We apologise that the snippets have been somewhat sparce of late, Bro Don has been busy preparing for his tour of Austrailia and New Zealand.#
Here Is an extended version of the Snippets which covers the 10 days from 21-31st May.
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Moscow and the Holy See are working together on the issue of moral values and persecuted Christians. This cooperation is beneficial for both parties, from a diplomatic and political viewpoint, the French newspaper Le Figaro wrote.
According to Le Figaro, since the end of the Cold War, the Vatican has always been willing to hold a dialogue with Moscow.
“Russia has become one of the centers of a new polycentric world order, an empire in the process of establishment, which one should offer one’s hand,” political expert Canstance Colonna-Cesari said cited by the newspaper.
After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the relations between Moscow and the Vatican were characterized by significant tensions. However, over the past few years ties between Russia and the Holy See have strengthened, especially after Vladimir Putin’s conversation with Pope Francis in November 2013, and the historical meeting of Pope Francis with Patriarch Kirill in Havana in February 2016.
On February 12, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia met Pope Francis at an airport in Havana, Cuba, where they signed a joint declaration. It was the first time that Catholic and Russian Orthodox spiritual leaders held face-to-face talks since Christianity split into western and eastern branches in 1054.
Restoring ties with the Vatican, representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church speak about strategic alliance with the Catholic Church aimed at defending “traditional Christian values.” In their joint declaration, the leaders of the two churches urged to protect the persecution of Christians in the Middle East and called on the international community to take action in this direction.
According to the expert, the Vatican is interested in rapprochement with Russia for several reasons. First of all, one needs to come to terms with Russia as it is a strong energy and military power, which at the same time is restoring its status as a world power, getting more and more oriented to the east and adheres to Orthodox values.
On the other hand, there is a diplomatic reason behind the Vatican’s desire to cooperate with Moscow: a possibility to enhance its involvement in Syria thanks to Vladimir Putin’s good relationship with Damascus as well as Russia’s ability to veto any decision of the UN Security Council with regard to the Syrian crisis.
According to the newspaper, the alliance also has its political relevance for Moscow, especially taking into account the close connection between the Kremlin and the Russian Orthodox Church, the newspaper wrote.
“Relations with the Holy See are intertwined with the main goal of Putin’s foreign policy: to return the status of a super power,” the newspaper wrote.
“The situation in the Middle East gives Putin an opportunity to emphasize Russia’s role in the international arena and present himself as a defender of eastern Christians in the spirit of Catherine the Great,” it continued, citing political expert Yves Hamant.
Daily Telegraph 22-May-16
David Cameron claims that the power of Brussels to negotiate these free-trade agreements is a critical reason why Britain must not leave the EU
A secret government memo today reveals how a trade war between European Union countries is damaging the British economy.
The damning Whitehall assessment – seen by the Telegraph – has found that France and other EU countries are hampering new “free-trade” deals because they want to protect their farmers from the extra competition.
David Cameron claims that the power of Brussels to negotiate these free-trade agreements with parts of the world such as the United States is a critical reason why Britain must not leave the EU.
But the memorandum suggests that Britain is losing out on £2.5 billion a year in potential trade as a result of the ongoing delays to a proposed deal between the EU and Latin America.
Under EU treaties, the UK cannot negotiate its own trade arrangements and has to wait until Brussels reaches agreements that are acceptable to all 28 member states, a process that often takes years to complete.
Details of the internal government document, written earlier this year, have come to light at a critical time in the referendum contest, as rival ministers clash in an increasingly bitter campaign over Britain’s future in Europe.
Dominic Raab, the justice minister who is campaigning to leave the EU at next month’s referendum, said: “The raw truth is that the EU hates genuinely free trade. That holds Britain back, costs us jobs, and keeps prices on the high street artificially high.”
Meanwhile, on the other side of the debate, Patrick McLoughlin, the Transport Secretary, warned that the long-term future of Britain’s car industry – which employs 200,000 people – would be put at risk by a vote for so-called Brexit.
In an interview with the Telegraph, Mr McLoughlin said he feared global motor manufacturers such as Toyota and Nissan would choose to open new factories in rival countries if Britain pulled out of the EU’s single market trade zone, with its 500 million consumers.
There is “an unknown risk” that the “long-term future” of the UK’s highly successful motor industry could fall into decline, as happened with coal mining, he said.
Mr Cameron and other EU leaders, such as Germany’s Angela Merkel, are pushing for a range of new trade deals between Europe and other world trading blocs, including Latin America, Japan, Australia, and the United States.
George Osborne, the Chancellor, has warned that leaving the EU’s single market free-trade zone would be “catastrophic” for the British economy.
The secret Whitehall briefing found that one key initiative for a sweeping new “free-trade agreement” between Europe and five South American countries has run into trouble amid opposition from other EU countries.
The private memorandum was prepared for ministers ahead of the EU’s latest round of trade talks with Latin America. It said that 14 member states – half of the EU’s 28 members – are trying to limit the agreement because they fear their farmers will suffer from the increased competition.
““The EU’s record at putting free trade deals in place is weak and getting worse.””Andrea Leadsom, the pro-Brexit energy minister
These EU countries want to stop cheaper imports of beef and other farm products being allowed into the Europe from rivals including Brazil and Argentina.
Crucially, the Whitehall assessment said this kind of opposition to free-trade deals is growing across Europe.
It could even affect plans for a high-profile transatlantic trade deal between the EU and the United States, the report said.
It warned that France and other countries have been trying to water down the proposed agreement between Europe and five South American countries, the so-called “Mercosur” group – Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela.
The Government believes this deal would generate £2.5 billion a year for Britain by reducing tariffs and reforming quotas to open up trade between Europe and Latin America in beef, chicken, plant-based fuels, cars, medical drugs, and services such as banking.
Andrea Leadsom, the pro-Brexit energy minister, said: “The EU’s record at putting free trade deals in place is weak and getting worse.”
Priti Patel, the employment minister, said EU membership meant the British economy was being “tied to a sinking ship”.
She said: “Being a member of the EU has rendered us powerless to reach our own trade deals and these missed trading opportunities are costing our economy money, jobs and growth.”
A No 10 source said: “Independent experts … have warned that Britain will be rocked by a massive economic shock and risks recession if we take a leap in the dark and leave the EU. British businesses get huge benefits from having access to the EU single market of 500million people – three million jobs are linked to the EU. On top of that, firms across the UK can take advantage of the EU’s trade deals with more than 50 countries around the world – and we would lose access to every single one of those deals if we leave, doing even more damage to our economy.”
Israel approved on Sunday a deal meant to fast-track the development of the huge offshore natural gas field Leviathan, an Energy Ministry spokeswoman said.
Israel’s energy minister said on Wednesday he reached a deal with Texas-based Noble Energy and Israel’s Delek Group that will allow the firms to move forward with the field’s development, hopefully bringing it online by the end of 2019.
A ministry spokeswoman said the deal was approved at a weekly cabinet meeting.
A previous agreement was struck down by Israel’s Supreme Court, and the government hopes that new phrasing, which gives the state more leeway in handling future regulation, will stave off another court objection.
The Greek parliament passed new budget cuts and tax rises May 22, BBC reported. The government led by the leftist Syriza coalition passed the bill by 153 votes to 145. The legislation comes two days before a eurozone meeting in Brussels, which is expected to unblock much-needed bailout funds. The bill creates a state privatization fund requested by its eurozone finance ministers, as well as a contingency mechanism that will trigger automatic spending cuts if the country fails to meet the targets of the bailout deal agreed to last year. Earlier this month, parliament approved reforms of the pension and income tax system. The legislation also comes ahead of a sizeable debt payment due in July. Demonstrators gathered outside parliament in in Athens to protest against the law.
Media Line MidEast Daily News 23-May-16
Israelis living on the northern border with Lebanon say the Lebanese Army has built a series of new watchtowers over the past month that allow them to see into Israeli military bases, the border fence, patrol road and civilian enclaves, according to Ynet News. The watchtowers are currently being manned by soldiers from the Lebanese Army, but residents fear that in a conflict with Israel, Hizbullah could take over the watchtowers. Residents say the towers have gone up almost overnight and from one place, Kibbutz Admit, there are three towers within sight. An Israeli military spokesman said the army is following the developments and there has been no change in the security situation. According to a United Nations resolution, the areas where the watchtowers were built is supposed to be a demilitarized area, meaning that the towers should not have any weapons in there. Israel says that Hizbullah, with which Israel fought a cross-border war in 2006, has 100,000 rockets that can reach all parts of Israel. At the same time, Israel’s assessment is that Hizbullah is not interested in a war with Israel at the current time. After the recent assassination of a Hizbullah leader, the group made clear that they did not believe Israel is responsible. The Shi’ite militant group has been fighting in Lebanon alongside Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against rebel groups such as the al-Nusra Front and Islamic State.
IS-NAC:160523:(31-MAY-16):Israel And Canada Increase Technology Cooperation – Countries To Double Funding For Joint R&D
Israeli Science Info 23-May-16
The success stories behind Israeli hi-tech companies greatly contribute to helping establish extensive technological cooperation between Israel and countries around the world. One such collaboration growing stronger year by year is that between Israel and the Canadian Province of Ontario. Cooperation between the two states has been ongoing for more than a decade and their joint R&D program has already yielded impressive technological achievements – for both the countries and their companies. Today, representatives of Israel and Ontario will sign an agreement to increase the joint funding they offer to companies at a value of $2 million annually, and to budget an extra $5 million a year for cooperation between Israeli and Canadian industries and universities.
