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In association with Bro Don Pearce (Rugby UK)  Keep up to date with Bro Don’s Snippets – Email Don at Snippets@MilestonesUK.org  Just put in the subject line ‘Snippets Request’ state if you would prefer word doc or pdf format. ( If not stated, both will be sent as samples so you can decide) It’s that easy!

Here is the latest Snippets…

UK-EU:160605:(08-JUN-16):Britain asked for more cash as migrant crisis strains EU budget 1

MAR-MSY-RU-TIS:160605:(08-JUN-16):Syria: Loyalist, Russian Warplanes Continue Strikes On Aleppo. 2

THA-IS:160606         Analysis: Hamas under pressure as Israel makes progress on tunnels. 3

IS-MSA:160606:(08-JUN-16):Saudi official says peace with Israel is possible. 3

IS-RU:160606:(08-JUN-16):Netanyahu heads to Moscow for Putin meeting. 3

UK-EU:160605:(08-JUN-16):Johnson and Gove have an exciting chance to shift the axis of politics. 4

IS-RU:160606:(08-JUN-16):Agreement on Pensions Reaffirms Special Nature of Israel-Russia Ties. 5

IS-MPA-RU:160606:(08-JUN-16):Coincidence? Palestinian FM Says Moscow Trip Unrelated to Netanyahu’s Visit 5

IS-RU:160606:(08-JUN-16):Netanyahu heads to Russia as ties with Moscow strengthen. 6

EGR-RU:160606:(08-JUN-16):Putin’s visit to Greece as omen to Middle East 6

EUO-NATO-RU:160607:(08-JUN-16):Poland: Large-Scale NATO Exercise Begins. 7

RU-TU:160607:(08-JUN-16):Russia: Putin Says South Stream, TurkStream Not Definitely Cancelled. 7

RU:160607:(08-JUN-16):Putin’s New Stealth Jet Is on a Mission: To Prove Russia Can Still Fight 7

TIS:160608:(08-JUN-16):Why the Islamic State Is in Retreat 8

IS-RU:160608:(08-JUN-16):Netanyahu, Putin hail strong bilateral ties and cooperation. 9

EU:160608:(08-JUN-16):Enthusiasm for EU in sharp decline throughout Europe, not just UK. 9

IS-UK:160608:(08-JUN-16):Mark Regev reveals UK and Israel working on public celebration of Balfour 10

IS-RU:160607:(08-JUN-16):Israel’s Netanyahu frequents Russia as U.S. influence in Mideast recedes. 10

RU-RCR:160608:(08-JUN-16):Russia: Construction On Bridge To Crimea Facing Major Funding Issues. 11

IS-RU:160607:(08-JUN-16):Netanyahu invites Russia to develop Israel’s gas fields. 11

IS-RU:160608:(08-JUN-16):Israel Courts Russian Investors. 11

MAR-MSY-RU-IS:160607:(08-JUN-16):Israel’s PM seeks role in Russian-US duo in Syria. 12

EFR-RU:160608:(08-JUN-16):New French law would shield Russian assets. 12

RU-NATO-EU:160608:(08-JUN-16):Russia deploys troops westward as standoff with NATO deepens. 13

 

UK-EU:160605:(08-JUN-16):Britain asked for more cash as migrant crisis strains EU budget

Daily Telegraph 05-Jun-16

 

Britain will face demands to pay billions more into the EU budget following a vote to Remain in Europe on June 23 as Brussels looks to set to ask for more cash from national governments to pay for the unfolding migrant crisis.

The European Parliament has passed a resolution demanding greater spending which – if followed through- would tear a hole in David Cameron’s historic cut to the seven-year EU budget, which was capped at £847bn until 2020.

And in moves that could see Britain asked to increase its current net contributions of £10.4bn a year, the EU vice president for budgets issued ominous warnings last week on the sidelines of an European conference that member states should be “making room for new commitments”.

The unguarded remarks by Kristalina Georgieva to the Chinese state news agency Xinhua have raised fresh fears that Mr Cameron will face calls for big budget increases, particulary when the current settlement comes up for its mid-term review this autumn.

“We have to make sure that our budget for next year absorbs all the commitments made so far to deal with the migration crisis, while at the same time making room for new commitments,” said Ms Georgieva.

“We have exhausted to a great extent flexibilities offered within the budget. Member states and the European Parliament need to allow more room for flexibilities.”

Her warning follows complaints from Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the Commission, last year that the budget is “too small” to handle the migration crisis and will require “exceptional financing”.

Europe is facing the worst migrant crisis since the Second World War and has already pledged up to pledged £1.8 billion for 2016-17 in aid to Syria, and €2 billion of a €6 billion aid deal for Turkey, designed to halt migrant flows.

A new European Border and Coast Guard to intercept migrant boats and man checkpoints will cost £945 million over the next four years, including £219 million next year.

And a single EU asylum system will cost £1.4 billion over the same period, covering accommodation centres, transporting refugees to new homes around the bloc and major IT networks.

With the bills piling up – but mindful that UK contributions to the EU are a hot topic in Britain’s EU membership referendum – MEPs’ hearings on drawing up a draft budget for 2017 were postponed until the end of the month.

A vote on the seven-year budget has also been delayed.

Critics say the move was designed to avoid giving ammunition to Brexit campaigners who have made the cost of Britain’s EU membership a key plank of their campaign, arguing the money would be better spent directly on the NHS and UK schools.

David Cameron has a veto over any mid-term spending increases – a stance likely to be backed by other big net contributors to the EU budget like Germany and the Netherlands – but any move to block spending risks antagonising the European Parliament.

In ordinary times that might not matter much to Mr Cameron, but this autumn it is the European Parliament that must past the legislation enacting the “migration brake” and child benefit cuts that Mr Cameron won in his EU renegotiation package brokered with Europe last February.

EU sources insisted that Mrs Georgieva can deliver the 2017 budget without increasing national contributions or breaking the ceilings – but precisely how is still under discussion. Current rules make it hard to shift money between spending columns.

Attempts to use the migrant crisis to ramp up EU budgets will face resistance from critics who say radical cuts are long overdue.

Open Europe, a reformist EU think-tank with close ties to Downing St has calculated that ending merry-go-round of rich countries sending money to the EU, only for it to be returned to their poorer regions in grants, could have saved £84.6bn over the current seven-year spending period.

Another £63.5bn could have been found by cutting agricultural subsidies by 30 per cent. Reviewing the generous conditions of the EU’s 55,000 civil servants and shutting down its quangos could yield £43.9 billion.

“I think the UK wouldn’t mind seeing the EU spending more money on addressing migration  – given we ultimately end up being affected by it if left unresolved – but this should be done by refocussing money from existing resources,” said Pawel Swidlicki, an analyst with Open Europe.

The Parliament’s resolution demands that the seven-year budget ceilings are raised and denounces national leaders for their “duplicitous” behaviour in treating budget contributions like “burden” and “an adjustment variable, subject to macroeconomic conditions.”

But there is plenty of fat to trim. A recent report by the European Court of Auditors – the EU’s spending watchdog – detailed how €13 billion of spending on roads and schools in rural communities has been blighted by waste, mismanagement and potentially inflated costs.

In one of the most egregious cases inspectors found that a £1.8 million project to repair 11 miles of roads and build an after-school club in a remote Romanian commune became a “road to nowhere”, after the Romanian government failed to deliver funds to keep its side of the bargain.

As a result, the trunk road that connected the newly re-tarmacked commune to the rest of civilisation simply never turned up, leaving it a muddy, pot-holed track.

“In theory, it could have been a good example of how different funds complement each other. In practice, the national funding has not arrived yet,” the auditors told the Sunday Telegraph.

“The whole idea is to provide better access for rural populations, provide easier access for when the weather is bad, and for ambulances and other public services to access that area.”

They found that officials in Sicily had cancelled their budget for repairing rural roads once EU funds became available. When one road became unusable for lack of maintenance, they simply built a second one with EU money – something auditors noted was was “clearly inefficient.”

