germany for 2017 released on March 23 showed an additional €1.7 billion ($1.95 billion) that would be spent on defense in Germany for 2017. But even though Germany has said that it will increase defense spending, and even with a 6.8 percent planned increase for 2016, Germany still spends well below the 2 percent of gdp threshold that all nato members are supposed to spend on their military budgets. The Germans feel the pressure from the U.S. and are responding with token measures, hoping that at least showing that they accept U.S. concerns will help maintain the relationship. The paper does not detail who would pay for this military, or how decisions are made, so other important steps are still needed. But it shows a marked change in Germany that the nation is now willing to openly take the lead in forming an army. Germany has also been working with its neighbors and is planning to create a multinational panzer division next year.
The Trumpet 06-May-16
Russia is creating three new military divisions to counter the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s planned expansion into Poland and the Baltic states, according to remarks from Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on Wednesday. These three divisions would represent around 30,000 troops, but it is still unclear whether or not the units would be created from scratch or restructured from existing military forces.
In a Reuters news article, Dmitry Solovyov and Lidia Kelly wrote:
Russia will reinforce its western and southern flanks with three new divisions by the year-end, officials said on Wednesday, threatening retaliation to nato’s plans to boost its military presence in eastern members Poland and the Baltic states.
While Moscow accuses the Western alliance of threatening … Russia’s security, nato says intensified military drills and its plans for increased deployments on its eastern flank are purely defensive after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea in 2014 and backed separatist rebels in Ukraine. U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said on Monday nato was weighing up rotating four battalions of troops through eastern member states amid rising tension in the Baltic.
Russia has scrambled jets to intercept U.S. reconnaissance planes in recent weeks and made simulated attack passes near a U.S. warship in the Baltic Sea.
The nations of Eastern Europe are growing increasingly concerned about Russian aggression. The United States did nothing to stop Russia’s annexation of Crimea and has responded weakly to Russia’s provocative behavior toward U.S. ships in the Baltic Sea. As Russia builds up its military forces along its western flank, these Eastern European nations are warming to the idea of a united European military force capable of defending them from the aggressive foreign policy of Vladimir Putin.
Pope Francis, accepting a prize for promoting European unity, on Friday warned Europeans against the selfish temptation to put up fences to ward off newcomers, saying he still dreams of a Europe where migrants are welcomed.
“I dream of a Europe where being a migrant is not a crime, but a summons to a greater commitment on behalf of the dignity of every human being,” he told an audience including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Italian Premier Matteo Renzi and Spain’s King Felipe VI.
“I dream of a Europe that promotes and protects the rights of everyone, without neglecting its duties toward all. I dream of a Europe of which it will not be said that its commitment to human rights was its last utopia.”
The pontiff, the son of European immigrants to Argentina, accepted the prestigious International Charlemagne Prize, for his “message of hope and encouragement.”
Daily Telegraph 07-May-16
‘No big institutions back Brexit,” a fellow journalist barked in my face at a drinks party last week.
As I tried to respond, the point was repeated, this time more aggressively. “No big institutions want Brexit – not the CBI, the big banks or accountancy firms, they all think it’s mad.”
With less than seven weeks until the UK’s referendum on European Union membership, the rhetorical battle-lines are drawn.
The main strategy of the Government and broader Remain camp is “Project Fear” – scaring ordinary voters they’ll be thousands of pounds poorer each year if we leave.
Such psychological bombardment – presenting self-serving and deeply dubious forecasts as “fact” – will continue all the way to June 23.
Then there are the various sub-narratives – pithy phrases, again relentlessly repeated, designed to convey the impression they seal the argument.
“The big institutions all reject Brexit,” is one, of course. “Denying the free movement of people shows intolerance” is another, combining the unspoken yet potent accusation of racism.
“Brexit would spark a repeat Scottish referendum, splitting the UK” works well on patriotic-yet-undecided voters.
“No one knows what Brexit looks like – let’s stay with what we know,” is also often used, appealing to the UK’s inherent conservatism.
“The EU administered by a cabal of highly-paid, yet blinkered and deeply anti-commercial bureaucrats who are not only unaccountable to voters, but also in cahoots with out-of-touch political leaders”
All of these statements, far from decisive, are eminently questionable or wrong. Presented as unshakeable truths, they actually fall to pieces when countered with knowledge and just a few moments’ thought.