The signing of the expanded agreement is taking place within the framework of an official visit by the Premier of the Province of Ontario. She arrived in Israel with the largest official tech delegation ever to come from Canada, including 180 businesspeople, heads of organizations, industrialists and researchers from Canada’s finest universities, seeking to do business with Israeli companies and entrepreneurs. Half of the members of the delegation are businesspeople focusing on manufacturing and promoting technological opportunities between the two countries.
According to the Chairman of the Israel Innovation Authority, Mr. Avi Hasson: “Canada is a wonderful option for any Israeli company interested in establishing its presence in North America. The Canadians see Israel as a significant hub of innovation and they are here to forge new collaborative relationships in several technological fields, including cleantech, biotech, med-tech and medical devices, IT, cyber-security, energy and e-Health, projects that can benefit both sides.”
Ahram online 23-May-16
The delivery of MRAPs to Egypt is part of the continuing strong relationship between the US and Egypt, says Major General Charles Hooper, the US embassy’s senior defence official in Cairo
On 12 May Egypt received the first shipment of armoured vehicles from the US. The US Embassy in Cairo featured an article on its official website on the details of the Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles, designed to protect soldiers from improvised explosive devices (IEDs), landmines and other forms of attacks.
Thursday’s delivery was “the first batch of a total of 762 MRAP vehicles that the United States is transferring to Egypt,” the article reported.
“Originally designed to support United States military operations in Afghanistan, MRAPs provide enhanced levels of protection to soldiers and are proven to save lives.”
“The delivery of these MRAPs to Egypt provides a crucial capability needed during these times of regional instability and is part of the continuing strong relationship between the US and Egypt,” said Major General Charles Hooper, the US embassy’s senior defence official in Cairo.
The website explained that the shipment of the MRAPs “is part of the US Department of Defence’s excess defence articles grant program, in which the vehicles are transferred at no cost to the government of Egypt.”
“This delivery is the most recent step taken by the US government in support of Egypt’s fight against terrorism and is part of a broad range of military cooperation initiatives between the two countries.”
Also last week, Egyptian Defence Minister Sedky Sobhy met with Vice Admiral Joseph Rixey, director of the US Defence Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA).
The DSCA oversees contractual arrangements for armaments and defence assistance abroad, for which it is required to gain congressional approval.
“The military ties that bind Egypt and the US are moving towards closer cooperation and coordination in the coming period,” said Sobhy, according to a press release issued by the Egyptian army following the meeting.
Vice Admiral Rixey expressed his gratitude to the Egyptian army for the efforts they have exerted to preserve stability in the region and said the US hopes to increase the scope of military cooperation between the two countries’ armed forces.
The meeting took place as arrangements were being finalised for the arrival of the MRAP shipment to Alexandria. A day after the delivery, on 13 May, the DSCA website reported that the US State Department had approved a possible sale to Egypt of a number of UGM-84L Harpoon Block II Encapsulated Missiles, manufactured by Boeing. The estimated cost of the deal is $143 million. The report added that the DSCA has already notified Congress of the possible sale.
MRAPS, the specifications
MRAP vehicles were designed to withstand attacks by IEDs, landmines and other explosive devices. The V-shape hull and raised chassis are designed to deflect explosive forces.
The body of the vehicle and glass are heavily armoured and explosive resistant. The vehicles are designed to operate efficiently in extreme environments and rugged mountainous or desert terrains.
In 2007, the US Defence Department allocated $50 billion for the production of 27,000 MRAPs of which 10,000 were produced in the first year.
Hossam Ibrahim, a researcher specialising in US affairs, says both Cairo and Washington “are moving to strengthen partnership and cooperation in the fight against terrorism.”
“Washington wants Egypt to achieve real success against the extremist organisations in the Sinai. There is a trend in strategic and security thinking in the US that believes that, while Cairo has a clear vision and is determined and serious in its fight against terrorism, it tends to handle the campaign against terrorist organisations in the framework of conventional warfare.”
Fixed roadblocks, checkpoints and similar measures are manifestations of this conventional approach, which is no longer appropriate given the “qualitative shift in the direction of unconventional security threats.” The MRAP, said Ibrahim, signals a necessary move in the direction of non-conventional means of confrontation.
So is there is a link between the armament consignments and the restructuring of the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) in Sinai?
Ibrahim believes it is more useful to view the deal not in terms of a military purchase by Egypt but in terms of what it means in the framework of the fight against terrorism in which Washington is keen to see major progress.
“It should be viewed as part of the process of military cooperation between the two countries which is itself a facet of the political evolution of Egyptian-US relations in the post-30 June Revolution period.”
A senior military official told Al-Ahram Weekly that the Ministry of Defence had earlier explored the acquisition of advanced mine detection equipment from countries that cooperate militarily with Egypt but was unable to find what it was looking for. Most terrorist operations in Sinai use roadside mines, IEDs and other such explosives. Such attacks have become a major threat to military personnel and equipment, and the army was eager to acquire the best possible protection.
Military experts view military cooperation between Cairo and Washington independently from political relations, which have had their ups and downs in recent years. President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi and political and military leaders from both sides have all described the two countries’ military relations as “strategic.”
Foreign investors bought more than 70 percent of Russia’s eurobonds during the country’s first sovereign debt offering since the outbreak of the crisis in Ukraine in 2014, Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said May 24, Sputnik reported. Siluanov added that despite alleged attempts by outside actors to discourage investors from buying Russian bonds, Moscow was satisfied with the placement. Russian analysts estimate some $6.3 billion worth of eurobonds were purchased, more than double the Kremlin’s goal of $3 billion. The country’s financial concerns, particularly those brought on by low oil price, its weak currency and Western economic sanctions, remain a top issue for the Kremlin.
Daily Telegraph 26-May-16
The European Union has “seriously undermined” the armed forces and risks reducing soldiers to “civilians in uniform”, one of Britain’s most respected military generals warns today.
General Sir Michael Rose, a former director of special forces, has come out in favour of a Brexit just three months after Downing Street mistakenly added his name to a letter promoting EU membership.
He is one of 12 retired senior military leaders who have announced that they are backing Veterans for Britain, a group which will seek to encourage serving and retired personnel to vote for a Brexit.
The military leaders backing a Brexit include commanders who have served in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Falklands.
It comes after Downing Street was left embarrassed in February over a letter saying that Britain must stay in the EU on national security grounds.
No 10 was forced to apologise to Sir Michael after an “administrative error” saw his name included on the letter while Field Marshal Lord Bramall, the former head of the army, said that he felt pressured into signing it.
In a statement released today, Sir Michael claims that soldiers will be left unable to rise to the “uncompromising demands of the battlefield” because of European laws.
He argues that Britain’s contribution to European defence “can manifestly be better made solely through Nato” than through the European Union.
He also says that it is an “insult” to EU nations to suggest that Britain’s membership of the European Unino is necessary to secure peace in Europe.
He says: “European law, in my view, has already seriously undermined UK’s combat effectiveness as a result of the intrusion of European law into national law, and today, our service men and women are in danger of becoming no more than civilians in uniform.
“Yet it clearly takes an entirely different set of disciplines to prepare soldiers sailors and airmen for war from those that exist in the civilian work environment. ”
If the necessary psychologies and disciplines cannot be developed in training during peacetime, then it is unlikely that our people will rise to the uncompromising demands of the battlefield in time of war.”
Major General Tim Cross, who was Commander of UK forces in Iraq, says: “Our history and our trading links give us global interests, global links and friends on every continent.
“We do not need to subcontract our future to an organisation constantly juggling the views of 28 countries whilst moving inexorably towards full political union and all that comes with it: unified armed forces, unified systems of justice, unified monetary and economic policies.”
Major General Julian Thompson, who commanded 3 Commando Brigade during the Falklands War, says: “The result of this referendum will determine irrevocably what kind of country we, our children and our grandchildren will live in.
“Either Great Britain will remain in the EU, dominated by people who we do not elect, who we cannot throw out and who dictate many of the laws which govern us, or we will take back control and return to what we were: an independent country in which our Parliament is elected by us, and answerable to us as the lawmaker.”
However Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, warned yesterday that a vote to leave would be welcomed by Russia as a “payday for Putin”. He told the Commons that a Brexit would be “extraordinarily irresponsible” and said that “Putin would certainly be voting Leave”.
Media Line MidEast Daily News 25-May-16
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu finalized a deal to bring the hardline Yisrael Beytenu party into his coalition, giving him a larger 66 seat majority out of 120 Knesset members. The deal also makes Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Lieberman, who immigrated from Moldova and has little military experience, the defense ministry. Negotiations were expected to have been completely last week but got snagged on Lieberman’s demands for pensions for elderly immigrants from the former Soviet Union. After late night negotiations, Lieberman announced that the government will allocate more than $350 million over four years for pension reform. He is expected to be sworn in as defense minister next week, after his appointment is approved by the Knesset. Israel’s former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon stepped down earlier this week after he was pushed out of his job to make room for Lieberman. Palestinians have slammed the expected new government, saying Lieberman is a “settler” who will advance a hardline agenda.