On a project to build infrastructure for the forestry industry in Extremadura, Spain, officials “arbitrarily” awarded €14 million contracts to a state-owned builder on the grounds of “confidentiality” and “urgency”.

In Saxony, Germany – the biggest contributor to the EU budget and often regarded as a model of financial probity – authorities accepted bills that were 50 per cent more expensive than the going rate “without performing further inquiries”.

The European Commission said it has issued new guidance for the 2014-2020 programme of works, but the EU auditors warned that weaknesses over the coordination of funds and performance information were “likely to persist.”

The report was not an isolated case. The Court’s annual report found a “persistently high level of errors” in how EU funds were spent at a national level, resulting in an “adverse opinion on the legality” of the payments.

Spending had become so high that countries were “struggling to absorb it”.  Vitor Caldeira, the Court’s president, declared EU spending needed a “wholly new approach”.

Ivan Kuhn, the vice-chairman of the Slovak Civic Conservative party, blames a torrent of EU money into the country for epic waste – such as the state plumbing academy that paid €251 for plastic u-bends.

“Our motorways are much more expensive than those in Austria, even though the wages and construction costs should be lower,” he claimed.

“When the money comes from taxpayers, the city councillors care how it is used. But if it is EU money, nobody cares, so it doesn’t matter if we pay €1,000 or €5,000 for a computer. As a British citizen I would be very angry,” he adds. “And I am angry as a Slovak.”

Nigel Farage, the Ukip leader who has spearheaded the campaign to leave the EU, said the report showed that the Commission was acting like a “thirsty vampire” and that it would continue to “get stuck into British taxpayers’ necks” unless they voted to leave.

Chris Heaton Harris, a Tory MP who spent ten years on the European Parliament’s budget audit committee, said that Mr Cameron “invested all his political capital in a getting the budget capped, meaning we basically sellotaped the lid shut rather than dealing with what’s inside.

“But given the 28 players, the MEPs and all the vested interests, it probably is unreformable, and so our contribution will balloon.”

 

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MAR-MSY-RU-TIS:160605:(08-JUN-16):Syria: Loyalist, Russian Warplanes Continue Strikes On Aleppo

Stratfor 05-Jun-16

 

Nearly 40 airstrikes by Russian and Syrian government warplanes hit rebel-held areas in and around Syria’s Aleppo city on June 5, residents said, Reuters reported. Syrian raids targeted the main road that leads into rebel-held Aleppo as well, part of a campaign to cut the main rebel route in the area. But rebels also hit government-held parts of the city with mortar attacks. The city, which has been divided for years between rebel- and government-held zones, has borne the brunt of bombardments. Full control of Aleppo would be a huge prize for Syrian President Bashar al Assad. Russia’s military intervention in support of Damascus in September has helped bolster al Assad’s government.

 

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THA-IS:160606  Analysis: Hamas under pressure as Israel makes progress on tunnels

Jerusalem Post 06-Jun-16

 

For the first time since the August 2014 cease-fire came into effect ending Operation Protective Edge, Hamas launched cross-border mortar attacks throughout Wednesday.

Hamas is targeting IDF units engaged in hi-tech tunnel detection work on the border between Israel and northern Gaza. It is escalating the situation due its fear that it is about to lose its trump card.

Hamas has invested much treasure and blood in its cross-border tunnel network, and its military wing is alarmed by what it perceives as one Israeli breakthrough after another in tunnel detection.

Although Hamas is keen on honing its rocket, drone and sea-based attack capabilities, its tunnel construction program remain its crown jewel.

During the two-month conflict in 2014, those tunnels terrorized civilians in southern Israel.

Hamas fighters popped up from seemingly nowhere to attack and kidnap soldiers.

The IDF responded to Wednesday’s stream of mortar shells with pinpoint tank fire at Hamas positions. Yet the cease-fire is now facing its first real challenge, and an escalation could easily occur in the near future. This is also a test of previous claims by defense officials of a zero-tolerance policy to Hamas breaches of the truce.

As noted in previous coverage last month, the discovery in April of a tunnel going from southern Gaza into Israel, and subsequent progress in detection in other areas, means Israel has obtained what it hasn’t had before: a precise ability to know where Hamas’s tunnels snake their way underground.

Hamas knows its rockets have launched their punch due to the ever-growing effectiveness of the Iron Dome air defense batteries, which have grown in both number and ability since 2014.

Since the end of Operation Protective Edge, Israel has invested more than NIS 600 million in tunnel detection technology, and those hi-tech efforts are now bearing fruit.

The defense establishment is not about to stop its work for fear of an escalation. The tunnels violate Israel’s sovereignty, and Hamas stands far more to lose from an escalation than Israel.

The tunnels are supposed to enable Hamas to insert its highly trained and heavily armed Nuhba Force members into Israel in a future war. These terrorist units would then act as death squads, murdering and maiming Israelis, or kidnapping them.

The fact that Gaza’s economy is, once again, on the brink of imploding – due to Hamas’s insistence of using its enclave as a bastion of jihad against Israel, rather than investing in its people’s welfare – is another factor that could hasten another war.

 

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IS-MSA:160606:(08-JUN-16):Saudi official says peace with Israel is possible

Britain Israel Com & Research Center 06-Jun-16

 

A senior Saudi figure has said that regional peace with Israel is possible in a rare interview to Israeli newspaper daily Yediot Ahronot.

Anwar Majed Eshki, a retired Saudi general and ex-adviser to Prince Bandar bin Sultan, is a former Saudi ambassador to the US. He was pictured publicly shaking hands last year with Dore Gold, the director general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, on the sidelines of an international conference. Eshki holds no official office, but is considered to be close to Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.

In the interview, Eshki said “I assure you, from personal knowledge, that there is now a real opportunity for peace.” He further said: “Everyone around wants to reach an agreement. I can tell you that in the era of the former Saudi king, Abdullah… there was no chance of reaching a comprehensive and true peace. Today, in the era of King Salman, it is possible. The circumstances have changed. The prospects and opportunities have improved immeasurably.”

Eshki indicated that in the past, there was no flexibility on the terms of the Saudi-spearheaded Arab Peace Initiative, which proposes a regional peace settlement in return for the establishment of a Palestinian state. Eshki said, “I know that Israel has reservations about the peace plan… Some of them can be solved,” adding, “compared with the Saudi position of the previous king… today we can have meetings and deliberations to consider your requests”. Eshki indicated that these include final borders, West Bank settlement blocs, the status of Jerusalem and the Palestinian claim to a right of return.

Eshki’s comments come after Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and incoming Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman both last week endorsed the possibility of a wider regional peace based on the Arab Peace Initiative. Eshki said that following Netanyahu’s statement last week, “it is possible… to reach agreements satisfactory to all parties”. However, he cautioned that “if peace is not achieved during Netanyahu’s tenure… peace will not be achieved at all”.

 

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IS-RU:160606:(08-JUN-16):Netanyahu heads to Moscow for Putin meeting

Britain Israel Com & Research Center 06-Jun-16

 

Israel’s prime minister will travel to Moscow today to discuss strategic issues and mark 25 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Speaking yesterday, PM Benjamin Netanyahu said that ties with Russia are important “for our national security and prevented unnecessary violence along our borders,” in what was likely a reference to ongoing coordination between Israeli and Russian militaries, to ensure that their activities do not conflict near the Syrian border. Russia’s air force continues to support the Assad regime in Syria, while Israel has admitted to undertaking occasional action to prevent the transfer of weapons to terror groups such as Hezbollah and to prevent terror threats on the Golan Heights.

Netanyahu’s office said that he and President Vladimir Putin “will also discuss various regional issues including the global fight against terrorism, the situation in and around Syria and the diplomatic horizon between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as bilateral economic and trade cooperation and the strengthening of cultural and humanitarian ties”. In particular, Russia’s sale of the S-300 advanced anti-missile system to Iran will likely be discussed, as it would significantly improve Iran’s defensive capability against air strikes.

