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British troops arrive in Estonia as German spy chief warns of Russian troop build up

British troops began a long-term deployment to Estonia on Saturday as Germany’s intelligence chief warned Russia had doubled its military presence on its Western border.

An advanced contingent of 120 British soldiers landed at Estonia’s  Amari airbase late on Friday night as part of a new Nato deployment designed to deter Russia from attempting a repeat of its invasions of Crimea and Eastern Ukraine in the Baltic.

Eight hundred British troops with Challenger 2 tanks, AS90 self-propelled guns, and Warrior armoured vehicles, will be based in the town of Tapa, 80 miles from the Russian border, from next month.

A British Army AS90 self propelled gun arrives in the port of Emden, Germany to be loaded and transported to Estonia - Credit: Dominic King/Army press office Germany

A British Army AS90 self propelled gun arrives in the port of Emden, Germany to be loaded and transported to Estonia Credit: Dominic King/Army press office Germany

Continue reading British troops arrive in Estonia as German spy chief warns of Russian troop build up


Lithuania to become first country to arm Ukraine against Russia

Vilnius says other NATO members should follow Lithuania’s example

Lithuania’s ambassador to Ukraine says Vilnius is ready to start shipping defensive weapons to Ukraine to help the country stop Russia seizing more of its territory.

Marius Yanukonis told Ukraine’s Channel 5 that Lithuania wanted to be the first country to openly arm Ukraine and hoped it would set an example to other NATO countries which he said should follow suit.

The move came as US Senator John McCain, during a trip to Kyiv, piled more pressure on the Obama administration saying the US must do more to deter Russia from escalating its military operations in Ukraine. McCain said that the US must arm Ukraine without delay before Putin became more emboldened.

John McCain, Republican US Senator: “The House of Representatives feels the same, overwhelming majority of American people feel the same. I can’t answer for the president of the United States and his administrations, except to say that I know that this is shameful, shameful that we would not provide them with weapons to defend themselves. They are fighting with 20th century weapons against Russia’s 20st century weapons. That’s not a fair fight.”

NATO has been holding military drills across several Eastern European countries in recent weeks as a way of reassuring NATO-member countries there unnerved by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine; but Kyiv is hoping for more US support.

Last week the US Congress passed the National Defence Authorization Act (NDAA) which includes a provision that would give President Barack Obama’s administration USD 300 million for Ukrainian security assistance if Obama signs the bill.

US military advisors are already training the Ukrainian military. About 300 US paratroopers arrived in Ukraine in April to train Kyiv’s National Guard.

Britain has already sent military personnel to train Ukrainian troops, while Canada and Poland have pledged to send 200 and 50 instructors respectively this year. But Western countries with the exception of Lithuania have so far declined its requests to supply weapons.

Ukraine Conflict Forces Eastern States to Stockpile Gas

Eastern European nations from Poland to Serbia are boosting stockpiles of natural gas after Russia reduced deliveries during the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine and concerns rose about a winter shutoff.

Underground storage in the Czech Republic and Poland is at full capacity, while Slovakia expects to top up its storage facilities in the next several days, the countries’ gas companies said. Serbia, whose sole depot has a capacity of 450 million cubic meters, may ask neighboring Hungary to store as much as 200 million cubic meters of gas in its reservoirs, according to Energy Minister Aleksandar Antic.

While the level of eastern European countries’ dependence on Russian gas through Ukraine varies, the region as a whole relies more on deliveries from OAO Gazprom (OGZD) than western Europeand is therefore stocking up in case flow from Russia via Ukraine stops entirely.

During the past few days, Russia began slightly reducing supplies to countries like Slovakia and Poland, which provide reverse gas flows to Ukraine.

“Only Latvia has enough storage capacity to survive through the winter without Russian gas,” Mikhail Korchemkin from East European Gas Analysis said by e-mail. “Other countries of central and eastern Europe don’t have enough storage capacity.”

Southeastern European nations such as Bulgaria and Serbia are particularly exposed to interruptions since they are almost 100 percent dependent on Russian gas coming through Ukraine. The current crisis has rekindled memories of 2006 and 2009, when Gazprom disputes with Ukraine left the Balkan nations without fuel for weeks.

South Stream

As a result, southeastern Europe’s governments were long reluctant to halt preparatory work on Gazprom’s South Stream project, designed to run under the Black Sea from Russia and enter the EU in Bulgaria, bypassing Ukraine.