A slew of bad survey data struck the UK last week. Our construction industry just suffered its worst month in three years, managing only slight growth in April. Manufacturing actually contracted, amid falling export orders and a lack of domestic demand for consumer goods.
On top of that, the UK service sector, accounting for almost four-fifths of our economy, recorded its weakest performance since February 2013. These disappointing figures were widely blamed on “uncertainty over the EU referendum”.
No matter that the US economy is struggling, European banks are shaky or UK manufacturing has for several years been on a downward trend.
No matter that trade is slowing markedly right across the globe or that investors everywhere, from Asia to the Americas, are now openly questioning, with increasing alarm, how the world’s big central banks can maintain their Indian rope trick of using printed money to rig bonds markets by buying their own government debt.
There are many, many reasons why the UK economy remains skittish and the global recovery extremely patchy – and almost all of them predate not only this referendum campaign but even the announcement the UK electorate was to be given its first say on our relationship with Europe since the mid-1970s.
Yet, while real investors fret about the prospect of another sub-prime style meltdown, a lack of genuine banking reform, the implosion of the eurozone, the lunacy that is negative nominal interest rates and now, we’re told, “helicopter money” – a kind of quantitative easing on steroids – it suits a wide variety of political and financial interests to blame every blip in the British and broader European economy on “the prospect of Brexit”.
And all that, of course, feeds nicely into “Project Fear”. I respect many economists and politicians I know campaigning for the UK to stay in the EU. There’s a respectable case to be made – one with which I disagree.
What is unforgivable, though, is the repeated use of rhetorical barbs and misrepresentations to browbeat the public into voting for what they think is the status quo. I’ve tackled the recent “research” reports published by the Treasury and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development in previous columns.
Both use twisted assumptions to generate scary headlines, warning households how much they’ll lose from Brexit. Both also assume the broader EU, whether the UK stays or not, grows steadily over the next ten years, continuing in its present form, avoiding even the slightest hiccup. What nonsense.
Just last week, Moody’s warned the EU faces “significant vulnerabilities” that have noting to do with Brexit.
European economic stagnation and the biggest influx of refugees in half a century have, the ratings agency said, created “the impression the question is when the system breaks, not if”. The EU’s “direction of travel” towards ever-greater integration, Moody’s concluded, “does not imply stability”.
The Greek debt crisis rumbles on, the bankrupt eurozone member having received over €21bn (£17bn) of its original €86bn bail-out now once again at loggerheads with official creditors. With a majority of just three seats, the Greek government is hanging by a thread.
Another bust-up could easily send bond-yields soaring, spreading financial contagion across the eurozone and beyond.
If Greece could upend the EU, just think of the fall-out from a banking meltdown in Italy. Italian bank stocks have lost a third of their value this year, on fears over €360bn of bad loans – equivalent to an astonishing 20pc of GDP.
In the midst of a chronic debt crisis, Italy is on the verge of a banking collapse which, given the size of the economy, the European Central Bank may find impossible to contain.
We’re often told about the risks of leaving the EU. How about the risks of staying?
It’s hardly surprising “all big institutions reject Brexit”. Multi-lateral bodies like the IMF and OECD are deeply politicised organisations and Remain is the choice of the political establishment.
The same institutions said the UK should join the euro. They said, in the run-up to the sub-prime crisis, that the big banks were safe. The Confederation of British Industry and the accountancy firms – they follow the whim of the big international businesses that fund them and which can influence and cope with the EU’s regulatory thickets, knowing they prevent smaller firms from mounting a challenge.
The big banks themselves also back the European project, of course, the same European project that’s done nothing significantly to reform them, or prevent them benefiting from too-big-to-fail status and the exercise of raw marker power.
Luckily, banks and institutions don’t vote. But people do. Control of our borders? Yes please, and only Brexit can make it happen.
The US, Australia and Canada have vibrant, economically-vital immigrant cultures and they put limits on numbers entering each year.
Such controls, decided by elected politicians, provide reassurance and keep immigration manageable, so increasing the public’s tolerance. Today’s EU-imposed lack of controls in the UK, tragically, is doing precisely the opposite.
And I very much doubt, given how oil price volatility has destroyed an already flimsy economic case for Scottish independence, that the SNP will be calling a new referendum any time soon. Not least because they’d lose.
Of course, we don’t know what Brexit looks like in ten years’ time. But we don’t know what EU membership looks like either.