Netanyahu’s visit will be his third to Russia since September 2015. It marks 25 years since Israel and Russia established diplomatic ties following the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Israeli delegation is expected to sign two agreements with Russian counterparts during the visit. Outgoing Immigrant and Absorption Minister Ze’ev Elkin will finalise an agreement on pensions for immigrants to Israel from the former-Soviet Union. Meanwhile, Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel is poised to pen a memorandum of understanding over dairy produce.

Netanyahu is scheduled to visit the museum where an Israeli tank captured during the First Lebanon War in 1982 is housed. Three of the tank crew have been missing ever since the battle of Sultan Yacoub. Putin agreed last month to return the tank to Israel.

 

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UK-EU:160605:(08-JUN-16):Johnson and Gove have an exciting chance to shift the axis of politics

Daily Telegraph 05-Jun-16

 

While we are fixating on the messy referendum debate, we may be missing one of its most tumultuous consequences. What is taking shape before our eyes is nothing less than an accidental realignment of British politics. We now have an alternative government that seems more popular than the sitting one – and it certainly isn’t the official Labour opposition. Boris Johnson and Michael Gove now lead what you might call the independent UK government-in-exile. This was not, I believe, the intention – at least not yet.

This stage was not supposed to be reached until the referendum result either went for Brexit or was such a narrow win for Remain that it undermined the credibility of David Cameron’s leadership, taking George Osborne down with it. But things, as they are inclined to do in politics, got out of hand.

The Remain camp would keep insisting that the Leave people set out a detailed proposal for what a post-EU future might look like – obviously thinking that this was an impossible demand. Thus the failure to provide any practical vision of life after exit could be used to alarm the electorate with the terrifying prospect of endless uncertainty (“leap into the unknown”, “adrift in uncharted waters”, etc, etc). What happened next was quite unexpected.

Leave began coming up with concrete suggestions for policies that an independent Britain might adopt if it was free to make its own decisions, most notably on the problem that is Remain’s nightmare: immigration. What Mr Cameron and his friends were counting on was that the Leave camp would be forced into hopeless contradiction over whether migrants helped the economy more than they depressed wages. Or, better yet, end up depicting themselves as benighted bigots who were opposed to any foreigners entering the country ever.

“Over the next few weeks, I predict, we will see a more and more plausible and detailed picture emerging not just of a post-Brexit future but of what it would be like to be governed by, say, Mr Johnson as prime minister with Mr Gove as his chancellor.”

Since the leaders of the Leave campaign are not, in fact, racist or stupid, this did not go according to plan. In fact, they were able to produce a plausible proposal for a points-based immigration system that would not just control the numbers but would permit the UK to select those particular categories of migrant which were most needed. And what is more, those nurses and information technology whizz-kids and electronics experts could be recruited from anywhere in the world: candidates from the Commonwealth countries would have just as good a chance for admission as EU citizens.

Over the next few weeks, I predict, we will see a more and more plausible and detailed picture emerging not just of a post-Brexit future but of what it would be like to be governed by, say, Mr Johnson as prime minister with Mr Gove as his chancellor. In effect, the Leave team will be providing a manifesto for post-Cameron Conservatism. This will involve reviving the alliance between intellectuals on the Right and the aspirational working class that was a feature of the Thatcher-Keith Joseph brand of Toryism.

But this contest for the heart of the Conservative Party will go back much further historically than the Eighties. I don’t think it is far-fetched to see this as one more chapter in the long struggle between Cavaliers and Roundheads: between the patrician paternalism with which Mr Cameron (who has described himself as a “Macmillan Conservative”) feels comfortable, and the ambitious working and lower middle classes who see free market economics as a way up and out of where they started.

The issue of immigration is central to this. Whether you see migrants as convenient manpower for corporate economic growth or as cheap competition for your job is largely determined by whether you are looking down from the top or up from the bottom.

It is also affected by whether you regard yourself as an individual struggling to make his own way, or as part of a collective vested interest (like the TUC) that uses the weight of its mass numbers to play political power games. This is the most fundamental division in British social life.

The values of the lower middle class – industriousness, financial good sense (sometimes called “thrift”), proud independence and civic responsibility – are the officially recognised virtues of all political parties. These are Gordon Brown’s “hard-working families” and David Cameron’s “people who do the right thing”. But when it comes down to the archetypical white van man – the self-employed tradesman or the skilled employee – who is worried about being priced out of work, the hard-working hero suddenly becomes a despicable oik.

“Exit from the EU would offer a kind of national renewal: a chance to embed those values of self-reliance and resourcefulness into a political culture suited to a modern independent state.”

The immigration argument isn’t about bigotry vs tolerance: it’s about whether a whole category of people who want to make an honest, self‑sufficient living should be disregarded in the interests of larger economic forces that may, or may not, ultimately create “more jobs”, as Mr Cameron keeps saying.

What he does not say is that those jobs will almost certainly not be ones that would be suitable for the tradesmen who were put out of business by incoming migrants. In other words, a swathe of the indigenous workforce is simply being thrown to the wolves for the sake of big corporate developments for whom the endless regulation and legal interference of the EU is a trivial consideration.

And, needless to say, those ambitious, hard-working, self-reliant individuals are not easily fooled. They know perfectly well when they are being disregarded or duped and they have a hereditary distrust of the class that has traditionally regarded them with contempt – of which Mr Cameron, I’m afraid, is the living embodiment and Corbynite Labour’s Islington groupies are just a variant. Labour in its present incarnation is making precisely the same mistake about working-class people as it did in the Eighties, by assuming that they prefer glorious collective defeat to individual success and personal fulfilment.

Paternalism takes many forms. The Left‑wing version is far more pernicious than the aristocratic one. It is quite astounding how little the Cameron-Corbyn axis seems to know about the character of the British people, who are too brave (or obstreperous) to be bullied and too humorous to be taken in by ludicrous threats.

But there is once again a political grouping on the Right that is taking up the cause of real working people. The bond that forms, at rare moments in national life, between a section of the educated middle class and the skilled working class can produce electrifying political reform (as indeed it did in the Eighties), which the great Blob of paternalist snobbery generally attempts to extinguish as rapidly as possible. This time there is an unprecedented opportunity. Exit from the EU would offer a kind of national renewal: a chance to embed those values of self-reliance and resourcefulness into a political culture suited to a modern independent state.

There are some exciting possible answers to the question, what would a post-EU Britain be like? Maybe it could reflect the social virtues that politicians of all parties have been claiming to revere: self-determination and initiative. So the state could become a mirror image of what it attempted to reward and encourage among the people. Perhaps it could restore to its institutions the direct relationship with its population that was once its great constitutional gift to the world.

This may all sound rather grandiose but, as it happens, the Leave campaign – this government in exile – is led by a pair of the most intelligent men in British public life. Mr Johnson and Mr Gove are possessed of the intellect and (sorry) the arrogance to take on this task, to articulate its goals, and just possibly to shift the axis of politics for a generation.

 

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IS-RU:160606:(08-JUN-16):Agreement on Pensions Reaffirms Special Nature of Israel-Russia Ties

Sputnik 06-Jun-16

 

The agreement to provide Russian pensions to residents of Israel who previously lived and worked in Russia and the USSR is confirming a special nature of relations between the two countries, the speaker of the upper house of the Russian parliament said Monday.

Earlier in the day, Elkin told Sputnik that the proposed Russian-Israeli agreement on providing Israelis formerly possessing Russian citizenship with Russian state pensions would double the number of Russian pension recipients to 60,000.

“As you know, the agreement [on pensions] is reached. We have left nothing unattended. I think this is a very important agreement between Russia and Israel, which restores social justice and reaffirms the special nature of Russian-Israeli relations,” Valentina Matvienko said at a meeting with Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage Minister Zeev Elkin.

The deal is set to be signed during Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Russia dedicated to the 25th anniversary of the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the countries. The prime minister is visiting Russia between Monday and Wednesday.

The agreement makes provisions for those who worked in the Russian Federation, or its predecessor, the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, to receive Russian state pensions regardless of whether they have retained their citizenship.

