And, in Other News: US Stages Provocations Aimed at China and Russia, Triggering Reactions
October 2, 2018 TIME Magazine & Reuters & TASS & Sputnik News & RT News
With attention riveted on the Kavanaugh hearings, troubling military maneuvers by the Big Powers have received little attention. In one case, a US navy ship conducted a provocative 10-hour patrol in the South China Sea, sailing within 12 nautical miles of Chinese outposts. China responded by cancelling scheduled security talks with the US. The US threatened Russia with a naval blockade over gas pipeline project but has granted Russia permission to surveil US activities using a high-tech spy-plane.
US Navy Sails Near Disputed Islands
Amid Escalating Tensions With China Eli Meixler / TIME Magazine
(October 1, 2018) -- The US Navy sailed alongside a group of disputed islands in the South China Sea on Sunday in the latest sign of escalating tensions with China.
The USS Decatur guided-missile destroyer sailed within 12 nautical miles of two Spratly Island reefs on "freedom of navigation operations" on Sunday, two American officials told CNN. China has built military installations on the strategically located Spratly archipelago, parts of which are also claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Taiwan.
The "freedom of navigation missions" are designed to challenge "excessive maritime claims," an American military official told CNN. "The United States will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows," the official added.
China claims dominion over a number of island groups in the heavily contested South China Sea, and has recently ramped-up development of artificial islands and military facilities despite international condemnation.
In May, the new US Pacific Command chief warned that "China is now capable of controlling the South China Sea in all scenarios short of war."
But the US has continued to challenge China's policing of those waters. In May, the US Navy sailed two ships near the Paracel Islands, another contested island group, prompting an outraged response from China's Ministry of Defense. Earlier this week, the US also flew two B-52 bombers over China-claimed territory.
The sail-by on Sunday also comes amid heightened tensions between Washington and Beijing over trade and diplomatic issues. Last week, new tariffs targeting $200 billion of Chinese goods came into effect, the latest salvo in President Donald Trump's ongoing trade war with China. Trump also accused China of interfering with the upcoming US 2018 midterm elections at the UN Security Council.
Those tensions appear to be spilling over into military cooperation. China canceled a high-profile Beijing security summit later this month, and prevented a US Navy ship from docking in Hong Kong, the New York Times reports.
Last week, the Trump administration also announced a $330 million weapons sale to Taiwan, and imposed sanctions on a Chinese defense contractor that bought Russian-made weapons.
WASHINGTON (September 30, 2018) - China has canceled a security meeting with US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis that had been planned for October, a senior US official said on Sunday, days after a top Chinese official said there was no reason to panic over tensions between the countries.
The official, who is involved in China policy and spoke on condition of anonymity, said it was not clear if or when the meeting would be rescheduled. The cancellation was first reported by the New York Times.
The official said it was not clear whether the cancellation was because of the broad range of disputes between Beijing and Washington on issues such as arms sales and military activity in the South China Sea and other waters around China.
China and the United States are also locked in a spiraling trade war that has seen them level increasingly severe rounds of tariffs on each other's imports. "The tension is escalating, and that could prove to be dangerous to both sides," the official said.
The US State Department declined comment. Officials at the White House and Department of Defense did not immediately respond to a request for comment. China's Foreign and Defense Ministries also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Sources in Beijing briefed on the matter said last week the security meeting may not take place because of the tensions in relations between the two countries.
The Chinese government's top diplomat, Wang Yi, said on Friday there was "no cause for panic" over friction between Beijing and Washington, but warned that China would not be blackmailed or yield to pressure over trade.
At a UN Security Council meeting on Wednesday, President Donald Trump accused Beijing of seeking to meddle in the Nov. 6 US congressional elections to stop him and his Republican Party from doing well because of his China trade policies. Trump provided no evidence for his allegation. At the same meeting, Wang rejected the charge.
Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing and Patricia Zengerle in Washington. Russian Jets Scrambled 13 Times in
Past Week to Intercept Foreign Aircraft TASS
MOSCOW (September 28, 2018) -- Russian jets were scrambled 13 times in the past week to prevent state border violations, the Russian Armed Forces' Krasnaya Zvezda daily reported on Friday.