I do know that, if we vote to leave, a powerful country like the UK will be well-placed to continue trading with the EU, given World Trade Organization rules, potential European Economic Area membership and our £60bn annual EU trade deficit.
I know the EU is showing signs of unavoidable and on-going crisis. I also know it’s administered by a cabal of highly-paid, yet blinkered and deeply anti-commercial bureaucrats who are not only unaccountable to voters, but also in cahoots with out-of-touch political leaders harbouring an unworkable and ultimately incendiary vision of “European political union”.
I know, in addition, that almost all British voters and the majority of people elsewhere
across the EU want nothing to do with that – and actually want to stop it. And I suspect that only the UK can make that happen.
Int. Chr. Emb. Jerusalem 09-May-16
Analysts weigh in on risks and highlights
A Syrian opposition group issued a statement Sunday accusing Russia of setting up a permanent military base in Palmyra, an ancient city recently retaken from the Islamic State (IS) terror militia. In related news, Turkish artillery units reportedly pounded IS positions in northern Syria over the weekend, killing dozens of terrorists, according to Turkish state media. At the same time, the Turkish air force carried out heavy strikes on Kurdish Workers Party positions in neighboring Iraq.
In related news, UN envoy Jan Kubis told the Security Council Friday that IS has committed “heinous crimes” in Iraq, citing evidence of mass graves uncovered in recently liberated territory previously held by IS.
An Ipsos-Mori survey published May 9 showed nearly half of Italians and approximately 40 percent of the French and Swedish populations would vote to leave the European Union if their countries held referendums on the issue, according to the official Ipsos-Mori website. The poll highlights contradictions within the Continental bloc. For example, France’s government is allegedly working on a plan for further EU integration, while at the same time one in four people in the country say they would vote to leave the European Union. The survey also found about half of Europeans believe Britain will vote to leave the European Union during a referendum June 23.
IS-MJO:160509:(13-MAY-16):Significant Progress in Financing the Project to Link the Dead Sea and the Red Sea
(Communicated by the [Israeli] Regional Cooperation Ministry Media Adviser) 09-May-16
The partner countries the project to link the Dead Sea and the Red Sea, today (Monday, 9 May 2016), at a conference in Aqaba, presented the project to potential donors, led by the US and the World Bank, ahead of its launch. Israel was represented by a Regional Cooperation Ministry delegation led by Deputy Minister Ayoub Kara, Director General Hashem Hussein and project administration director Maya Eldar.
A draft timetable for implementing the project was presented, including the anticipated costs to Israel and Jordan as well as the idea of stabilizing the level of the Dead Sea, the production of desalinated water for Israel and Jordan, and the strengthening of bilateral cooperation and cooperation with donor countries and international bodies.
Also presented was the second stage of the project including increased quantities of water. This stage will be implemented subject to a decision by the partner countries in the wake of an environmental impact analysis of the first stage.
It will be recalled that an MOU on the project was signed in Washington in December 2013. The US administration decided to invest $100 million in financing the project. Ninety-four companies recently purchased the forms regarding a preliminary tender.
Deputy Regional Cooperation Minister Kara said, “This is a very significant joint civilian project between Israel and Jordan that will improve the lives of peoples in the region and is therefore deserving of the donor countries’ support.”
Regional Cooperation Ministry Director General Hussein emphasized the importance of the project to both sides and to the Palestinians given strategic importance of water shortages in the region. He noted that among the other projects discussed today was one to rehabilitate the southern Jordan River with the assistance of the World Bank.
He displays a willingness to reconsider the dogma of infallibility. But in reality he is vesting full power in himself much more than his immediate predecessors did. And he is acting as an absolute monarch
by Sandro Magister
There was an uproar in recent days over the announcement by the theologian Hans Küng that Pope Francis has given an effective green light to “an unrestricted discussion of the dogma of infallibility”:
> Fr. Hans Küng says Francis responded to request for free discussion on infallibility dogma
But curiously, to the contrary of what one might have expected, Küng did not make public the letter that the pope wrote to him in response to one of his previous appeals. He only described it. Perhaps because the letter was not as affirmative as he would like to have believed.
Francis, in fact, turns out to be anything but a pushover when he asserts his papal authority as “supreme, full, immediate, and universal,” both in governing and in teaching.
On the contrary, he is certainly the pontiff who over the past half century has exalted more than any other this supreme authority, not only over the Catholic Church but over all of Christendom, citing in support of this none other than the 1870 dogmatic constitution “Pastor Aeternus” of Vatican Council I, which proclaimed the pope’s infallibility “ex cathedra.”