Russian Jews migrated to Israel from the Soviet Union in large numbers throughout the 1970s when Soviet authorities lifted the ban on Jewish emigration. The next wave of Jewish emigration took place after 1989. Currently, Israel’s Russian Jewish population amounts to around 1,000,000, according to Israeli government statistics.

 

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IS-MPA-RU:160606:(08-JUN-16):Coincidence? Palestinian FM Says Moscow Trip Unrelated to Netanyahu’s Visit

Sputnik 06-Jun-16

 

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will “coincidentally” visit Moscow at the same time.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki told Sputnik that his visit to Moscow is unrelated to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to the Russian capital around the same time.

“We discussed several possible dates for the visit and agreed on this one, which coincidentally coincides with the Israeli prime minister’s stay in Moscow. This shows that Russia can have good relations with Palestine and maintain the same relations with Israel. Our presence in one place at one time means nothing more. Our task is to discuss relations with Russia, not with Israel,” al-Maliki told Sputnik.

 

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IS-RU:160606:(08-JUN-16):Netanyahu heads to Russia as ties with Moscow strengthen

Arutz Sheva 06-Jun-16

 

Israeli PM heads to Kremlin for fourth meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin; extended trip to last for 2 and a half days.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu headed to Moscow this morning, for his third visit to the Kremlin in nine months, as Israel-Russia ties continues to burgeon.

The meeting is the fourth one between Netanyahu and Russia President Vladimir Putin during the same period, after the pair also met at the sidelines of the recent UN climate change conference in Paris. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin has also met with Putin during that time, even cancelling a trip to Australia to visit the Russian leader at the Kremlin.

In an illustration of the growing alliance between their two countries, this time Netanyahu is scheduled to stay in Russia for an extended trip of two and a half days, meeting other leading Russian officials as well as the Russian President.

The official pretext for this visit is to mark 25 years of official diplomatic relations between Israel and Russia. Until then, Israel’s relationship with what was then the Soviet Union had been hostile one, with Moscow backing Israel’s Arab enemies and declaring itself opposed to Zionism.

Today, however, things are very different. Official explanations aside, the two leaders will be engaging on a range of issues of mutual interest and potential cooperation, most notably the ongoing bloody civil war in Syria.

Russia, which supports Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, has been heavily engaged in Syria on the side of the regime. While Israel considers the Assad regime – a close ally of Iran – an enemy, and is still technically at war with it, Jerusalem and Moscow have seen their interests in Syria converge as of late.

Last year, Netanyahu and Putin reached a landmark agreement to coordinate all Israeli and Russian forces in and over the skies of Israel’s northern neighbor.

Israel, concerned over the growing Iranian presence in Syria, has operated extensively to thwart the transfers of sophisticated weaponry and radar equipment to Hezbollah, which is also fighting on behalf of the Syrian regime. The Israeli air force has also assassinated several leading Hezbollah terrorists based in Syria, who were plotting attacks against Israeli targets.

While Russia is working to secure its own strategic interests in Syria – most crucially by preserving its naval and other military bases in western Syria – the Kremlin has made it clear it has no interest in facilitating attacks against Israel, and has allowed Israeli aircraft free movement over the skies of Syria. In return, among other things, Israel has committed to alerting Russia of impending airstrikes to ensure no Russian casualties, and has allowed Russian aircraft to cross into Israeli airspace when operationally necessary for its operations in southern Syria.

In a symbolic illustration of the growing alliance, last week Putin signed an executive order to hand over an Israeli tank seized by pro-Soviet Arab forces in Syria during the First Lebanon War.

But while previous – far more speedy – visits by Netanyahu have focused purely on the Syrian crisis, this extended trip is expected to also deal with a range of other issues, according to sources close to the PM. Among other things, the pair will discuss the battle against global Islamic terrorism, as well as the diplomatic process with the Palestinian Authority.

Both topics come at a particularly important time. Russia – which is in Syria ostensibly to fight jihadist terrorists – is also a backer of Iran, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, and Israeli leaders hope they can persuade the Russians to use their leverage with Iran to curb Tehran’s increasingly aggressive designs in the region.

On the diplomatic front, Netanyahu will look to Russia as a way to offset a hostile White House’s recent veiled threats to not use its veto in the Security Council, as well as increased pressure from Europe to impose a two-state solution over the heads of the Israeli government.

The growing Israeli-Russian alliance also illustrates Moscow’s rising influence in the Middle East, as US President Barack Obama has pulled back America’s presence and influence in the region considerably.

 

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EGR-RU:160606:(08-JUN-16):Putin’s visit to Greece as omen to Middle East

Pravda 06-Jun-16 (Russian press is under state control. Don)

 

The countries of the Middle East paid great interest to the recent visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin to Greece. According to the expert community of the region, Vladimir Putin made it clear that Syria and Greece were under Russia’s protection, and the enemy would not pass. NATO and the US heard the Russian message.

Message to NATO

Covering Putin’s recent visit to Greece, Arab media saw his negotiations with the president and prime minister of Greece as a message to the West and NATO. During the talks, the Russian president said that the refugee crisis in Europe could be resolved only after the establishment of peace in Syria. To achieve peace in Syria, one needs to destroy terrorism in the country first. It goes about a simple mechanism.

Based on the principle of rights of the Syrian people to self-determination, without external interference in internal affairs of the country, all those who agree to take part in elections shall obtain all necessary guarantees (both in the field of security and politics) and shall not be declared terrorists. The people who refuse to participate in free democratic elections and prefer to continue armed struggle for political purposes, shall be declared terrorists.

This is a simple test to terrorism, because terrorism is an attempt to achieve political goals by violence. The above mechanism appears to be a very correct approach, especially in a situation when there is interregnum in the USA, and when Europe has finally realized the fruit of the adventurist policy of Turkish President Erdogan.

Migration crisis

It was as a result of NATO’s aggression in Iraq, Libya and failed attempts of aggression in Syria, when Europe faced an acute refugee crisis. Benefits of immigration (professional labor force ready to work for small salaries, as well as the solution of Europe’s demographic problems) do not outbalance resulting social problems and are accompanied with infiltration of terrorists.

This applies to refugees from both the East and from the South, for whom the NATO-bombed Libya  has become a major trans-shipment point.

Russian President Putin said that he could understand the complicated position of Greek Prime Minister Tsipras, because Greece is a NATO member. Today, Greece acts as a dissident not only at the EU but also at NATO. Like all other Turkey’s neighbors, Greece suffers from the refugee crisis, as well as from the policy of Turkish President Erdogan, who switched from “zero problems with neighbors” policy to aggressive policies in the relations with all of its neighbors, including Greece and Russia.

US leaves the Middle East

America has been losing interest in the Middle East lately, concentrating its foreign policy efforts in the Far East and the Pacific region. The USA tends to destroy the Middle East before stabilizing it again to give the initiative to other forces, including to those that try to establish law and order in Syria.

Vladimir Putin said that the history of relations between Russia and Greece counts hundreds of years. Greek PM Tsipras challenged the European bureaucracy by inviting Putin. The Middle East saw Putin’s visit as a breakthrough on the way to the peaceful settlement of the war in Syria, when all the forces that agree to participate in the elections receive all necessary guarantees and lay down their arms to fight for their political agenda with the help of elections, rather than weapons.

 

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EUO-NATO-RU:160607:(08-JUN-16):Poland: Large-Scale NATO Exercise Begins

Stratfor 07-Jun-16

 

A NATO exercise that includes 31,000 soldiers from 18 NATO members and five partner countries began in Poland on June 7, Radio Poland reported. The exercise is the largest military exercise held in Poland since 1989 and will run until June 17. It also comes ahead of a two-day NATO summit in Warsaw set to begin July 8. According to reports, the exercise will focus on coordination between the coalition and the military leadership of individual member states in the case of hybrid warfare.