Eurogroup finance ministers agreed to release 10.3 billion euros ($11.48 billion) in bailout funding for Greece on May 24 in recognition of fiscal reforms pushed through by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s leftist-led coalition, Kathimerini reported. This will allow Greece to make a repayment to the European Central Bank in July and avoid another looming default. Greece was also promised debt relief in the future, though this will only happen after 2018. The promise of debt relief is important for Tsipras, who needed something to show voters at home. However, the promise of debt relief is vague. and the details will not be discussed in the short term. This allows Germany to postpone the controversial debate until after its general election in 2017. This vague promise of debt relief was enough to keep the IMF involved in the bailout, one of Germany’s main demands.
Vatican Radio 25-May-16
A NATO senior official says the alliance’s planned biggest military build-up since the end of the Cold War in especially Eastern Europe is to counter a more aggressive and unpredictable Russia. The announcement by the chairman of NATO’s Military Committee came shortly after Moscow summoned a U.S. defense attache this week after American military aircraft allegedly flew into civilian airspace during a reconnaissance mission near Russia’s Far Eastern border.
Russia’s Defense Ministry says the American defense attache was summoned to explain why a U.S. Air Force RC-135 surveillance plane risked colliding with passenger planes as it flew over the Sea of Japan on May 22.
Moscow alleged that the plane had turned its transponders off and could not be detected by civilian radar, although it was flying at an altitude typically used by passenger jets.
However in turn, Washington has repeatedly accused Russian aircraft of buzzing U.S. warships and aircraft in what it calls an “unprofessional” and dangerous manner. Russia says however that the U.S. military should not get too close to its borders.
Despite the already rising tensions, the chairman of the NATO military alliance’s military General Petr Pavel has defended a decision to continue a massive military buildup closer to Russia’s borders in what is known as the NATO’s eastern flank.
His comments are important as the military committee is NATO’s senior military authority and crucial source of military advice. General Pavel said the buildup is a direct response to Russian military actions in Georgia, Ukraine, and Syria. “If there was no increase in Russian assertiveness demonstrated in actions in Georgia, in Ukraine in Crimea [and] in Syria,
there wouldn’t have to be a reaction from NATO’s side,” he told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in an interview.
“NATO, and especially NATO’s Eastern allies, feel threatened by Russian assertiveness, Russian aggression in several areas. And especially nations who are directly bordering Russia wanted to be more assured about NATO’s presence and NATO’s willingness and preparedness to act,” the general added.
The United States said earlier that it to build up forces in Central and Eastern Europe in response to Russian intervention in Ukraine where it annexed the Crimean Peninsula. The West has also accused Russia of supporting pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine with weapons and troops, charges Moscow denies.
Britain has suggested that NATO’s largest build-up since the cold war in eastern Europe could include up to 3,500 troops near Russia’s borders, with Britain, Germany and the United States taking the bulk of command duties.
The Jewish Forward 25-May-16
Peaceniks may be up in arms about the appointment of Avigdor Lieberman as Israel’s next minister of defense, but the country’s enemies are worried — and rightly so.
Yes, as the inevitable flurry of articles accompanying his appointment are sure to point out, Lieberman once said that Israel could bomb the Aswan dam in the event of war with Egypt and he also said that captured Palestinian terrorists should be “drowned in the Dead Sea.” But Lieberman, arguably the biggest loudmouth in Israel (he recently called Netanyahu — the man he’s been angling to work for — “a liar, cheater and crook”), is also a reasonable politician.
Lieberman’s core beliefs are squarely rooted in principles that most Israelis accept and that make good sense. He has expressed support for the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel as part of a final settlement, but he also maintains, as he put it at the Saban Forum in 2006, that the negotiating process is based on three fundamentally erroneous assumptions: “that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the main fact of instability in the Middle East, that the conflict is territorial and not ideological, and that the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders will end the conflict.”
Although willing to trade land (including the West Bank settlement of Nokdim, where he lives) under certain conditions, Lieberman resents the Obama administration’s relentless pressure for upfront Israeli concessions, noting that two decades and more of concessions to the Palestinians “brought neither results nor solutions.” He is correct that finding more things for Israel to give up, even as the cycle of Palestinian incitement and violence continues, is not the answer.
Having experienced poverty first-hand while growing up in the Soviet Union, Lieberman has spoken eloquently about the need to address the deplorable socioeconomic conditions among Palestinians. This is partly why he has long called for toppling the Hamas regime in Gaza, which Netanyahu, former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon and the rest of Israel’s political and military establishment have come to accept as a manageable problem.
Not everything Lieberman believes is nestled firmly within Israeli public consensus, but even his more extreme ideas are rooted in hard-nosed realism, not ideology or ethnic particularism. His long-standing advocacy of the death penalty for convicted terrorists, for example, is premised on the simple recognition that Palestinian terrorists are today free to murder based on the correct expectation that they will later be released in prisoner exchanges.
Lieberman is also cognizant of the fact that the U.S.-Israel relationship is of the utmost importance. When Israeli minister Naftali Bennett attacked U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s attempt to rekindle the peace process, Lieberman quickly fired back, stating, “There can be disagreements among friends, but one [Israel] doesn’t have to attack someone [the U.S]. When the supply of ammunition ran out during Operation Protective Edge, it was the United States that supplied it. The Americans were the ones who gave the money for Iron Dome. The United States was the one that helped us at the United Nations Human Rights Council and they prevent a lot of trouble in the Security Council with vetoes.”
Of course, Obama administration officials hoped that Netanyahu would stabilize his coalition by drawing in the center-left, not someone like Lieberman. Just days before the announcement, it was widely expected that Netanyahu would form a coalition with Isaac Herzog’s Zionist Union, which advocates greater accommodation of Palestinian demands.
But the Zionist Union has been paralyzed by internal divisions, with numerous members of this bloc openly opposing Herzog’s coalition talks with Netanyahu, while Lieberman’s MKs are expected to remain loyal. A stable, right-leaning government may have more credibility with the Israeli public than a fragile “national unity” government when it comes to making compromises for peace. After all, it was the “hard-line” Likud leader Menachem Begin who signed the Camp David Accords with Egypt in 1978.
My esteemed colleague David Makovsky worries that Netanyahu is “closing the door” on policies that “could have blunted a string of international initiatives” targeting Israel in the months ahead. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Lieberman accepts the Middle East Quartet’s conditions for a two-state solution. Most important, he stated, “When there is a dispute between the integrity of the nation and the integrity of the land, then integrity of the nation is more important. I support a [peace] agreement…when we insist on security arrangements, this is just to avoid the crazy reality we are in.”
The doom-and-gloomers are right that Lieberman’s appointment to the defense ministry will almost certainly be consequential. Word has it that he demanded and received assurances regarding the latitude he will have in office. But Lieberman may just be the man of consequence Israel needs right now.
Gregg Roman is Director of the Middle East Forum, a research center based in Philadelphia. He is a former party official in Yisrael Beytenu and served as an adviser in the Israeli Ministry of Defense
Sputnik 25-May-16 9 (we wait to see! See later article. Don)
Russian energy giant Gazprom will not continue the collaboration with the Israel’s Leviathan gas field in the Mediterranean Sea, Russian media reported Wednesday, citing an unnamed Gazprom source.
Russian energy giant Gazprom is no longer interested in participating in the development of Israel’s Leviathan gas field in the Mediterranean Sea, Russian media reported Wednesday, citing an unnamed Gazprom source.
According to the Vedomosti newspaper, the source did not specify why the company had decided to abandon the project. Gazprom is reportedly not considering any other projects in Israel at the moment.
In 2012, the company was in talks with Leviathan’s operating firms on buying a 30-percent stake in the development project. At the time, Total, ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, Chevron, Woodside Petroleum also wanted a part in the project, however Gazprom offered the largest sum.
Currently, the Leviathan gas field, first drilled in 2011, is one of the largest young gas reserves in the world. According to the US Geological
Survey, Leviathan’s volume of undiscovered reserves amounts to some 620 billion cubic meters of natural gas.
Noble Energy SVP Keith Elliot says an agreement for the export of gas to Jordan will be signed soon.
Senior figures in the Israeli natural gas sector and Noble Energy senior VP Eastern Mediterranean Region Keith Elliot today predicted that an agreement for the export of gas to Jordan would be signed soon. At a conference this week in New York, Elliot asserted, “That’s one example of a situation where Israel has the opportunity to take advantage of the gas not only for its own internal benefits but for a broader geopolitical benefit,” adding that his company was in the process of “consummating a contract” to provide Jordan with natural gas from the Leviathan gas reservoir.
At the same time, the Jordanian parliament yesterday approved investments by Israeli companies in Jordanian infrastructure projects, following several months in which such investments were forbidden. In September 2014, the Leviathan partners signed a letter of intent to supply 45 BCM of gas over 15 years to Jordanian National Electric Power Company (NEPCO). The contract’s amount was estimated at $15 billion. The discussions about the gas plan, however, which have been taking place for nearly 18 months, also led to an impasse in the negotiations between the two countries.