But first things first.
Küng’s appeal to Pope Francis came out simultaneously in multiple languages last March 9 in various newspapers around the world, for example in Italy in “la Repubblica,” the country’s most important secular and progressive newspaper, ultra-Bergoglian:
> Aboliamo l’infallibilità del papa
No surprise there. Küng has spent a lifetime trying to demolish the dogma of papal infallibility. The process that concluded in 1979 with the revocation of his license to teach Catholic theology was prompted by two of his books from about ten years before, entitled: “The Church” and “Infallible? A Question.”
And it was the whole body of essays that he has written on the topic, collected in the fifth volume of his complete works being published this year in Germany, which provided the cue for him to ask Pope Francis publicly for the opening of “a free, unprejudiced and open-ended discussion in our church of the all the unresolved and suppressed questions connected with the infallibility dogma.”
Küng sent the appeal personally to the pope by letter, in Spanish. And shortly after Easter he received at his home in Tübingen, through the nunciature in Berlin, the letter in reply, dated March 20.
The pope’s letter began with a friendly “Lieber Mitbruder,” dear brother, and was written by hand. But these remain the only words cited by Küng in quotation marks in reporting the content of the missive. It is unclear to what extent the rest of it might correspond to the narrative presented by the theologian.
Because it is true that Pope Francis can be relied on to issue exhortations to discuss everything, even the most delicate topics. But it is also his established habit to alternate these “openings” of his with reaffirmations of traditional doctrine, with that continual and never definitive “stop and go” which characterizes his magisterium.
On the dogma of infallibility, however, there is no comparison between his feeble and hesitant support for the reconsideration of the dogma on the one hand and on the other the powerful, thundering proclamation of his own supreme authority that he has made more than once, and always on occasions of great significance.
The key occasions have been two in particular.
The first was the closing speech for the turbulent first session of the synod on the family, October 14, 2014:
> “With a heart…”
Visibly irritated over the development of the synod, far below his reformist expectations, Pope Francis made it clear to the bishops and cardinals that in any case the last word would rest with him, as “supreme pastor and teacher of the faithful,” endowed with “supreme, full, immediate, and universal authority.” Both of these formulations are taken from the code of canon law, precisely that juridical structure of the Church which he doesn’t like but which this time he found it convenient to lean on.
To avoid any misunderstanding, Francis also reiterated to the synod fathers that “the synod takes place ‘cum Petro et sub Petro’,” not only “with” but also “under” the successor of Peter.
The second key occasion was one year later, halfway through the second session of the synod on the family, this too a disappointment for him:
> “As the Ordinary General Assembly…”
It was October 17, 2015, the fiftieth anniversary of the institution of the synod of bishops, and the commemoration gave the pope his cue to describe the dynamics of a synod this way:
“The Synod process begins by listening to the people of God. [. . .] It then continues by listening to the pastors. [. . .] The Synod process culminates in listening to the Bishop of Rome, who is called to speak as ‘pastor and teacher of all Christians’.”
Attention. Here Francis did not cite again, as he did a year before, canon 749 of the code of canon law, which proclaims the authority of the pope over the “christifideles,” meaning the “faithful” belonging to the Catholic Church.
This time he took the citation from the dogmatic constitution “Pastor Aeternus” of Vatican Council I, in which the authority of the pope is extended to “all Christians,” meaning in theory also to Protestants, Orthodox, Evangelicals, to the whole sphere of the baptized called to make their way back to the one Church.
And that of the pope is an authority as “pastor” and also as “teacher” which, in the same paragraph of “Pastor Aeternus,” is proclaimed as “infallible,” specifying in what sense and within what limits. Immediately followed by the “anathema sit” typical of every dogmatic definition:
“If anyone therefore may have the presumption to oppose, God forbid, this definition of ours: let him be anathema.”
It must be noted that Vatican Council II as well, in the dogmatic constitution “Lumen Gentium,” at no. 25, in reaffirming the pope’s “supreme and full power over the universal Church” and his “infallibility . . . as the supreme shepherd and teacher of all the faithful,” also cites “Pastor Aeternus” of Vatican Council I, the bane of Küng and his ilk:
> Lumen gentium
But it stops one step short of what Francis has instead done, extending the pope’s infallible magisterium not only to the Catholic faithful but to “all Christians.”