 

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RU-TU:160607:(08-JUN-16):Russia: Putin Says South Stream, TurkStream Not Definitely Cancelled

Stratfor 07-Jun-16

 

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on June 7 that Moscow has not definitely canceled the South Stream or TurkStream natural gas export pipeline projects, Reuters reported. Russian officials froze discussions over TurkStream, a project that would ramp up Russian natural gas exports to Southern Europe through Turkey, after Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet near the Syria-Turkey border in November 2015. South Stream was scrapped after a dispute arose between the European Union and Moscow over issues related to competition, Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the Western economic sanctions against Russia that followed. Putin said Russia wanted a clear position from the European Union on both projects.

 

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RU:160607:(08-JUN-16):Putin’s New Stealth Jet Is on a Mission: To Prove Russia Can Still Fight

The Daily Beast 07-Jun-16

 

Not that long ago, Russia’s air force was all but wrecked. Now the Kremlin’s most advanced warplane is soaring over the seized territory of Crimea.

Russia’s new stealth fighter made an eyebrow-raising surprise appearance on June 5—soaring over the Crimean Peninsula, which Moscow ripped from Ukraine in early 2014.

The T-50—Russia’s answer to the U.S. Air Force’s F-22—is far from war-ready. Indeed, the twin-engine, radar-evading warplane is suffering such serious design, quality-control, and financing problems that it might never enter frontline service in large numbers.

But practical realities may very well be beside the point. The T-50’s flights over territory that once belonged to Russia’s bitter rival Ukraine sends an apparently powerful message, albeit one that doesn’t necessarily hold up to close scrutiny.

After flying air cover for the annexation of Crimea in 2014, supporting Russia’s ground war in eastern Ukraine through 2015, and undertaking an intensive air campaign in defense of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad in 2016, the Russian air force could be near the point of exhaustion.

But a big, powerful, high-tech stealth fighter, roaring impressively over captured enemy terrain, is a statement to the contrary. The implication of the T-50’s maneuvers over Crimea is that Russia—in particular, its struggling air force—is still strong.

At least once a year since 2013, the Russian military has hosted an international aerial war game it calls “Aviadarts.” Loosely modeled on the U.S. Air Force’s hyper-realistic Red Flag air exercise, Aviadarts is open to all those countries that, for obvious reasons, wouldn’t be welcome at Red Flag.

China’s a regular participant. Belarus and Kazakhstan have also sent planes and crews. As many as 50 warplanes converge on some air base for several days of simulated bombing runs and mock air combat. And the kicker—unlike most Russian military exercises, Aviadarts takes place more or less in public. Portions of the war game are even open to civilian spectators.

The T-50 that appeared over Crimea on June 5 was taking part in the 2016 Aviadarts—a first for the type. And the pro-Russian local public was there to celebrate the occasion. “Russian military planes and helicopters competed in a competition testing their flying prowess and marksmanship, while stunning crowds of observers,” state-owned broadcaster RT reported.

The publicity is no accident. Arguably, it’s the main point.

The Russian air force all but collapsed owing to a lack of funding in the chaotic yeas following the Soviet Union’s 1991 collapse. It wasn’t until President Vladimir Putin’s second term starting in 2004 that the air force finally began to receive the money it needed to repair old jets, buy new planes, and restore training for frontline pilots.

Aviadarts was an opportunity for Moscow to show the world that its air arm was, once again, a force to be reckoned with. “Russian media has made much of this fighter-pilot competition in a bid to show off an air force that is now, finally, dragging itself out of the doldrums,” Thomas Newdick, author of Modern Military Aircraft, wrote about the 2014 edition of Aviadarts.

But the cash injection was short-lived—and could only do so much good, anyway, considering the deplorable condition of the Russian aerospace industry. The air force managed to repair hundreds of Soviet-era aircraft and buy additional hundreds of new planes. But the “new” planes are, in fact, almost all upgraded versions of Soviet-vintage jets. While Russian industry has devised new radars and missiles, the T-50 is one of Russia’s few truly new airframe designs—and it’s a mess.

Specially shaped to avoid detection by radar, the T-50 shares the powerful engines, sensors, and missiles of older Russian warplanes. But its stealth features have proved difficult for Sukhoi, the plane’s developer, to master—and for the Kremlin to afford as plummeting oil prices have drained state coffers.

India had offered to co-develop the T-50 and buy scores of copies. But in 2014, Indian officials complained of “shortfalls… in terms of performance and other technical features” in the handful of T-50 prototypes Sukhoi’s engineers had hand-built by then. New Delhi put its version of the T-50 on ice.

And not long afterward, Moscow did the same. “Given the new economic conditions, the original plans may have to be adjusted,” Yuri Borisov, a deputy defense minister, said in March 2015. The original plan was for Russia to build at least 50 T-50s by 2020. The new plan was for just a dozen—half of which are already flying as prototype test vehicles.

By comparison, the U.S. Air Force possesses more than 180 F-22s—and should have hundreds of newer F-35 stealth fighters in service by 2020. The T-50 might never be a significant part of the Russian air force. But it’s still a stealth fighter—a symbol of technological prowess that only a few countries can afford in any quantity.

And that makes it all the more valuable in 2016. As far as propaganda goes, this year’s Aviadarts is arguably even more important than previous war games—and that helps explain the T-50’s presence at the exercise. In late 2015, the Russian air force deployed more than 30 of its best fighter planes and scores of its most experienced pilots to western Syria.

Putin claimed his forces were intervening to defeat the so-called Islamic State widely known as ISIS. In fact, they helped to shore up the Assad regime’s flagging defenses against all opponent. The Russian planes have flown hundreds of missions, targeting ISIS fighters, U.S.-backed moderate rebels and even civilians in rebel-held territory. “The intention is to make life unbearable in those areas so that oppositions leaders accept Moscow’s conditions,” wrote Tom Cooper, an aviation expert and author.

Not only is the Russian air force indiscriminately bombing civilians in Syria—it’s losing a substantial number of aircraft in the process. Turkish jets shot down one Syria-based Russian bomber after it strayed into Turkish air space in November 2015. Russia has also lost around half a dozen helicopters to crashes and ground fire in Syria in recent months.

The costly Syria intervention has all but maxed out Russia’s capacity for aerial warfare. True, on paper the Kremlin possesses nearly 3,000 military aircraft. But even after Putin’s reforms, only a few hundred of the planes and helicopters are fully modern. Experienced pilots are in even shorter supply.

In mid-2014, Moscow had a choice. It could expand its annexation of Crimea to include a direct attack on eastern Ukraine—an assault that would have required heavy air support. Or the Russian government could, as tradition dictated, plan for the annual Victory Day parade that, every May 9, commemorates the Soviet Union’s defeat of Nazi Germany—and includes a huge flyover of Moscow involving up to a hundred military aircraft, with scores more waiting nearby as back-ups in case some planes or copters break down.

The flyover required months of preparation and rehearsal—and effectively precluded another war. “From the beginning of intensive training, there was little capacity left for a military intervention,” Stefan Buettner wrote in Combat Aircraft, a trade magazine.

Today Russia is in a similar predicament. Outside of the Syria intervention, Moscow possesses precious little extra air power. But it only takes on T-50 to make an impressive statement and at least imply that Russia has warplanes to spare. It doesn’t actually matter that, as a frontline warplane, the T-50 is probably doomed to fail. It can at least do its job as a propaganda piece.

 

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TIS:160608:(08-JUN-16):Why the Islamic State Is in Retreat

Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs 08-Jun-16 Click here to read the full article.

 

Two years ago the Islamic State’s blitz assault across a swath of land as big as the United Kingdom led to the establishment of the self-proclaimed Caliphate and fragmented both Syria and Iraq.

Today, the American-led and the Russian-led coalitions succeeded to contain the advance of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq because of several factors:

Attrition: Since August 2014, when the U.S.-led coalition initiated its air campaign against IS, the coalition has succeeded in eliminating thousands of Islamic fighters, but more important, it has struck and shaken the command and control structure of IS.

Manpower: Countries from where IS volunteers have been recruited have adopted new rules of conduct and restricted the flow of volunteers to IS. Aware that most of the fighters would come back to their native countries and become dormant members of IS agent cells, these countries now closely monitor Salafist organizations.