The deal is economically worthwhile for both Israel and Jordan. The distance between the Israel and Jordanian gas transportation networks is only a few dozen kilometers, and NEPCO is considered a reliable customer with a high payment ethic, in contrast to Egypt, for example, which still owes billions of dollars to international energy companies. Jordan does not have its own energy resources, and has remained dependent on imports to this day, despite having been burned by its suppliers quite a few times.
Saudi Arabia halted the supply of its oil to Jordan, after the latter supported the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Iraqi oil replaced Saudi Arabia oil until the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003. Egyptian gas began flowing in that year, supplying a significant proportion of Jordan’s energy needs, but was cut off completely in 2013, after repeated explosions in the Arab gas pipeline.
Since then, Jordanian industry has been operating on expensive and highly polluting fuel, such as diesel oil. Up until a year ago, this fuel cost six times the price that Jordan paid for Egyptian gas, and took up 30-40% of the state budget in the past two years. At the same time, Jordan has been importing liquefied natural gas (LNG) in the past two years, among other things from Qatar, and from Royal Shell, Vitol, and others.
Up until now, there have been two main obstacles to signing a final gas import agreement: regulation in Israel and poor relations between Israel and the Hashemite kingdom. Now that the discussions about the gas plan are nearing an end (the cabinet this week approved the gas plan with the less restrictive stability clause) , however, it appears that the two countries are ready to move ahead with the agreement.
Elliot said this week that the natural gas that has been flowing from the Tamar reservoir for the past three years had reduced air pollution in Israel and saved Israel billions of shekels. He added that Noble Energy was determined to continue its contribution with a flow of gas from Leviathan by the end of 2019. The Jordanian press and the Al Jazeera news agency both reported that the Jordanian parliament had approved new Israeli investments in the country for the first time in several months.
A senior Israeli gas industry source said today, “Jordan is waving the white flag, and signaling that it wants to import Israeli gas, and the Israeli government is also interested.”
Growth of mutual investments of Russia and France was recorded in 2015 and French companies invested over 1 bln euro, Putin says
Russia and France reactivate mechanisms of economic cooperation, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday.
“We are reactivating mechanisms of cooperation. After a long break, we resumed the work of the Interdepartmental Council for Economic Cooperation and the Intergovernmental Commission, which is headed by Prime Ministers on both sides. We agreed to hold another meeting before the end of this year,” Putin said.
The president said growth of mutual investments of Russia and France was recorded in 2015 and French companies invested over 1 bln euro.
“We will definitely welcome that and will do our best to create conditions for further investments, including mutual ones,” Putin said. France is a traditional, long-standing and reliable partner of Russia, he added. At the same time, turnover between Russia and France dropped by more than 30% against the background of surging investments, the Russian president said.
“Despite all the complications we registered growth of mutual investments last year. France’s investments into the Russian economy were growing at an outperforming rate,” Putin said.
None of over 500 French companies left Russian market despite economic and political complications, Putin added.
“Despite known complications of economic nature and the ones motivated by political considerations, none of more than 500 France’s companies operating on the Russian market left it. All of them are working and we are very happy with that,” the Russian president said.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev plans to extend until the end of 2017 the embargo on food imports from the European Union, the United States and other countries, LETA reported May 27. Medvedev announced the decision during a meeting with members of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs. He said that an appeal would be submitted to President Vladimir Putin and that a government resolution over extending the embargo would be drafted. The embargo is Russia’s response to sanctions leveled on Moscow by the European Union and other Western countries over Russian aggression in Ukraine.
Russians know that access to the Mediterranean means access to the world.
Luke Coffey is a research fellow specialising in transatlantic and Eurasian security at a Washington DC based think tank. He previously served as a special adviser to the British defence secretary and was a commissioned officer in the United States army.
The centenary of the Sykes-Picot Agreement this month has focused attention on the division of the Middle East into French and British zones of influence after World War I.
Less well known, however, is the Constantinople Agreement made a year before the Sykes-Picot Agreement. Under this, the UK and France agreed to give Russia control of the Turkish Straits as well as Constantinople, then capital of the Ottoman Empire, in the event of a Triple Entente victory in World War I.
Unfettered access to the Mediterranean Sea was crucial for Russia. In 1914, the first year of the Great War, 50 percent of all Russian exports and 90 percent of its agriculture exports passed through the Turkish Straits.
Inside Story – A new Cold War?
The 1917 revolution in Russia took the country out of the war, which meant that the Constantinople Agreement was never realised.
Even today, Russians know that access to the Mediterranean means access to the world.
During the Cold War, the Soviet Union’s 5th Operational Squadron patrolled the Mediterranean to keep an eye on what the United States and NATO were doing in the region.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall this fleet was disbanded and, until recently, Russia’s maritime presence in the Mediterranean remained limited.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is eager to bring Russia back to its imperial ways and has made the Mediterranean Sea a priority for the Russian Navy.
Earlier this year during a visit to Russian-occupied Crimea, Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu said that the “Mediterranean region was the core of all essential dangers to Russia’s national interests”.
He also announced that a new Russian naval task force for the Mediterranean would be established, probably based on the 5th Operational Squadron which operated during the Cold War.
Russia’s emerging naval presence in the Mediterranean is made possible by US disengagement from the region following the so-called “pivot” or rebalance to Asia.
Putin, always eager to advance his grand strategy for Russia, saw this as an opportunity for the Russian Navy to try to fill the void left by the US Navy.
From the Levant to Gibraltar
In order to operate in the Mediterranean, Moscow has secured access to a chain of ports for refuelling and resupplying the Russian Navy from the Levant to the Strait of Gibraltar – many of which, astoundingly, are located in NATO and the EU countries.
This is a particular concern because NATO has broken off relations with Russia and the European Union has imposed economic sanctions against Moscow.
Russia maintains an important naval base in the Alawite-dominated region of Tartus in Syria and Vladimir Putin wants to maintain this base at all costs. This is why Putin is so eager to see Syrian President Bashir al-Assad remain in power.
Assad in Damascus guarantees Russian ships in Tartus and a naval presence in the Mediterranean Sea.
It’s not just Syria.
Since Russia seized Crimea, the Russian warship Vice Admiral Kulakov visited Malta in July 2014 and the Yaroslav Mudry visited in February 2015. Although Malta is not a member of NATO, it is a member of the EU.
In June 2015, the Russian navy landing ship Korolev 130 visited Greece – a member of both NATO and the EU.
Rumours abound that Moscow is seeking basing rights in Cyprus – another EU member state.
Of all the NATO and EU members hosting the Russian Navy, Spain is the worst. In 2011, Moscow started to regularly use the port facilities at Ceuta – a Spanish enclave in North Africa.
Ceuta is legally part of Spain and is one of only two EU cities – the other being the Spanish enclave of Melilla – located in mainland Africa. It is also part of the Schengen Agreement and the eurozone.
Since 2011, at least 58 Russian Navy ships have called into the Spanish port, including destroyers, frigates, amphibious assault ships and even an attack submarine.
In total, at least 21 Russian naval vessels have visited Spain to refuel and resupply since Russia invaded and annexed Crimea in March 2014 and the EU began economic sanctions against Moscow.
Disunited for Ukraine
It is irresponsible for European countries to allow Russian warships – especially some of Russia’s most advanced submarines – to use their ports, especially ports located a short distance from important NATO naval bases.
It is also unacceptable that NATO and EU members offer support to the Russian Navy at a time when Moscow is actively attempting to dismember Ukraine and economic sanctions are in place.
By getting access to naval bases in EU and NATO countries, Putin is able to kill two birds with one stone. On one hand, access to these ports makes it easier for the Russian Navy to operate in the Mediterranean Sea to the determent of NATO. On the other hand, Putin shows how divided Europe really is over its policy towards Russia
Once again, Putin is running circles around the West.
The Trumpet 27-May-16
Germany could be heading for an economic crisis that could revolutionize Europe, wrote George Friedman this month. In an undated pamphlet titled “Germany’s Invisible Crisis,” he warns that Germany’s export-based economy could take a major hit from the global economic slowdown: Germany is the world’s fourth-largest economy. It is also Europe’s largest economy, and any European economic recovery depends, in large part, on Germany’s trajectory.
Germany is the third-largest exporter in absolute terms in the G-20 and is nearly as dependent on exports as Saudi Arabia and South Korea. Given the enormous size of the German economy, the country must export vast amounts every year to maintain social and political stability. Prosperity for exporters depends on the appetites of their customers, and since 2008, their ability to rely on exports has been diminishing. While other major exporters have been struggling, Germany has actually increased its export levels. Germany has thus created a significant vulnerability for itself and will be the next country to face an export crisis. Given the country’s high dependence on exports, this crisis will likely be extreme and destabilizing with negative implications for other European countries. …
Germany appears, on the surface, to have weathered the crisis well to this point. However, in our view, Germany’s growth model will not help the country avoid a crisis for much longer. The strategies Germany has used to maintain high export rates are unsustainable. … At its root, the EU is a free-trade zone. At the center of this is Germany. The free-trade zone, then, is built around a massive exporting machine—which is great for Germany … but makes it difficult for less developed countries (particularly in southern Europe) to develop. Germany’s response to the euro crisis was designed to prevent it from having to pay off the huge debts of southern Europe. But the result was massive unemployment and economic recession. Friedman continues: The level of unemployment in many countries surged but did so most dramatically in the south where unemployment among the Mediterranean countries soared to over 20 percent … and in some cases to 25 percent. These were the same levels reached in the United States during the Great Depression. Countries outside the eurozone weathered the crisis better, but southern European members of the eurozone went into a recession, and as their economies suffered, demand for goods—including German exports—declined. Germany staved off feeling the pain by increasing its exports to China, the United States, and to a lesser extent, the United Kingdom. Demand in China, however, has begun to fall. And there is a limit to how much and how long the U.S. and the UK can fill the gap in demand for Germany’s exports. Germany poses the central problem in Europe. It was structured to be an exporter. Germany did not simply become an exporter after World War ii; it was an exporter from the beginning. Like Japan, it was a latecomer to the
Industrial Revolution. In order to catch up, it had to rely on exports while limiting its domestic consumption. After World War ii, Germany merely returned to this model. In 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell and Germany reunified, it faced the problem of massively uneven development between East Germany and West Germany and the need to finance the integration. The solution was, once again, to increase exports, discourage domestic consumption, and increase savings rates.