In his speech of October 17, 2015 Francis then continued by insisting on the “sub Petro” with even more vigor than he did the year before:
“The fact that the Synod always acts cum Petro et sub Petro — indeed, not only cum Petro, but also sub Petro — is not a limitation of freedom, but a guarantee of unity.”
And it can be presumed that he already had in mind what he would write in the post-synodal exhortation “Amoris Lætitia,” availing himself of his own supreme authority in order to proceed well beyond where the synod was prepared to go.
In the Latin text of “Pastor Aeternus” as presented in “Denzinger,” the citation made by Pope Francis in the speech of October 17, 2015 is taken from paragraph 3074, the one in which the pope’s infallibility “ex cathedra” is defined:
> Constitutio dogmatica “Pastor aeternus” de Ecclesia Christi
The February 15, 1975 declaration of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith concerning the books by Hans Küng “The Church” and “Infallible? A Question”:
The previous declaration of June 24, 1973 in defense of the dogma of infallibility brought into question by Küng, who however is not named in it:
> Mysterium Ecclesiae
And the declaration of December 15, 1979 in which Küng’s license to teach as a Catholic theologian is revoked:
In presenting last May 3 in Madrid, at the Universidad Francisco de Victoria, his latest book “Informe sobre la esperanza,” Cardinal Gerhard L. Müller, prefect of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith, forcefully criticized Küng’s attacks against the dogma of infallibility:
> El prefecto de doctrina de la fe niega la posibilidad de comulgar a los divorciados recasados
Infallibility, Müller said, is the “treasure and essence of Catholic ecclesiology.” So Küng “cannot say that he feels justified by the pope.”
“Neither his Christology nor his ecclesiology is Catholic,” the cardinal added. Küng “does not believe in the divinity of Christ and in the Most Holy Trinity.”
English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.
For the tens of thousands of spectators who cheered on Russia’s spectacular military show on Monday, this was as much about looking to the past — as preparing for the future.
While the annual grand parade officially commemorates the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany in World War II, it is also an opportunity for the Kremlin to show-off its modern day military might.
Throughout the morning the latest T-14 tanks trundled into Moscow’s Red Square, while supersonic jets roared overhead.
The awesome parade comes at a time when Russia’s military is perhaps more powerful than at any time since the Cold War.
Over the past decade, billions have been spent modernizing and retraining a lumbering fighting force inherited from the Soviet Union.
Huge investments have been made in a new generation of nuclear missiles, tanks, and fighter jets. Even the military’s uniforms have been given a slick new makeover.
The centerpiece is Russia’s vast nuclear arsenal, recently updated with intercontinental ballistic missiles designed to counter the U.S. missile shield.
It also has world-class anti-aircraft systems and fighter jets recently deployed, with devastating effect, to Syria.
Ramped-up foreign deployment
But what makes Russia such a formidable military power is not simply its weaponry — but a new willingness to deploy it internationally.
Whether it be the five-day conflict with Georgia in 2008, military intervention in Ukraine in 2014, or most recently air strikes in Syria on behalf of President Bashar al-Assad, the Kremlin has shown a new assertiveness in foreign policy.
And it appears that even when President Vladimir Putin is punished for these interventions with foreign sanctions, they failed to dint his popularity back home.
Indeed, even after his country waded deeper into Syria’s civil war, Putin enjoyed an approval rating of 82%, according to the Levada Analytical Center.
A sustainable approach?
The military is an important source of patriotism for Putin’s government — and one he is willing to invest billions in.
The national defense budget has shrunk slightly in recent years, though it still remains one of the highest in the world.
As one of the world’s largest oil producers, Russia has been hit hard by a drop in global energy prices and been forced to make cuts across the board — including to its military budget.
And with oil prices remaining low, it’s possible we’ll see further cuts to Russian defense spending in the future.
One thing that doesn’t seem to be dropping any time soon, is support for the military among the public.