Firepower inferiority: Unwilling to put “boots on the ground,” the U.S. and Russians chose to crush IS forces as well as rebels from the air, targeting their equipment, logistics, leaders, and military formations.

Diminishing financial support: When IS captured Mosul, it looted Mosul’s central bank, absconding with $500 million. In the last year, U.S. aircraft unleashed a new and effective financial measure: blowing up the coffers of the Islamic State.

 

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IS-RU:160608:(08-JUN-16):Netanyahu, Putin hail strong bilateral ties and cooperation

Britain Israel Com & Research Center 08-Jun-16

 

Israel’s and Russia’s head of State met in Moscow yesterday to discuss strategic issues, marking 25 years of diplomatic relations between their countries.

President Vladimir Putin gave PM Benjamin Netanyahu an unexpected personal tour of the Kremlin before their meeting. This was followed by a press conference in which Netanyahu said: “We discussed the continued coordination between our two militaries in the region, which already works quite well.”

During the past year Russia and Israel agreed a military mechanism to avoid unintended clashes in Syria while protecting their respective interests, where Moscow backs the Assad regime and Israel works to prevent arms transfers to Hezbollah. Putin said: “We spoke about the necessity to pool efforts to counter international terrorism. Israel knows only too well what it means and it is fighting against terrorism. In this sense, we are unconditional allies.”

Netanyahu added: “We want to avoid conflict and make sure we are operating against those same entities that endanger everyone.”

Providing an overall perspective of Israel-Russia ties, Putin said, “We place great importance on our relationship with Israel.” In response, Netanyahu said that although “today we marked the first 25 years of renewed relations” between Israel and Russia, his talks with Putin “focused mainly on looking ahead to the next 25 years” and cooperation “in the fields of technology, innovation, high-tech, economics, trade, tourism, and culture and in many other areas”.

Putin also called for a free trade zone between Israel and the Eurasian Economic Union. Turning to the prospects for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, Putin endorsed “achieving a just peace” and called for “continued efforts” from the Quartet of which Moscow is a member. Putin also said that the  re-establishment of ties between Israel and Turkey would be “a positive outcome for all”.

During Netanyahu’s visit, an agreement was finalised on pensions for immigrants to Israel from the former-Soviet Union, while a memorandum of understanding over dairy produce was also signed.

 

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EU:160608:(08-JUN-16):Enthusiasm for EU in sharp decline throughout Europe, not just UK

Financial Times 08-Jun-16

 

While the UK’s possible exit from the EU has been the centre of attention, the popularity of the European project has suffered an even steeper decline in France, according to a survey.

The US-based Pew Research Center found that only 38 per cent of French people have a favourable view of the EU, down from 69 per cent in 2004. By contrast, 44 per cent of Britons felt positively about the EU, down from 54 per cent in 2004.

“The British are not the only ones with doubts about the European Union. The EU’s image and stature have been on a rollercoaster ride in recent years throughout Europe,” Pew said.

The survey of 10,491 people across 10 EU countries found a broad trend of declining enthusiasm over the period that the continent was shaken by the eurozone financial crisis. In Spain, only 47 per cent now view the EU favourably, from 80 per cent in 2007. Over the same period in Italy, pro-EU sentiment has slumped to 58 per cent from 78 per cent.

Following their country’s bruising financial crisis and austerity programmes, the Greeks were the ultimate Europhobes, with only 27 per cent backing the EU. In Germany, support is at 50 per cent.

The results will add to fears among EU officials that Brexit could spark a rush for similar referendums among other European states where populist parties are building electoral momentum.

Despite regular criticism from Brussels over constitutional and rule of law issues, Poland and Hungary were the most robustly positive about the EU. Some 72 per cent of Poles held a favourable view of the bloc, while 61 per cent of Hungarians did so.

Amid a diversity of views across the 10 countries, one of the few things nearly everybody seemed to agree on was that Britain’s departure would be bad. Only 16 per cent saw it as a “good thing”.

A generational divide between younger people supporting the EU and older sceptics was visible in all of the countries surveyed, apart from Italy.

France was the only country where the generational gulf was more stark than in the UK. Among French 18 to 34-year-olds, 56 per cent were pro-EU. But that enthusiasm was shared by only 31 per cent of the over-50s.

Discontent with the EU’s handling of the economy and migration was more pronounced in Greece and Italy than in the UK.

For the British, it was the prospect of an “ever closer union” that appeared to irk the most. Some 65 per cent of British wanted some powers returned to London. This was a concern for only 43 per cent of Germans and 39 per cent of the French.

Pew’s research chimes with other surveys showing growing Euroscepticism. Ipsos, a polling group, found recently that Brexit was liable to trigger a domino effect of similar votes on EU membership.

But it also found people were more enthusiastic on referendums than actually leaving the EU. In France 41 per cent would vote to do so, while in Germany only 34 per cent wanted to quit, Ipsos said.

Pew and Ipsos are somewhat at odds over Italy. While Pew found 58 per cent support for the EU, Ipsos found Italians were more inclined to leave the bloc, with 48 per cent wanting an exit.

 

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IS-UK:160608:(08-JUN-16):Mark Regev reveals UK and Israel working on public celebration of Balfour

Jewish News 08-Jun-16

 

The Israeli envoy to the UK made his remarks in his first interview with the Jewish press

Britain and Israel are working together on plans for a public celebration of the Balfour declaration’s centenary, Mark Regev has revealed in his first interview with the Jewish media since becoming ambassador to the UK.

The envoy said he was looking forward to what will be a “huge” milestone with special events in both countries in the months leading up to the anniversary next November.

Benjamin Netanyahu’s long-time spokesman said: “It’s being taken very seriously at the highest levels. We’re hoping to do a public celebration together with the British government with senior leadership from both sides uniting to celebrate Balfour.

“It’s a crucial, historic document. The Balfour declaration is a manifestation of the principles of self-determination of the Jewish people and there’s every reason to celebrate. We’re doing celebrations here and in Israel and I’m looking forward to it. It’s an important milestone.”

While Jerusalem has decided to stay out of the debate on Britain’s future in the European Union, Regev is known to audiences in Britain and around the globe for going into the lion’s den of international media to defend Israel’s actions, particularly at times of conflict.

And, just two months into the job in London, he’s proved he’s not shy of taking on the big challenges head on by making a visit to SOAS one of his first engagements after arriving – a trip that led to anti-Israel graffiti being scrawled across the campus. He has also spoken out on another political hot potato – anti-Semitism within the Labour party.

Asked whether he thought he could engage effectively with the Labour leader, he said: “I’ve seen Jeremy Corbyn speaking proudly about how his parents marched against the fascists in Cable Street. I look forward to meeting and having a serious conversation with him.”

He added: “Labour has a proud history of standing up for the Jewish people, for Zionism and for Israel. If you look at some of the iconic figures of Labour in 20th century – Bevan, Wilson – these are people that understood the essential justice in zionism. They saw a Jewish people discriminated against, a minority suffering persecution and they saw in Zionism the desire of the Jewish people to have self-determination. They saw an essential part of an agenda of making the world a better place. Zionism fitted in with that agenda and that’s why they whole-heartedly supported Zionism.

“I know today is 2016 and not 1946 but I know Israel has many friends in the Labour movement and as ambassador I would not be doing my job if I wasn’t reaching out to the leadership in Labour and making the case for Israel.”

While Regev said anti-Semitism had simply morphed into a version that focused on hatred of the Jewish state, he insisted an independent Israel had “changed everything” in terms of the plight and prospects of Jews.

“Today we are sovereign and independent,” he said.” Today a homeless people going from place to place looking for refuge has a homeland. We have the ability to defend ourselves in a way our parents’ generation didn’t. That’s the real change – that’s the victory of Zionism.”

He also used the opportunity to laud the support and love of British Jewry for Israel, saying: “Almost everyone you speak to has been, has family there. The relationship is very strong. If I think of british Jews who’ve had an influence on Israeli society it goes from Moses Montefiore until the current time. Go to places to Raanana, Modiin and Jerusalem you see people making a difference to society, the economy, across all areas.”