Germany’s economic strategy was part of the German dna. It was a strategy in which a highly educated and disciplined society would excel. … Eurasia’s interrelated crises—coupled with the ongoing crisis of exporters and Germany’s fraught relationship with the European Union—have brought Germany’s core economic vulnerability to the fore. There are three indications that the country is heading toward its own crisis. German trade patterns have shifted, return on capital has diminished, and some German companies have begun cutting prices in an attempt to maintain export levels. The tactics Germany has relied on to weather the storm are ineffective in the long term, and there are already signals that Germany’s economy is slowing down as a result. … Germany is not yet in crisis, and many German companies are still sporting at least steady returns. But this report is as much a forecast as it is an analysis. We are looking for where the needle will just begin to waver, and the earnings reports of some large German companies produced some … worrying observations ….
The Germans appear to be attempting to increase exports by decreasing return on capital. This is something that can work, but only temporarily. The first signs of problems in Japan were in the banking system, where the decrease in margins became apparent in rising nonperforming loans and increasing stress as government policy and banking requirements clashed. It is noteworthy that the German banking system is already under pressure even before the crisis we are predicting in Germany has begun to fully unfold. … German banks are still exposed to many of the European countries that have not yet recovered in any meaningful way from 2008. Deutsche Bank currently has about $41.9 trillion worth of derivatives on its books, and in January 2016, Moody’s downgraded Deutsche Bank’s long-term debt and assigned a negative outlook to both the bank’s debt and deposit ratings. German banks are grappling with serious problems, especially with interest rates remaining low and Eurasia’s crises intensifying. Commerzbank’s 2016 first quarter net profits fell by 52 percent while Deutsche Bank’s profits fell by 58 percent. … Germany, one of the world’s largest exporters, is facing a global export crisis. The fact that it has not yet experienced an overall annual export decline is not a comforting thought. With Europe barely recovering from its economic stagnation and other markets similarly constrained, German exports should decline. The fact that they haven’t, and that German banks are troubled in spite of cash flow, indicates that significant price adjustments are being made that affect the profit margins on these exports.
It appears that the problem of contracting exports is being postponed rather than solved. Germany’s high dependence on exports causes the German state, bankers and corporations to want to avoid export decline for as long as possible. Since exports are over 45 percent of Germany’s gdp, a 5 percent drop would result in a decline in gdp of more than 2 percent, which would have a staggering impact. Therefore, the Germans are postponing this decline for as long as possible. However, delaying it compounds the problems in the long run, particularly for already weak
German banks that may be forced to deal with delayed or restructured debt repayments. The Germans are facing a profound financial crisis that can be postponed but not avoided. The world’s economy is stagnating, and exporters around the world are seeing declines. Germany has not so far. When it does, which is inevitable, the fourth-largest economy in the world will suddenly see massive export contractions, declines in gdp, and a significant financial crisis with global implications.
RU-EGE:160527:(31-MAY-16):German Foreign Minister Steinmeier says extending Russia sanctions more difficult
An agreement on renewing sanctions against Russia when they run out on July 31 has become more difficult with growing opposition from some EU countries, Germany’s foreign minister said on Thursday.
European Union economic sanctions against Russia were introduced for one year in July 2014 in response to its actions in Ukraine and twice extended in 2015.
“We are aware that resistance in the EU to extending the sanctions toward Russia has increased,” Frank-Walter Steinmeier was quoted by Lithuania’s BNS news agency saying in an interview.
“It will be more difficult than it was last year to find a common position on this issue.”
Germany wants to keep the sanctions until the Minsk peace accords between Russia and Ukraine are implemented, Steinmeier said.
“One thing is for sure. We cannot ignore Russia’s annexation of Crimea in violation of international law and the destabilization of Eastern Ukraine,” he said.
The 28-strong EU needs unanimity to keep the sanctions in place and the bloc’s unity has been increasingly tested on that.
Last week diplomats and officials told Reuters the EU was still on track to renew them, though an extension could be contested and only short-term.
Italy, Greece, Cyprus, Hungary and Bulgaria are among EU states skeptical that sanctions should be extended, diplomats said, facing off against Britain, Sweden, Poland and the Baltic states.
Russia’s Gazprom plans to export a record 165 billion cubic metres (bcm) of gas to Europe this year, the company’s deputy chief executive Alexander Medvedev told reporters on Thursday.
Gazprom generates more than a half its revenue in Europe and falling gas prices have made its gas more attractive to European consumers. It has also tweaked long-term deals with European clients, who have become more demanding thanks to rival sources of fuel, such as seaborne liquefied natural gas (LNG).
“We are going for a record,” Medvedev said about expected gas supplies to Europe and Turkey this year.
Gazprom supplied about 159 bcm of gas to Europe in 2015, or about a third of the region’s needs.
Medvedev did not give an explanation for the expected record. Last week, a Gazprom executive said it planned to produce 452.5 bcm of natural gas in 2016, up from 418.5 bcm last year.
Despite Gazprom’s attempts to raise its exposure to the lucrative European Union market, some European countries have been trying to wean themselves off their dependence on energy supplies from Russia.
Medvedev said the average gas price for the year was expected to be $167-$171 per 1,000 cubic metres.
That price is broadly in line with average levels at Europe’s main freely-traded gas hubs in Britain and the Netherlands, showing how Gazprom has sweetened its sales pitch to encourage consumption by customers, analysts said.
Gazprom’s prices have typically been higher than the average level at European hubs.
A wave of competing supplies from LNG export plants in the United States threatens to undercut Russia’s dominant share of European gas markets, which currently stands at 31 percent.
Analysts have predicted that Gazprom may try to sweeten its terms and pump more supply to Europe to hold onto that market share.
Medvedev also said he was against breaking up Gazprom’s monopoly on gas exports to Europe via pipelines, because it would harm Russia’s export revenues.
Gazprom has faced increased competition in Russia from Novatek and Rosneft, with its pricing policy constrained by government-imposed tariffs.
Both companies have been actively pushing the government to allow them to export gas to Europe via pipelines.
The Moscow Times 27-May-16
State energy company Rosneft is to sign a new deal supplying Greece with oil, the RBC news outlet reported Thursday.
The contract between Rosneft and the Greek Hellenic Petroleum company will be signed on Friday to coincide with President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Athens, presidential aide Yury Ushakov said.
Ushakov did not reveal how much the deal was worth.
Energy Minister Alexander Novak announced in July 2015 that Russia was ready to “support Greece’s economic recovery through increased cooperation in the energy sector,” and was looking into ways of directly supplying the country with raw materials, the Vedomosti newspaper reported.
EU leaders are planning a post-Brexit future without the UK
Concerns over ‘contagion’ of anti-EU sentiment is thought to be a key reason why Britain is unlikely to be offered a favourable trade deal in the event of Brexit
Senior EU leaders are preparing the ground for a possible Brexit vote with high-level meetings aimed at a “plan B” future of the bloc without the UK, including closer co-operation on security and defence matters.
The leaders of Germany, France, Italy, Belgium and other core members are likely to “double down” on closer union, the Financial Times reported, amid concern that Brexit could encourage separatist sentiments in other EU states.
Officials expect a punitive approach to Britain, with an official meeting of 27 leaders – excluding David Cameron – expected shortly after a potential Brexit vote.
Senior Whitehall figures have identified EU leaders’ concerns over “contagion” of anti-EU sentiment as a key reason why, despite the reassurances of Leave campaigners, the bloc will be unlikely to offer Britain a favourable trade deal in the event of Brexit. One senior civil servant said Berlin, Paris and Brussels would see the post-Brexit landscape as an “existential battle” to save the European project.
Officials in Paris have taken a hard line, with one senior figure telling the FT: “Playing down or minimising the consequences of [of leaving the EU] would put Europe at risk…the principle of consequences is important.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is said to favour a softer approach. German officials, however, told the FT, that they expected the market realities for the post-Brexit economy could prove punitive enough.
Speaking at the G7 summit in Japan, where leaders agreed a short statement warning of the “potential shock” of Brexit and its “serious risk for growth”, David Cameron said it was right to listen to allies, but appeared to dial down his recent warnings of the consequences of a Leave vote. “Britain is an amazing country,” he said. “We can find our way whatever the British people choose.”