According to the data provided by the daily, 30 foreign aircraft have been registered on reconnaissance flights over the past week along Russia's borders.
The daily reported that there were no violations of Russia's airspace. US Interior Secretary: Naval Blockade
Is an Option for Dealing with Russia Sputnik News
(September 30, 2018) -- The Interior Secretary proposed a naval blockade of Russia as a way to push Moscow out of energy market.
Speaking Friday at an industry event in Pittsburgh hosted by the Consumer Energy Alliance, US Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said the US Navy can blockade Russia if needed in order to keep it from controlling energy supplies in the Middle East as it does in Europe.
"The United States has that ability, with our Navy, to make sure the sea lanes are open, and, if necessary, to blockade . . . to make sure that their energy does not go to market," Zinke said.
According to Washington Examiner, Zinke attended the event to explain why the technology of hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, and the shale energy boom has supposedly given the US an edge over its rivals Russia and Iran, by making the US less dependent on foreign sources of energy.
The Interior Secretary believes that the reason why Russia entered the Middle East is hydrocarbons trade.
"Russia is a one-trick pony," Zinke said, stating that Russian economy depends solely on its ability to sell energy. "I believe the reason they are in the Middle East is they want to broker energy just like they do in Eastern Europe, the southern belly of Europe."
Answering the question on how the US should deal with Russia and Iran, Zinke said that "there are two ways."
"There is the military option, which I would rather not. And there is the economic option," he said. "The economic option on Iran and Russia is, more or less, leveraging and replacing fuels."
"We can do that because . . . the United States is the largest producer of oil and gas," Zinke added.
The US administration of Donald Trump has opposed new Russia's projects aimed at providing other nations with oil and gas, such as the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.
Trump on multiple occasions urged the US European allies to suspend the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which would run through the Baltic Sea to a hub in Germany, bypassing Ukraine. Washington, which is seeking to promote its LNG supplies to the European Union, has repeatedly expressed its opposition to the project, claiming that it was the means of political control used by Russia to exert pressure on the European Union.
Washington has made a number of attempts to impede the implementation of the project and even incorporated a provision for counteracting the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline in its Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act.
The Nord Stream 2 is a joint venture of Russia's Gazprom with France's Engie, Austria's OMV AG, UK-Dutch Royal Dutch Shell, and Germany's Uniper and Wintershall. It aims to deliver 55 billion cubic meters of Russian natural gas a year to the European Union. Russia's Pacific Fleet Ships Embark on Long Mission TASS
LADIVOSTOK (October 01, 2018) -- A group of ships from Russia's Pacific Fleet has embarked from Vladivostok on a mission that would last over three months, Fleet Spokesman Captain 2nd rank Nikolai Voskresensky said, adding that the vessels would participate in the Indra Navy 2018 Russian-Indian naval drills.
"Today, a group of ships from the Pacific Fleet, consisting of the Varyag missile cruiser, the Admiral Panteleyev anti-submarine destroyer and the Boris Butoma large sea tanker, embarked from Vladivostok on a long mission in the Asia-Pacific region," he said.
Voskresensky added that the group would visit several foreign ports. Moscow's Eye in US Sky: Here's What We Know
About Russian Spy Plane Cleared by Washington RT News
(September 25, 2018) -- A Russian plane built for observation flights over the US has finally been deemed fit for the job by Washington. The US and Russia have long agreed to legally spy on each other to ensure neither is building up for an attack.
Certification of the Russian Tu-214ON plane has finally been completed after the US agreed to sign the final protocol on Monday, Sergey Ryzhkov of the Russian Defense Ministry said. Ryzhkov is the head of the Russian Center for Reduction of Nuclear Threat, tasked with monitoring how arms control treaties signed by Russia are being fulfilled.
"It was obvious that there were no technical complaints to Russia and that the certification was only a matter of time," Ryzhkov said. Now the entire Russian fleet tasked with Open Skies observation flights can fly missions over the US and other member states of the deal.
Spying for Peace
The Treaty on Open Skies is one of the relics of the times when words like "perestroika" and "glasnost" heralded a democratic transformation of the giant in the east to Western audiences and nobody said Moscow's opinion about NATO was irrelevant.