 

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IS-RU:160607:(08-JUN-16):Israel’s Netanyahu frequents Russia as U.S. influence in Mideast recedes

Reuters 07-Jun-16

 

With the Obama administration in its final months, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been a more frequent and feted visitor to Moscow than Washington, his eye on shifting big-power influence in the Middle East.

No one expects Netanyahu, who was hosted by Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday for the third time in the last year, to break up Israel’s bedrock alliance with the United States. But he is mindful of Putin’s sway in the Syrian civil war and other Middle East crises as the U.S. footprint in the region wanes.

“Netanyahu’s not defecting, but what we see here is a bid to manoeuvre independently to promote Israel’s interests,” said Zvi Magen, a former Israeli ambassador to Russia now with Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies.

With Russian forces fighting alongside Iran and Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas to keep Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in power, Putin is the closest thing to a guarantor that Israel’s three most potent enemies will not attack it from the north.

He is also the first port of call for Netanyahu’s argument that Assad’s loss of central control vindicates Israel’s de facto annexation of the Golan Heights in 1981, a move never recognised internationally. Israel took the area in a 1967 war.

Netanyahu can offer Putin reciprocal Israeli restraint in Syria, where Russia maintains a strategic Mediterranean base, and a chance to play a greater role in Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking that has long been dominated by the United States.

With the Obama administration and France hinting they might back a future U.N. Security Council resolution against Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land, Netanyahu also has an interest in sounding out the views of veto-wielding Russia.

Moscow’s guest-list suggests mediation may be under way.

When Netanyahu last came, in April, it was three days after a visit by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. On Wednesday, when Netanyahu departs, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is scheduled to host Palestinian counterpart Riyad al-Maliki.

Yaakov Amidror, one of Netanyahu’s former national security advisers, played down the scope of Israeli-Russian relations. He said they focused on preventing the sides accidentally trading fire over Syria and were underpinned by Netanyahu’s personal rapport with Putin – hence their meetings every few months.

By contrast, while Netanyahu and Obama have feuded on Iran and the Palestinians and are wrangling over a new memorandum of understanding (MOU) for future U.S. defence aid to Israel, their countries’ partnership ticks over thanks to a network of military, diplomatic and parliamentary channels, Amidror said.

“In Syria, there is liable to be a clash tomorrow morning that neither we nor the Russians want,” said Amidror, now with the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University and the U.S. think-tank JINSA, alluding to the risk of a friendly-fire incident.

“It’s not like the MOU, which we can spend months discussing with the Americans and be assured a resolution will be found.”

Russia has been closed-lipped about any wider statecraft initiatives it may have in store for Israel. The two countries “each express their positions in a pretty constructive manner, and all of this contributes to this rather frequent and intensive communication”, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

“But of course, there cannot be any talk of the intensity of these contacts reflecting any kind of rivalry with anyone,” he added, alluding to Washington, where Netanyahu was last hosted by U.S. President Barack Obama in November. A trip expected in March was cancelled given the difficult MOU talks.

That’s different from the dignified optics Netanyahu can be assured of in Russia. This time, he will leave with state gifts likely to buoy Israeli public opinion: an Israeli army tank captured by Syrian forces during battles in Lebanon in 1982 and recovered by Russia, and Moscow’s agreement to pay pensions to tens of thousands of Russian immigrants to Israel.

 

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RU-RCR:160608:(08-JUN-16):Russia: Construction On Bridge To Crimea Facing Major Funding Issues

Stratfor 08-Jun-16

 

Construction on a bridge from the Taman Peninsula in Russia to the Kerch Peninsula in Crimea is facing major funding issues, according to a letter written by the head of the company contracted to build the bridge to top-ranking Russian transport officials, Forbes reported June 8. Once completed, the bridge would link Russia with Crimea, which it has controlled since 2014. According to a source with knowledge of the situation, the Russian government allocated around $1 billion toward building the bridge in 2016, but payments have been held up due to bureaucratic procedures. Without funds, the Stroygazmontazh company, a leading construction group in Russia, has been forced to stall work on the bridge and has been unable to invest in the heavy equipment it will need to finish the job. According to the letter written by the company’s head Andrei Kirilenko to First Deputy Minister of Transport Yevgeny Dietrich and Roman Starovoit, the head of the Federal Road Agency, the project’s funding situation has become extremely urgent.

 

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IS-RU:160607:(08-JUN-16):Netanyahu invites Russia to develop Israel’s gas fields

Russia Today 07-Jun-16

 

On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Moscow. They discussed economic cooperation including energy ties.

“Our doors are open for every company from any country that has vast experience in the development of gas fields, including Russia, of course,” said Netanyahu at a joint news conference, adding that there are no legislative barriers stopping Russian companies working in Israel.

Putin was also asked about the gas contract with Poland which expires in 2022. The Russian President said Gazprom is looking for another partner in Europe who will buy the volume taken by Poland, including Israel.

“Our partners in Poland haven’t refused anything yet. However, the statement we are talking about, was made by a high-ranking official and the company purchasing our gas is state-owned, that’s why we don’t rule out such a possibility,” Putin said, adding that the gas may go to Israel to be then resold to Poland.

The Russian President added that plans for future Turkish Stream and South Stream gas pipeline projects have not been scrapped.

“All we need is a clear position from the European Commission. A clear, understandable and unambiguous stand. There isn’t one for either project,” said Putin.

The Turkish Stream project was frozen in December 2015 after a sharp deterioration in relations between Moscow and Ankara after a Russian warplane was shot down by Turkey. The pipeline was intended to substitute another suspended gas project, South Stream, which was going to deliver Russian gas to southern Europe through Bulgaria, Serbia and Hungary.

 

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IS-RU:160608:(08-JUN-16):Israel Courts Russian Investors

NaturalGasEurope 08-Jun-16

 

Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin met Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu in Moscow June 7 – their fourth meeting in 12 months.

For the first time, in a press conference, they talked publicly about the possibility of Russian companies investing in Israel .

“There are no legal restrictions on Russian companies participating in gas projects in Israel,” Netanyahu said in an answer to a question by a Russian reporter, according to a transcript on the Kremlin website.

“What has really limited and slowed down our participation in gas field development projects with all the companies was the time it took to adopt the decision that allowed us to expand and develop our gas fields, regardless of the company. We managed to resolve this problem, so our door is now open to all companies from all countries that have vast experience in developing gas fields, including, of course, Russia.”

Without specifying the exact time Putin said that Russia had once had a project to deliver gas to Israel, however following the gas discoveries off shore Israel that project was cancelled “which is natural,” he added. However, he advised Israel of one project “a small but good one – is to switch public transport in Israel to liquefied natural gas.”

It is not clear what Putin tried to suggest by this remark since Israel has no onshore facilities either for producing or storing LNG. Export monopoly Gazprom however is seeking new markets for the fuel, and transport is one area where demand may develop.

Putin also addressed the difficulties of selling Russian gas to Poland and said jokingly “Perhaps, the Israelis will buy this gas from us and sell it to Poland – this is also an option.”

At the end of the press conference, Netanyahu emphasized once again his open mindedness to Russian involvement in the Israeli energy industry. “I would like … to clarify things. Once again, I encourage Russian energy companies to participate in all tenders in this area.”

During the press conference Putin was asked about the impending rapprochement between Turkey and Israel, and his answer was positive. “I am exceptionally positive about it. We believe that any movement of these states and peoples towards each other will have a positive impact on the international situation in general. The fewer problems there are between the states, the better. We welcome this process.”

 

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MAR-MSY-RU-IS:160607:(08-JUN-16):Israel’s PM seeks role in Russian-US duo in Syria

DEBKAfile 07-Jun-16

 

During his 48-hour trip to Moscow (Monday and Tuesday June 6-7), Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will try and talk President Vladimir Putin into cutting Israel into the military teamwork evolving between Washington and Moscow for combating the Islamic State in Syria. As a quid pro quo, he will offer to elevate Moscow to senior broker in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, with Moscow or Geneva selected as the venue for direct Israeli-Palestinian talks, if they occur – and with US participation. Netanyahu is also keen on a role for Egypt’s Presidents Abdek-Fattah al-Sisi.

debkafile sources in Jerusalem and Moscow report exclusively that the floating of this deal was the reason why Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov abstained from attending the Mid East conference staged last weekend by France’s President Francois Hollande in Paris. The UK and German foreign ministers followed the Russian lead and stayed away.