German Foreign Policy 11-May-16
For the first time since 1990, the Bundeswehr will be increased in size, provided new capabilities and have its budget massively expanded. This was announced by Germany’s Minister of Defense, Ursula von der Leyen. According to her announcement, from now on, the German military’s “human resources” will be flexibly determined. For now, an additional 14,300 military personnel and 4,400 civilians will be added by 2023. The military budget, which, in 2000, was still at 23 billion Euros, will be increased to 39.2 billion by 2020. This is the materialization of Berlin’s geopolitical ambitions, which have been massively propagated since the fall of 2013, with the energetic participation of Germany’s President, who has repeatedly called for a more offensive German global policy with the inclusion of its military. In the process, Germany aims to take control of a ring of countries bordering on Europe – some, rich in natural resources – that can constitute, above all, a “cordon sanitaire” designed to shield the prosperous European empire from all sorts of problems. Because the EU’s original plans to use political-economic means to dominate this ring of states have proven unsuccessful, the German government is now turning to an open show of military force.
For the first time since 1990, the Bundeswehr will be increased in size. As announced by Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen, yesterday, Monday, the current personnel ceiling for the armed forces (185,000 military and 56,000 civilian employees) has been repealed. From now on, “human resources,” which will grow, due to an increasing number of military missions, will be “annually determined for the medium-range.” A new “Personnel Board” will be established under the direction of the two State Secretaries for Defense (Gerd Hoofe, Katrin Suder) and the Bundeswehr Inspector-General (Volker Wieker). The “turning point for personnel” will be introduced already next year, starting with the creation of 7,000 new military assignments, von der Leyen declared. According to the current “medium-range” planning around 14,300 additional soldiers and about 4,400 additional civilian employees will be needed by 2023 – representing a nearly eight percent increase. An supplementary “internal optimization” of “structures and processes” within the troops should facilitate an enhancement of the armed forces’ “impact potential.” The objective is “to increase the Bundeswehr’s perseverance capacity, strengthen its sturdiness and develop new capabilities,” the minister explained.
To enhance “the Bundeswehr’s capabilities” in this sense, von der Leyen plans 96 “separate measures,” including the creation of an independent branch of the service specializing in cyber warfare. For this, highly qualified IT specialists will be recruited. Furthermore, “Special Forces in the infantry and the navy” will be reinforced, as well as new “boarding companies” being assigned to the sea battalions for combat in coastal regions. The “capacities for the management of more extensive weapons projects” must be expanded, along with an enhancement of the Bundeswehr’s medical units – both at home and abroad. All this is tied in with a massive military budget increase. Whereas the German military budget, with 33 billion Euros in 2015, was already 40 percent more than the budget in 2000 (€23.1 billion), it is now scheduled to swell even further. Already for 2017, €36.6 billion have been planned; by 2020, the Bundeswehr is supposed to dispose of €39.2 billion, which, along with the growth in the number of personnel, will also finance numerous weapons projects. In January, the defense minister had already announced that, by 2030, she wants to spend around €130 billion to procure new weaponry – twice the amount originally planned.
The increase in Bundeswehr personnel and the multibillion weapons programs comply with Berlin’s expansive geopolitical ambitions, which, since the fall of 2013, have been propagated offensively and at times even like a crusade. In his speech on the occasion of the German National Holiday in 2013, Germany’s President Joachim Gauck admonished that Germany must show “a stronger commitment in international affairs” and contribute more to the “solution” of global – even military – conflicts. Berlin must show a “more resolute” presence on the world stage, to globally “shape … the governance framework,” repeated Gauck at the Munich Security Conference, in late January 2014, which may “also include sending soldiers.” A few days earlier, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Defense Minister von der Leyen had made similar statements. Germany is “too important to merely comment on global policy from the sidelines,” said Steinmeier, while von der Leyen declared, “indifference” is “not an option for a country like Germany.” Most recently, the Federal College for Security Studies (BAKS) announced that the debate on Berlin’s geopolitical activities will engage “the broader public” even more strongly than had previously been the case. BAKS has announced that new measures to integrate journalists have been planned.
A Ring around Europe
German policy strategists’ plans clearly suggest which regions of the world Berlin’s global ambitions will require ever more extensive military operations in the years to come. For example, a strategy paper, published in October 2013, the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) proposed – in reference to the United States’ intensifying focus on the power struggle with China – that, “to relieve” the USA, Germany “should primarily concentrate on the increasingly instable periphery of Europe extending from North Africa to the Middle East to Central Asia.” This would also necessitate “military interventions.” Similar proposals were made in an intervention in the debate on the new “White Paper” of the Bundeswehr. An “arc of crisis,” stretching “from the Baltic, through the Middle East to the Maghreb” surrounds Germany and Europe – and this is “why we have an armed forces.” Some of the countries making up this arch of crisis are the countries Berlin and Brussels want to have as suppliers of raw materials and serve as markets in a neo-colonialist manner – the oil-rich countries of North Africa and the Middle East. Some of these should be controlled to create a “cordon sanitaire” preventing the entry of refugees, as well as to armed attacks inside the EU and against European interests (Mali, Libya and Syria).