Closer integration in a post-Brexit EU is likely to take the form of tighter security and defence collaboration, against the backdrop of aggression from Russia in the East, and the threat of Islamist terrorism enhanced by the war in Syria and instability in neighbouring Turkey.
Plans to enhance the military role of the European Union, potentially paving the way for a future EU army, are being held back until after the UK referendum, according to reports.
The plans, which have only been shown to EU diplomats, are understood to include proposals for new European military structures, including a headquarters.
According to The Times, which has seen extracts of the plans from diplomatic notes, the proposals will not be sent to national governments until after Britain’s EU referendum on 23 June to avoid giving succour to the Leave campaign. Similar plans were vetoed by the UK in 2011, and the Government has repeatedly insisted that Britain will never be part of any EU army.
However, it is understood the plans, drawn over 18 months by EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, are supported by other leading EU countries, and refer to powers set out in the 2009 Lisbon Treaty, which could allow nine or more member states to embark on their own plans for an EU military headquarters.
The draft paper states that “in turbulent times, we need a compass to navigate the waters of a faster-changing world” adding that the EU can “step up its contribution to Europe’s security and defence“, according to a diplomatic note seen by The Times.
However, Ms Mogherini’s spokesman told the newspaper the defence plan “would in no way aim to set up the EU army”.
A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: ”We will never be part of an EU army. We retain a veto on all defence matters in the EU and we will oppose any measures which would undermine member states’ military forces.”
RT News 28-May-16
During a visit to Greece intended to repair ties with the EU, Vladimir Putin said that Russia has “no choice” but to target Romania, which has recently opened a NATO missile defense base, and Poland, which plans to do so within two years.
“If yesterday people simply did not know what it means to be in the crosshairs in those areas of Romania, then today we will be forced to carry out certain measures to ensure our security. And it will be the same with Poland,” Putin said during a joint press conference with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in Athens on Friday.
The Russian President was referring to the Deveselu facility that officially became operational in May after nearly a decade and $800 million of planning and construction.
“At the moment the interceptor missiles installed have a range of 500 kilometers, soon this will go up to 1000 kilometers, and worse than that, they can be rearmed with 2400km-range offensive missiles even today, and it can be done by simply switching the software, so that even the Romanians themselves won’t know,” said Putin, who is in Greece for a two-day tour.
“We have the capability to respond. The whole world saw what our medium-range sea-based missiles are capable of [in Syria]. But we violate no agreements. And our ground-based Iskander missiles have also proven themselves as superb,” continued Putin.
Russia’s political and military leadership has repeatedly spoken out against the missile defense shield since it was proposed during the George W. Bush administration, and Putin reiterated that Moscow does not believe the European part of it is targeted against a potential threat from Iran.
“NATO fend us off with vague statements that this is no threat to Russia… That the whole project began as a preventive measure against Iran’s nuclear program. Where is that program now? It doesn’t exist,” said Putin, referring to the nuclear treaty that was concluded between the world’s major powers and Tehran last year. “We have been saying since the early 2000s that we will have to react somehow to your moves to undermine international security. No one is listening to us.”
Alexis Tsipras in his turn reiterated that Russia is a player in the European security theater and that current attempts to alienate Moscow with measures such as sanctions reminds him of Cold War times.
“European security cannot be achieved without cooperation and dialogue with Russia,” Tsipras said in an interview with Sputnik. “I don’t believe that we can move forward or ensure compliance with international law while caught in a vicious circle of sanctions, militarization and Cold War rhetoric.”
President Putin arrived in Greece on Friday for a two-day visit that involves meetings with his Greek counterpart, Prokopis Pavlopoulos, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, and other top-level discussions.
It is the Russian president’s first EU trip in seven months, and comes just weeks before Brussels decides on whether to extend EU sanctions against Russia.
Bilateral trade and investment, as well as joint energy and transport projects, were said to be major issues on the agenda for the visit. Another pressing matter for both Athens and Moscow, the economic sanctions against Russia, will also be on the table. Prime Minister Tsipras has already told RIA Novosti that the restrictions have had a negative impact on Russian-Greek economic ties, but added there are areas not covered by the sanctions where business between the two countries could perform well.
The Greek PM laid a foundation of trust with the Russian leader and even proposed a visa-free travel regime in the EU for Russian nationals.
“We overcame all the difficulties that arose due to changes in the issuance of Schengen visas, strengthened the work of our consulates in Russia by attracting dozens of new employees, and we are ready to meet the high demand of Russian nationals for travel to Greece. At the same time, I find it necessary, as I have already mentioned at a European level, that dialogue is relaunched on easing the visa regime for Russian citizens,” Tsipras said.
Promoting international security and tackling illegal migration, which is the hot issue in Greece, are also points of mutual interest.
On Saturday, President Putin will attend a prayer service at Mount Athos, which is home to 20 monasteries and is an important spiritual site for Orthodox Christians. Joined by Patriarch Kirill, leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, the president is expected to take part in millennial celebrations of the Russian monastic presence on Athos.
Russia was said to have suspended the delivery of the S-300 air defense system to Iran.
Israeli sources said the Kremlin has ordered a halt to the delivery of the S-300PMU2 to Iran. They said three batteries have arrived but the last two were held back by Russia because of lack of Iranian payment.
“Russia has yet again frozen transfers of S-300 missile systems to Iran,” Israeli defense analyst Alex Fishman said.
On May 26, Fishman said in a report for Israel’s Ynet news agency that Moscow transferred three out of five S-300 missile batteries. But Fishman said delivery of the remaining two batteries was suspended because Iran has not paid for them.
“The systems that have already arrived are incomplete systems, as the Iranians have been unable to pay for all of the components,” Fishman said.
The sources said Russia has not delivered complete interceptors for the S-300. But they said Russia has failed to guarantee that the missiles would not be operational in 2016.
“It’s clear that the Russians want to drag this out, but it’s not clear how long this can go on without another crisis with Iran,” a source said.
“Moscow, however, does not want a crisis.”
RT News 29-May-16
The Islamic State is losing significant amounts of its oil revenue as it loses control of territory in Iraq and Syria. According to a report by the US-based analysis group IHS, ISIS is compensating for the fiscal downturn – estimated to be 23% — by implementing additional taxes and penalties, one such being a penalty for possessing alcohol. The amount of revenue ISIS is believed to have made by selling deeply discounted oil on the black market ranges from “several hundred thousand dollars to $2 billion,” according to IHS, which pegs the commensurate loss of territory due to international efforts to fight the terrorist group at 22 per cent. The US Department of Defense is working on a strategy called Operation Tidal Wave II which, according to the analysts, focuses “specifically on supply lines tied to the illicit movement of oil said to be financing regional terrorism operations.” As part of a military operation that is under way to recapture Fallujah in Iraq, the US announced on Saturday that the ISIS commander was among 70 of the group’s operatives killed in an airstrike last week. In Syria, ISIS is reported to be successful in defeating rebel forces near the border with Turkey, capturing a key town on the rebel supply route.
The partners in Israel’s Leviathan natural gas field said on Sunday they had signed a deal to supply as much as $3 billion worth of gas to a new private power plant in central Israel.
Leviathan, one of the largest offshore discoveries of the past decade, was found off Israel’s Mediterranean coast in 2010. It has an estimated 622 cubic meters of natural gas (BCM) of reserves and is expected to become operational in 2019.
Under the deal, Leviathan will provide up to 13 billion BCM for 18 years to the IPM plant in Be’er Tuvia once gas starts flowing from Leviathan.
The contract comes a week after Israel’s government approved a revised deal aimed at fast-tracking development of the huge field, which has been mostly earmarked for exports.
In January Leviathan signed a $1.3 billion gas supply contract with Edeltech, Israel’s largest private power producer.
Texas-based Noble Energy, Israeli conglomerate Delek Group and Israel’s Ratio Oil Exploration own the Leviathan site, which will cost more than $5 billion to develop.
“This deal is an important milestone, in that it establishes another domestic contract that, together with additional domestic and export contracts, are essential for the quick development of Leviathan,” said Niv Sarne, Noble’s manager of business development.
The Leviathan project hit a major obstacle in March when Israel’s Supreme Court blocked a previous agreement between the field’s shareholders and the Israeli state, the terms of which would have stayed unchanged for 10 years.
It had been opposed by opposition parties and public advocacy groups on grounds that Noble and Delek – which also own the adjacent Tamar field – would control too much of Israel’s natural gas supply.
The ruling will allow the government to change taxes, export quotas or other regulations in connection with the Leviathan field. (Reporting by Steven Scheer; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)
Media Line MidEast Daily News 29-May-16
Turkish and Palestinian businessmen met in Ramallah on Sunday to explore ways to increase trade between them with the goal of supplanting Israeli exports with their own goods. The meeting was described as the first assembly of the new organization, the Palestine Turkey Coordination Council, which, according to the Ma’an news agency, was created “to strengthen commercial exchange between Turkey and Palestine in attempt ‘to replace Israeli products consumed in Palestine with Turkish products.’” The agency quoted the Turkish participants as complaining that Israel initially banned entry of its delegation but succumbed to pressure from Turkey’s foreign ministry. The value of Palestinian imports from Israel is pegged at $3 billion annually, while it imports $700 million worth of goods from Turkey. For their part, Turks import about $100 million worth of goods from the Palestinian Authority. Only Israel and China send more to the Palestinians than does Turkey. Palestinian leaders have for some time been encouraging a boycott of goods that are made in Israel, asking consumers not to buy them. But those efforts have fallen short because of the lack of replacement products not originating in Israel. Osama Amr, who headed the Palestinian delegation, told the agency that, “Several Turkish economic sectors are willing to fill the needs of the Palestinian market and we hope we can have a direct commercial exchange between Palestine and Turkey without any obstacles.”