Authorities were betting on the 2,446-kilometer (1,520-mile) pipeline to boost the security of supplies and halted the construction under lobbying from Brussels and the U.S. earlier this year.

The U.S. expanded sanctions against Russia today to include the country’s largest bank, OAO Sberbank, as well as energy, defense and technology companies owned by the state. Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew warned of Russia’s growing “economic and diplomatic isolation.”

In Serbia, where hundreds of thousands of households rely partly or completely on electricity for heating due to capped electricity prices, a gas shortage could cause a spike in power consumption that would destabilize the national grid, former Energy Minister Petar Skundric said. In case of a cutoff, Serb storage may cover as much as 45 days of consumption in wintertime.

Full Capacity

The Czech Republic’s gas storage is full, one month before schedule, according RWE AG (RWE), which operates 92 percent of the country’s underground storage with a capacity of 2.7 billion cubic meters. Polish utility Polskie Gornictwo Naftowe i Gazownictwo SA also filled its 2.6 billion cubic meters of to the limit.

Still, gas companies across eastern Europe are reporting reduction in gas supplies from Russia. PGNiG said it received as much as 24 percent less gas from Gazprom than it ordered on Sept. 8 and 9.

Slovakia, which started the reverse flow to Ukraine at the beginning of September, saw a 10 percent decrease in the amount of gas ordered from Russia every day since Sept. 10, operator Slovensky Plynarensky Priemysel AS said. Gas flow to Romania was cut by 5 percent.

Emerging Europe

“We are seeing a similar story across emerging Europe – Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania, as Russia tries to limit any surplus gas available in the region for reverse flow back to Ukraine,” said Timothy Ash, the chief economist for emerging markets at Standard Bank Group Ltd. in London.

Slovakia’s SPP said so far the supplies are sufficient to cover all of the country’s demand and the storage is almost full.

Gas supplies to Austria were also 15 percent lower than agreed yesterday and will remain at the same level today, OMV AG spokesman Robert Lechner said in a phone interview today. The Austrian oil company is getting more gas than what’s needed and its own gas storages are 98 percent full, Lechner said.

The Czechs are less dependent on the supply of gas via the pipeline than surrounding countries because of its interconnection with Germany, which can cover their entire consumption.

The country is also able to supply neighboring Slovakia, a former federal partner, in case it’s needed, Czech Industry and Trade Minister Jan Mladek said.

Baltic Supplies

Lithuania has enough gas reserves to last until its new LNG terminal in Klaipeda opens in December, Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevicius said on Sept. 11.

Latvia’s Incukalns storage facility is 70 percent full, with enough gas to last the country for more than a year, Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma said on Sept. 9.

Estonia, the smallest of the three Baltic republics, has gas stocks for only five days. While gas represents only 9 percent in the nation’s energy mix, it is used to heat 58 percent of the capital Tallinn.

Romania has a sizable domestic production and its storage with a capacity of 2.8 billion cubic meters is currently half full. The country can last about six months without any gas imports from Russia, Energy Minister Razvan Nicolescu said in June.

“Without Ukrainian transit, Bulgaria would suffer the most,” Korchemkin said. As for LNG potentially imported by Lithuania andPoland, it “would replace just about 25-30 percent of the daily volumes of Russian gas delivered via Ukraine.”

US troops drive in eastern Europe to show defense readiness

Stryker vehicles of the US Army’s 2nd Cavalry Regiment roll the highway, during ''Dragoon Ride'' military exercise,  in Riga, Latvia, Sunday, March 22, 2015. The troops began the trek on March 21, and will travel through Latvia, The Czech Republic and onto Germany by April 1 in an exercise designed to reinforce America's allies. (AP Photo/Oksana Dzadan)
Stryker vehicles of the US Army’s 2nd Cavalry Regiment roll the highway, during ”Dragoon Ride” military exercise, in Riga, Latvia, Sunday, March 22, 2015. The troops began the trek on March 21, and will travel through Latvia, The Czech Republic and onto Germany by April 1 in an exercise designed to reinforce America’s allies

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — A U.S. army infantry convoy is driving through eastern Europe seeking to provide reassurance to a region concerned that the conflict between Russian-backed rebels and government forces in Ukraine threatens its security.