And Friday, June 3, on the day of the Paris meeting, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikihail Bogdanov, who is in charge of Kremlin Middle East policy, offered a formula for resolving the problem of Israeli settlements on the West Bank.  That formula was very similar to the land swaps plan proposed by Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman a few years ago.

It consisted essentially of the transfer to the Palestinian state of parts of Israel with dense Arab populations, in return for Palestinian recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Israeli communities of Judea and Samaria.

In comments to Tass news service, Bogdanov said that Moscow is willing to host an Israeli-Palestinian peace conference, and also offered to mediate between the rival Palestinian factions, including Abu Mazen’s Fatah and the radical Hamas which rules the aza Strip.

While some Israeli politicians see the French initiative as offering President Barack Obama a handle for settling accounts with PM Netanyahu before he leaves the White House at the end of the year, Moscow and Jerusalem are concocting a parallel strategy – not merely to block the Franco-American move, but also to lift Washington’s drive for an Israeli-Palestinian accord from Paris to Moscow.

debkafile sources say that this maneuver is based on the early stages of military and political coordination between Washington and Moscow in the Syrian arena, including the fight against ISIS.

No such coordination exists between Washington and Paris.

Netanyahu envisages the tightening military cooperation between Russia and Israel for Syria, along with Israel’s active participation in the airstrikes against ISIS, as becoming integral to American-Russian understandings, and extending also to the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

Moscow and Jerusalem both estimate that an offer of US-Russian-Arab guarantees to the Palestinians, underwritten by Egypt and Saudi Arabia, can move the negotiations forward.

 

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EFR-RU:160608:(08-JUN-16):New French law would shield Russian assets

EUObserver 08-Jun-16

 

The French government is trying to pass a law that would help Russia to protect its assets from being frozen in business conflicts.

A government amendment to a bill on transparency and the fight against corruption says that assets could be frozen only if the state that owned them “has expressly agreed to the implementation of such a measure”.

The amendment also says that assets can be frozen only when they are “specifically used by the state for other purposes than non-commercial public service”.

The bill comes after former shareholders of Yukos, the giant Russian oil firm broken up by Russia more than 10 yes ago, won $50 billion in damages from Russia in an arbitration tribunal in The Hague last year.

Judges said Russia had violated the Energy Charter Treaty, an investor protection pact, when they dismantled the oil company, which had been run by Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Khodorkovsky, an oligarch who became a Kremlin critic, was also jailed for 10 years on tax evasion charges.

He now lives in the UK and is still a prominent opponent of Russian president Vladimir Putin.

The ex-Yukos group had used The Hague ruling to try to seize Russian assets, such as foreign bank accounts or the building of the Russian embassy to Unesco, a UN heritage body based in France, in lieu of the $50 billion fine.

It is taking similar action in Belgium, Britain, Germany, India and the US.

Last December, a French court rejected Russia’s appeal to suspend the asset-freezes.

According to France Info radio, the Russian government threatened France with retaliations after it lost the appeal.

France Info radio said it had seen a letter sent in March by the Russian foreign minister to the French embassy in Moscow saying that “any attempt to apply measures … with regard to Russian assets … will be considered as giving right to adoption of appropriate and proportionate measures with regard to the French republic”.

“The ministry of foreign affairs will be grateful if the embassy could bring the content of this note to the attention of the French tribunal,” the minister added.

His proposal to warn French judges of the consequences of their decision ignored the separation of political and judicial powers that is normal in France and in Europe more broadly.

The anti-asset freezing bill is currently under discussion in the National Assembly, with a vote expected later this month.

Russia also won a legal victory in April when a Dutch district court overturned the decision of The Hague tribunal. But the ex-Yukos group is to appeal the district court verdict in a higher tribunal.

 

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RU-NATO-EU:160608:(08-JUN-16):Russia deploys troops westward as standoff with NATO deepens

Reuters 08-Jun-16

 

Russia is building an army base near its border with Ukraine, the latest in a chain of new military sites along what the Kremlin sees as its frontline in a growing confrontation with NATO.

While there have been no clashes between the former Cold War rivals, Russia is building up forces on its western frontiers at a time when the NATO alliance is staging major military exercises and increasing deployments on its eastern flank.

A Reuters reporter who visited the Russian town of Klintsy, about 50 km (30 miles) from Ukraine, saw a makeshift army camp, large numbers of newly-arrived servicemen and military vehicles.

Two soldiers in camouflage gear who were manning a checkpoint in a forest turned the reporter away, saying they were guarding a “special military site”.

Last year, Reuters also reported on construction of two other bases further to the south on Russia’s border with Ukraine.

The defense ministry has not acknowledged the deployment of troops to Klintsy, which usually serves as a stop for truck drivers traveling between Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.

However, a town council official said Klintsy had been chosen as the site of a newly-formed division, and that so far about 240 soldiers had arrived. “What’s to hide? That they’ve come? They’ve arrived,” said council deputy chairman Oleg Kletny. “They’re going to be garrisoned here.”

When completed, the base will be the latest component in a build-up of forces along a line running from the Baltic Sea in the north to the Black Sea in the south.

On the western side of the line, NATO has been rotating troops and equipment in greater numbers to members states that were part of the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact during the Cold War.

The Western alliance, which says it’s responding to Russian military intervention in Ukraine, was this week staging one of its biggest exercises in eastern Europe since the end of the Cold War.

To the east, Russia is building up its own forces, saying it needs to protect itself from NATO’s eastward advance.

Each side says it is only responding to steps taken by the other, but the build-up risks locking NATO and Russia into a spiral of measure and counter-measure from which it will be difficult to escape.

Russia and NATO member states share borders around the Baltic Sea, while further south the two blocs are separated by Ukraine and Belarus.

But since Ukraine’s pro-Moscow president was ousted in a popular uprising two years ago and replaced with a Western-leaning administration, the perception in Moscow is that Ukraine has become, de facto, a NATO satellite.

ANTI-TANK DEFENSES

Russia has pulled out of the treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe, a post-Cold War pact that limits the deployment of troops in Europe, so it is free to move extra troops and hardware to its western border.

On Monday Klintsy, normally a sleepy town, was a hive of military activity. The Reuters reporter saw about a dozen tents and the same number of military vehicles in a temporary camp in a clearing in a forest where the troops will be billeted until their permanent base is ready.

Military trucks drove through the town, which lies in an area that is the closest point on Russian territory to the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, 280 km away.

About a dozen servicemen were at a gas station near the camp, buying food supplies. A road near the camp was blocked off by antitank obstacles and road spikes.

Last week, Russia’s Interfax news agency quoted an unnamed source familiar with the deployment to Klintsy as saying it “can be seen as a response to the growing activity of the North Atlantic Alliance near Russia’s borders”.

The defense ministry did not reply to questions from Reuters about the base and its purpose.

Council deputy chairman Kletny said the troops, from a motorized infantry division, started arriving on May 30. They came from a base in Yekaterinburg, in the Ural mountains region about 2,000 km to the east of Klintsy.

He said they were deployed following a decision earlier this year by Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu to create three new divisions. The soldiers will be eventually garrisoned in the grounds of a disused military base in Klintsy which they are renovating, said Kletny.

“It’s good that the military will come; our demographic situation will improve, we’ll get a bigger population. If servicemen come her with their families, that will be good too,” he told Reuters.

A notice lodged with Klintsy town council and seen by Reuters stated that approval is being sought for re-zoning and construction works on two plots of land with a total area of 142 hectares (351 acres), or about the size of 140 soccer pitches.

The plots of land would be used “for the interests of the Russian armed forces”, according to the notice.

 

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