New Europe 30-May-16
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker confirmed that he has accepted the invitation to attend an event in Russia on 16 June, in a move that may stir debate on the EU’s tense relations with Moscow.
Ten days ago, EU officials were still insisting that it was unclear if Juncker would accept the invitation from the Kremlin to participate in the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF), though Russian officials already knew that he would attend.
The St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) is an annual Russian business event for the economic sector, which has been held in St. Petersburg since 1997. Putin takes part in every event since 2005. According to TASS, the Russian state-controlled news agency, every year 10,000 from 70 countries take part in the event. Outside sources give a much lower figure of participants.
Juncker will be the first leader of an EU institution to visit Russia since sanctions were imposed in March 2014 in response to Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Juncker’s visit could weigh on EU’s decision on whether to renew the sanctions on Russia, possibly strengthening President Vladimir Putin’s position.
Juncker, who has called for a “practical relationship” with Moscow, has faced criticism from some European officials who favor keeping sanctions in place.
In a statement of guiding principles issued in March, EU foreign ministers reiterated that a change in sanctions was conditional on a peace accord in Ukraine and called for better defenses against varied threats from Russia. But they also supported “selective engagement with Russia” and a “need to engage in people-to-people contacts”.
In November, Juncker wrote to Putin, suggesting closer trade ties between the EU and the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union once a ceasefire was implemented in Ukraine. Putin dismissed the idea.
In October, Juncker stirred controversy by saying “we can’t go on like this” with the confrontation with Russia and that Europe should not be “dictated” to by the US.
On Friday last week, during a state visit to Greece, Putin on Friday sharply criticised western policy toward Moscow. He accused the EU and the USA of stifling trade and energy cooperation with Russia.
Some Russia-friendly EU countries are against maintaining the sanctions. Thus, Hungarian foreign minister Peter Szijjarto said on Wednesday last week, after meeting Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, that Hungary will not accept an “automatic” decision regarding the sanctions currently in place until the end of July.
“EU members have to make a decision about (the sanctions) at the highest level,” Szijjarto said. “What we will not accept for sure is for the decision to take place below the surface.”
Hungary has expressed opposition to the sanctions because Russia is an important market for Hungarian goods, but has said it will abide by the EU position.
Natural Gas Europe 30-May-16
Avigdor Lieberman, an ultra-nationalist pro-Russian right-wing politician, is expected to be confirmed as Israel’s next minister for defense, which could influence the development of Israel’s gas industry.
Lieberman was born in Moldova when it was still a part of the Soviet Union and he speaks fluent Russian. He immigrated to Israel in 1978 at the age of 20. Following a short business career he became the director-general of the prime minister’s office when Benjamin Netanyahu became prime minister for the first time, exactly 20 years ago this month.
He later resigned this post, established his own party and became foreign minister, a job he held for six years from 2009. From time to time he left politics and became involved in international trade particularly with eastern European and Eurasian regimes. His friendship with Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, is not a secret.
Opposition to rapprochement with Turkey
During the last few months when Turkey negotiated the rapprochement agreement with Israel, Lieberman, still in the opposition, sided with the Russian position, opposing the rapprochement and said that it was better for Israel to strengthen its ties with Greece and Cyprus, two of Russia’s allies in the region. Israel’s outgoing defence minister, Moshe Ya’alon, was also against the rapprochement unless Turkey expelled Hamas operatives from Turkey. Now Lieberman is expected to support Gazprom’s engagement in Israel’s natural gas market.
Last week, after Lieberman’s appointment, he met – accidentally, according to his associates – Yossi Abu, the CEO of Delek Drilling and Avner, two Delek Group’s subsidiaries, at an upscale restaurant in Jerusalem. The meeting lasted just a few minutes.
For many years Lieberman has been the main pillar of support for the gas monopoly among Israel’s political elite. Uzi Landau, his party member, who served as energy minister at the beginning of the decade, opposed all legislation aimed at raising taxes on producers or limiting their export rights. When those issues were debated and voted in parliament, Lieberman’s party objected, despite being part of the coalition.
Lieberman was defeated on both those issues. Lieberman also supported the natural gas framework, although his party voted against it in parliament. Lieberman sought the post of minister for defence, a position now his subject to confirmation by parliament.
Now that his aim has been achieved and the framework has been approved, the Israeli natural gas industry might be on a verge of a new, pro-Russian, era.
Winners and losers
A gas deal with Russia would serve a few of the stakeholders well. Russia would gain an important geopolitical coup and would bring Israel, a long-time US ally in the Middle East, into its sphere of influence. It would also enable the Leviathan shareholders to monetize their holdings, something they could not otherwise do, in the foreseeable future because of gas market conditions; Israeli officials might find a Russian involvement attractive as it may secure a second connection from the gas fields to the shore and increase energy security in the country.
A Russian deal would displease the Turkish government who sees Israeli gas as a means of escaping reliance on Gazprom. It would also displease the US administration which, unlike Turkey, would be in a position to try to stop it.
However even if a deal does go through it would not guarantee the development of Leviathan. In the framework there are no binding obligations on gas companies to develop the gas fields and there is no mention of sanctions against them if they do not develop the field by 2019. However bringing Gazprom into play would limit the options of Israeli regulators and the ability of the Israeli government to act against the gas monopoly if they do not adhere to the framework’s guidelines.
Catholic World News 30-May-16
The Russian Orthodox Church has welcomed the appointment of a seasoned Vatican diplomat as apostolic nuncio to Russia.
Archbishop Celestino Migliore, who has most recently been serving as the papal nuncio in Poland, was named on May 28 to become the Pope’s representative in Moscow. A spokesman for the Orthodox Church saw the appointment as a hopeful sign for closer relations between Rome and Moscow, noting Archbishop Migliore’s reputation and “especially the fact that he is among the most expert Vatican diplomats.”
Archbishop Miglione has been the Vatican’s representative to the Council of Europe; the deputy Secretary of State; and from 2002 to 2010 the Holy See’s representative at UN headquarters in New York.
In Moscow he replaces Archbishop Ivan Jurkovic, who was named in February to become the Vatican’s representative at UN offices in Geneva.
Washington Post 29-May-16
Russian President Vladimir Putin visited a Russian Orthodox monastery Saturday as he wrapped up a two-day visit to Greece, which is looking for more Russian investment and tourism as it copes with a prolonged financial crisis and a massive wave of migrants.
Putin, who has sought to capitalize on the strained relations between Greece and many other European Union members, said Russia seeks to cooperate with Greece in the energy sector. Several Russian ministers also expressed interest in the privatization of Greek railways and in the northern port of Thessaloniki, but no major deals were announced. Only lower lever “cooperation agreements” were reached during the visit.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras had said the Russian president’s visit was a chance to “upgrade” relations.
On Saturday, Putin visited a Russian Orthodox monastery Saturday on the northern Greek peninsula of Mount Athos. The Russian leader praised the spiritual uplift and moral guidance provided by the austere monastic community in a sacred place. Putin said the Orthodox tradition shared by Russia is particularly important at this moment in history.
“Today, as we resurrect the values of patriotism, historical memory and traditional culture, we hope for … a strengthening of relations” with Mount Athos, he said.
During his trip, Putin expressed gratitude for Greece’s friendship — and used his visit to blast U.S. policy toward Moscow. He described a newly expanded U.S. missile defense system in Europe as a threat to Russia’s national security and said his country would retaliate.
At the height of Greece’s financial crisis last year, Athens had sought aid from Russia as a counterbalance to its difficult negotiations with its EU and International Monetary Fund creditors. The limited concrete results of Putin’s long-anticipated visit left some disappointed.
Panagiotis Lafazanis, a former energy minister who has left the ruling Syriza party, said the Greek government had de-emphasized the Putin visit in order to curry favor with U.S. and NATO officials.
Greek opposition figures were pleased with Putin’s decision to meet opposition leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis. Greek tourist officials said Putin’s visit would help encourage more Russians to visit Greece. Strained ties with Turkey and lax airport security in Egypt have reduced the number of Russian tourists going to those sun-drenched countries.
During his visit to Mount Athos, where women are not allowed to visit any of the 20 monasteries there, Putin repeatedly praised the spirit of the monastic community.
“Here in Mount Athos, there is great and important work done on moral values,” Putin said after a Mass in his honor, where he was seated in the bishop’s throne.
Putin flew from Athens to Thessaloniki on Saturday morning, traveled by road to a port near Mount Athos and then took a boat — the only way to reach the isolated community. Instead of the usual small ferry, the Russian president used a 33-meter (110-foot) yacht provided by the Greek navy.
Patriarch Kirill of Moscow traveled to the monastery with Putin to help celebrate 1,000 years of Russian presence at Mount Athos.
At Karyes, the administrative center of Mount Athos, Putin was greeted by the 20 abbots of the monasteries and 20 representatives of the monks on the peninsula, as well as a representative of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople, under whose jurisdiction Mount Athos falls.