War Rather than Policy
In reference to the current “arc of crisis,” the “European Security Strategy” adopted in Brussels in December 2003, stated: “Our task is to promote a ring of well governed countries to the East of the European Union and on the borders of the Mediterranean with whom we can enjoy close and cooperative relations” – a rampart of controllable, stable client states surrounding a prosperous EU. This objective has been completely missed, concluded Wolfgang Ischinger, Chairman of the Munich Security Conference at the beginning of this year. The “vision of a European Union that would be surrounded by a cordon sanitaire of stability, growing prosperity and cooperation south of the Mediterranean and in Eastern Europe,” has “completely failed.” To shield the German-European empire from all sorts of problems and facilitate economic access to interesting neighboring regions, soldiers are now being deployed in the respective countries, ranging from Mali and Syria to Iraq – for the wars of the near future.
How the Bundeswehr is preparing for the wars of the near future by growing larger, restructuration, and rearmament, can be read in an intermittent succession of articles over the next few weeks in german-foreign-policy.com.
[Footnotes to articles in German removed] ,  See Sleeping Demons.  See The Re-Evaluation of German Foreign Policy.
Russian President Vladimir Putin oversaw the launch of a fourth and final line supplying electricity from Russia to Crimea on Wednesday, saying the project had broken an energy blockage he accused Kiev of imposing on the peninsula.
Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014. Moscow has since faced international condemnation and the logistical challenges of sustaining a region that depended on Ukraine for much of its supplies and has no land border with Russia.
In November last year, Crimea was plunged into darkness when unidentified individuals blew up the power lines through which the peninsula received the bulk of its power from the Ukrainian grid. Kiev denied responsibility for the sabotage.
“I congratulate all of you on the completion of building this energy bridge which has tied Crimea to Russia,” Putin said in a video link from his Black Sea residence in Sochi, Russia, addressing workers and engineers on the power line.
“We managed to break through the energy blockade of Crimea within a brief period of time, and we will likewise do away with any other blockade against Russia, should someone wish to test us again,” said a visibly upbeat Putin, accompanied by Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak.
The energy bridge is a series of cables along the seabed across the Kerch Strait that separates Russia from Crimea.
The new line will bring total power supplies from Russia to Crimea to 800 megawatts, which combined with the peninsula’s own capacity should be enough to satisfy its demand.
Novak said the peninsula would have enough electricity to see it through the holiday season, when tourists swell the population and provide Crimea with a major source of revenue.
The peninsula will have complete power self-sufficiency after completion of power stations that are under construction in the Crimean cities of Sevastopol and Simferopol.
Russia denies annexing Crimea which it took over after street protests in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev chased a pro-Moscow president from power.
It says residents there voted to become part of Russia, and that Moscow acted to protect their freely-expressed will.
The next phase of Moscow’s project to end Crimea’s isolation is the construction of a 19 km (12 mile) road and rail bridge across the Kerch Strait.
The $3.2 billion project will be the longest of its kind in Europe and is scheduled for completion at the end of 2019.
Russia’s gas giant’ CEO and Germany’s Vice-Chancellor stressed importance of implementing the Nord Stream 2 project in conditions of growing demand for Russia’s energy resources in Europe
Gazprom increased natural gas deliveries to Germany by 19% in four months of 2016, the Russian gas holding said on Wednesday.
Export of Russian gas was discussed at the working meeting between Chief Executive Officer of Gazprom Alexei Miller and Germany’s Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, Gazprom reported. “It was noted the last year broke the record of supplies from Russia, which grew by 6.6 bln cubic meters (+17.1%). The upward trend continues to become stronger this year – 2 bln more cubic meters as compared to the last year (+19%) were already exported in the first four months of 2016,” Gazprom said.
Participants in the meeting stressed importance of implementing the Nord Stream 2 project in conditions of growing demand for Russia’s energy resources in Europe. “Creation of a new gas transportation main line will not merely improve reliability of supplies but will also contribute to development of the European gas market,” Gazprom reported.
Gazprom supplied 45.3 bln cubic meters of natural gas to Germany in 2015.
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