Both Cold War blocks wanted to reduce tension, and being transparent about each other's intentions was crucial. So, they hammered out a treaty, which would allow short-notice inspections of each other's territory -- meant to confirm that no secret deployment of troops was under way.
The treaty was signed in 1992 but didn't enter force until a decade later in 2002. At the moment there are 34 member states: the US, Canada, European nations, Russia and a couple of other former Soviet republics. In practice it allows Russia and its ally Belarus to legally spy on the US and its allies, while NATO states are in turn able to fly over Russia and take photos without any hurdles.
Each state picks which aircraft to use for the semi-surprise surveillance sorties. Russia's fleet initially included Antonov An-30s, to fly over Europe, and a specially converted model of the Tupolev Tu-154 for North America.
However the Russian Defense Ministry wanted a dedicated surveillance aircraft for such flight, so it ordered two modified Tupolev Tu-204/214 passenger planes. The first Tu-214ON ('otkrytoye nebo', or 'open skies' in Russian) made its maiden flight in 2011 and the second one in 2013. Up until now they were not allowed to conduct observation flights outside of Russia.
What's New in this Plane?
Compared to a regular Tu-214, the Open Skies version has a few extra perks. The cockpit was enlarged to house two more people. In addition to the captain, second pilot and flight mechanic it has seats for a navigator and interpreter/communications officer. The overhaul of the cockpit gave an opportunity to replace some older hydraulic controls with more comfortable electronics.
The body of the plane lost some weight after some of the metal control surfaces were replaced with those made of composite materials. This boosted the range of the Tu-214ON to a reported 6,500km (4,040 miles), compared to 4,340km (2,700 miles) of a civilian Tu-214.
Additional windows were made for surveillance equipment in the lower part, where the passenger variant stores luggage. And an auxiliary power plant was added to feed the cameras and recorders as well as serve as a backup source in case of an emergency.
What Can its 'Digital Eyes' See?
The initial observation equipment for the Tu-214ON was developed by engineering company Vega to stay below the resolution limits imposed by the terms of the Treaty on Open Skies. The agreement allows things like identifying military hardware on the ground or recording layout of civilian infrastructure, but not more sensitive surveillance on certain electronic equipment or identities of military personnel, which better-quality imagery would allow.
The three sensor arrays included a digital photo camera, an infrared camera, and a TV camera, with sideway-looking synthetic aperture radar providing additional data.
The use of digital sensors, as strange as it seems, is a novelty for Open Skies flights. While the possibility of upgrading sensors from the 1970s film cameras was discussed by member states since the mid-2000s, a consensus was not reached until 2010. Russia used to object to such a move but then became a pioneer of introducing digital technology. It even developed its own specialized sensors, which became a matter of controversy.
What Took the US So Long?
The initial attempt to certify Russian OSDCAM cameras in 2013 failed after the US objected, claiming that the devices could have better capabilities than stated by Russia and that they may manipulate digital data to fool other member states.
Washington changed its mind a year later, but only after a lot of debate. Quite a few publications in the US media had claimed Russia benefits too much from the Open Skies initiative and also argued that US spy satellites can give the same data without any flights at all.
This year, the certification of the Tu-214ON was a retelling of the same story. After ten days of tests and demonstrations in the Moscow region for experts from member states, the US delegation was the only one to refuse allowing the aircraft into its airspace. The Russian military said that no explanation was offered. But now, apparently, the surveillance plane is OK for the US.
"I believe they waited for the right moment. [US President Donald] Trump is to speak before the UN, so the Americans make this gesture, showing they are ready to cooperate with all other nations, including Russia," suggested Aleksandr Bartosh, a veteran Russian military diplomat and researcher. "It's purely political. There were no technical obstacles to certifying it."
Military expert Aleksandr Zhilin said he wouldn't exclude a scenario, in which Washington would allow the Russian plane in only to soon withdraw from the treaty altogether. After all, the US and Russia have been bickering about which side fails to deliver on its obligations under this and many other international treaties. "The Americans cannot be trusted," he said.
Sure, there a lot of mistrust on both sides, but it's sad to see those trust-building mechanisms like Open Skies crumble.
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