Security in Mount Athos was extremely tight. Besides Putin’s large entourage, there was a heavy Greek police and coast guard presence, with divers guarding and inspecting the landing site and snipers deployed throughout Putin’s route.
Trips by other male pilgrims to the Russian St. Panteleimon monastery were canceled two weeks ago.
Putin headed to Thessaloniki on Saturday night for a flight back to Moscow.
The Moscow Times 28-May-16
The number of Russian tourists visiting Greece has skyrocketed by more than 500 percent, the Russian Tour Operators Association announced Friday.
A total of 10,000 Russian travelers moved to visit Greece in March, up 523.6 percent on the previous year, the group said in a statement. Between January and April, 20,000 Russians visited Greece, a 135 percent rise on 2015.
Russians spent almost 8 million euro ($8.9 million) in Greece during the month of March, a 180 percent increase on last year.
In late April, the Russian Tourism Industry Union reported that the Greek Consulate in Moscow was overwhelmed with visa applications submitted by Russians wanting to travel to Greece for the May holidays.
The increased interest in Greece comes amid Moscow’s ban on flights to Turkey and Egypt, both once popular Russian tourist destinations.
ICEJ News Briefs 31-May-16
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a surprising announcement Monday evening, saying that his government is now ready to enter into negotiations with the Palestinian Authority based on the so-called Arab Peace initiative, which would see Israel withdraw from the West Bank and make other concessions in return for diplomatic relations with the 22 members of the Arab League.
“I remain committed to making peace with the Palestinians and with all our neighbors,” Netanyahu said in a press conference following the swearing- in ceremony. “The Arab peace initiative includes positive elements that can help revive constructive negotiations with the Palestinians. We are willing to negotiate with the Arab states revisions to that initiative so that it reflects the dramatic changes in the region since 2002, but maintains the agreed goal of two states for two peoples.”
The issue is expected to cause friction within the governing coalition going forward.
EGR-EU:160531:(31-MAY-16):Greece: Minister Says Country Cannot Perform Additional Obligations For Loans
Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos said in a recent letter to the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund that Greece will not be able to implement a number of the changes required of it to receive fresh bailout loans, EUobserver reported May 30. In the letter, which has since become public, Tsakalotos said Greece would be unable to cut aid for small pensions and that the country would like to exempt state-guaranteed loans from a plan to sell non-performing loans. Much remains unclear about the letter, including how it could affect an understanding reached May 25 between Athens and its creditors to temporarily forestall a Greek default, giving Greece 10.3 billion euros (nearly $11.5 billion) in bailout funds over the coming months. The letter was sent sometime last week, though it is still unclear when.
Radio free Europe 30-May-16
Russia will spend around 1.1 trillion rubles ($16.7 billion) on its military manufacturing sector in the 2016-2020 period.
According to TASS, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin made the remark during a meeting attended by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on May 30.
Medvedev told his deputies that Russia was currently the second-largest arms exporter in the world and it should retain this position.
The Russian military suffered years of neglect after the Soviet collapse, but in recent years has undergone a major overhaul.
New Europe 29-Mar-16
Martin Callanan, a member of the House of Lords and former Chairman of the European Conservatives and Reformists, does not shy away from expressing his political convictions. A proponent of the Leave campaign in the UK referendum for European Union membership, Lord Callanan sat down with New Europe to discuss the June 23 vote, and the state of the European Union
What are your comments on statements of foreign leaders like those of US President Barack Obama? How have they affected the situation in the UK with the referendum?
Actually, I think Obama’s statement backfired on the Remain campaign. I think it would be perfectly legitimate for Obama to come to the UK and say: “It’s your decision but in my view and in the US view you should remain and influence the EU in a direction, in which we would approve.”
But he did not just say that. Instead there were apocalyptic warnings about what might happen if we leave, saying that we will be at the ‘back of the queue’ for the trade deals etc. Most people took offence at that because when the US needed our help in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kuwait, and obviously through NATO we have always been in the front of the queue – then, when they needed our assistance. So are they really saying that if we make a democratic decision to leave the EU and want to conclude trade agreements – they are really going to say ‘no’?
As a politician, how do you ‘sell’ to the voters that the UK should leave the EU?
I think it’s all about the democracy and taking back control of our affairs. Politicians are elected to Westminster. They take decisions on the people’s behalf. If [the people] do not like these decisions, they can kick them out. The problem of the EU’s supranational government is that nobody elects Jean-Claude Juncker. You may like him or not like him, but if you don’t you can’t get rid of him. In fact, the qualification to be the Commissioner is almost as if you have to have lost an election to do it. Juncker was a successful Prime Minister of Luxembourg and as soon as he loses an election in Luxembourg he is made the President of the Commission. Neil Kinnock and Peter Mandelson were also appointed Commissioners when they lost domestic support. It’s almost as if the EU is an anti-democratic project.
For the first time we had the Spitzenkandidaten process – isn’t that a positive step?
At the end of the day, in the European elections people are were still electing the Members of the European Parliament. I know that they are trying to pretend that this Spitzenkandidaten process is trying to lend some air of democratic legitimacy. We did some polling and the level of knowledge of voters whether they are voting for the Spitzenkandidaten candidate or candidates is almost zero.
Despite your pessimistic views of the EU, how would you like this system to work?
It is not going to work because for it to work, it has to be a pan-European democracy. Because ideally, people have to think that they are voting the same as the citizens from all of the Europe in order to elect a government to run Europe, but it just doesn’t happen! People don’t think this, and in most cases they vote for local candidates who they are familiar with. Most people have no idea about these pan-European political parties or their members. Nobody has heard of them.
Domestically, is the referendum battle being fought on a level playing field?
Not at all. The financial advantage has been with the Remain campaign. They are backed by big corporate bankers, including the Goldman Sachs of this world and by the taxpayers! The government, quite disgracefully in my view, spent 10 million pounds of taxpayers’ money on leaflets for every single house in the UK, explaining why the government thought we should stay in the EU. The problem with that is two fold, first of all, they promised at the time of the referendum bill that they wouldn’t, and secondly, it produces a skewed playing field. If Brexit loses, then they’ll complain that the referendum wasn’t fair which is not what anybody wants. We want a fair and balanced referendum that will allow for everyone to make an informed choice.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said the UK will not get any special treatment if they decide to leave. What are your expectations in theory if the UK decides to leave?
In my opinion, not many things are going to change. There is a two-year negotiation process at least, maybe even longer, if they choose to accept it. We already have all the legislation aligning our legislation with the Single Market. We fulfil the criteria for entry to the Single Market. Obviously, one of the advantages of Brexit is that we can change some of that for our domestic companies that won’t trade with Europe in the future.
When something is obviously in commercial interests of both parties; Germany will continue to want to sell BMWs and Mercedes in the UK, and the UK is quite keen to keep selling Land Rovers and Jaguars, I just think it is inconceivable that there won’t be some kind of a deal coming out for both sides.
At the end of the day, I am not supporting Brexit because I want to build a big wall around the UK and insulate ourselves from the rest of the Europe. Europe is a great place and I have many friends living there. I want the closest possible cooperation between the governments of Europe and I hope this will continue after Brexit. Nowhere else in the world do we have to have a political federation in order to have good relations. New Zealand has good relation with Australia and no one asks them to join Australia. The same applies to relations between Canada and the US.
How are the current affair topics, such as migration and terrorism affecting the vote? Is it a good idea to leave when there are so many crises?
When are we going to have this referendum then? We promised it in our election manifesto and I am a believer in politicians doing what they say. So, it’s right that we delivered it. Credit to David Cameron for doing that. Indeed, we could have delayed it until 2017, but then France and Germany said they don’t want it in 2017 because they have domestic elections. Europe is in a perpetual crisis and there’s never a right time. It’s right that we give people the choice, and it’s right that we do it in the background of all the crises Europe is facing. We’re having a bit of a lull in the Euro crisis, but that will come back again before long. Migration will be a problem for years to come, terrorism is also likely to be on our agenda for years to come as well unfortunately.
Don’t you think that sharing intelligence can benefit the UK?
Of course I do, but why could we not continue to share intelligence afterwards? We have fantastic intelligence sharing cooperation with the US and Canada. It is in our interests to cooperate together with the EU and it is in our interests to fight terrorism together, but we do not have to be in the EU for this. It’s nonsense to try and say that this is related to us leaving the EU.
The talks on the referendum caused a lot of friction among and within the political parties in the UK. How do you expect it will affect the political structures of the UK?
No question that it has caused a lot of tension and division within my party and I regret that. Given the rancour and the poison it will be very difficult for the party to get back together again afterwards. It’s no question that the way the referendum campaign is being conducted will make this very difficult.
Do you think the EU leaders learned a lesson from their strong campaigning in the referendum in Greece, and that this has something to do with the decision of European leaders not to campaign in the referendum?
This is an issue that didn’t exactly turn out well for them is it? But then of course that’s an example of the anti-democratic nature of the EU. The Greeks vote one way and their votes get completely ignored. They might as well not have bothered.
Any prediction about the outcome of the referendum?
I think it’s going to be very close. It’s safe to say that in referenda across the world the status quo has an inbuilt advantage. Trying to get people to vote for change is always more difficult.
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