The U.S. “Dragoon Ride” convoy is attracting interest and greetings from people along its route. It started last week from Estonia and passed through Latvia and Lithuania before entering Poland on Monday.

A Latvian Army troop member shows his gun to a young  boy, during the ''Dragoon Ride'' military exercise, in Riga, Latvia, Sunday, March 22, 2015. The troops began the trek on March 21, and will travel through Latvia, The Czech Republic and onto Germany by April 1 in an exercise designed to reinforce America's allies.
A Latvian Army troop member shows his gun to a young boy, during the ”Dragoon Ride” military exercise, in Riga, Latvia, Sunday, March 22, 2015. The troops began the trek on March 21, and will travel through Latvia, The Czech Republic and onto Germany by April 1 in an exercise designed to reinforce America’s allies.

Flying U.S. flags, dozens of Stryker and other armored vehicles from the 3rd Squadron of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment are driving down the roads on their way back to base in Vilseck, Germany. They took part in the Atlantic Resolve exercise that shows NATO’s readiness to defend its members. They will stop in some Polish towns to meet local residents.

The move comes at a time when Poland is stepping up its own defenses by calling thousands of reservists for urgent military training and by hosting major NATO and international exercises this year. Also Monday, Canadian and Polish troops held exercises at a test range in Drawsko Pomorskie, in the northeast.

Soldiers of the US Army’s 3rd Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment meet with local residents upon arrival during the “Dragoon Ride” exercise in Vilnius on March 22, 2015. During the operation “Dragoon Ride”, the ability to move manpower and heavy vehicles will be trained in the Baltic countries

Bordering Ukraine and Russia, Poland says it has trust in NATO’s collective security guarantees but it also harbors bad memories of defense alliances with Britain and France that failed when Nazi Germany invaded in 1939.

Adviser to the defense minister, Gen. Boguslaw Pacek, recently stressed that NATO expects its members to also build their own defenses.

Soldiers of the US Army’s 3rd Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment arrive during the “Dragoon Ride” exercise in Vilnius on March 22, 2015. During the operation “Dragoon Ride”, the ability to move manpower and heavy vehicles will be trained in the Baltic countries.

In an apparent reference to Russia, Pacek said that the U.S. convoy is a sign to “those in the East” that NATO is strong and united.

Meanwhile, Poland is practicing mobilization by calling on hundreds of reservists to immediately show up for military training. In total, some 12,000 reservists are to go through various forms of training this year.

AP Photo/Oksana Dzadan
Stryker vehicles of the US Armyís 2nd Cavalry Regiment roll down the highway, during the ”Dragoon Ride” military exercise, in Riga, Latvia, Sunday, March 22, 2015.

Lithuania prints ‘Russian invasion’ survival manual

Lithuanian soldiers take part in a field training exercise during the first phase Saber Strike 2014, at the Rukla military base, Lithuania, on June 14, 2014. (AFP Photo/Petras Malukas)

As NATO increases its presence in the Baltic region amid worries of “Russian aggression,” Lithuania has published a manual which advises its citizens how to survive a war on its soil.

“Keep a sound mind, don’t panic and don’t lose clear thinking,” the manual advises. “Gunshots just outside your window are not the end of the world.”

Lithuanian Defense Minister Juozas Olekas unveiled the 100-page public information pamphlet last Tuesday at a press conference in Vilnius. The book, “How to act in extreme situations or instances of war” aims to educate the country’s citizens on what to do in the case of an invasion.

The manual instructs Lithuanians how to “act during the organization of civil resistance, but also how to act under battlefield conditions,” in addition to containing information on governmental changes following a declaration of war and procedures for evacuating a building, according to Olekas.

The book suggests demonstrations and strikes or “at least doing your job worse than usual” as means of resisting foreign occupation. It also advises citizens to use social media to organize resistance and promotes staging cyber-attacks against the enemy.

Lithuanian Defence Minister Juozas Olekas (AFP Photo/Yoshikazu Tsuno)

Olekas said the project, a collaboration between the Defense Ministry and Lithuania’s Fire Brigade was prompted by “Russia’s recurring aggression against its neighbors – presently in Ukraine.” Copies of the pamphlet are to be distributed to libraries, secondary schools and non-governmental organizations, while an online version will be available for download from the Defense Ministry’s website, Olekas said.

The Lithuanian government is also considering requiring all future buildings to include a bomb shelter.

Lithuania’s Russian minority is around 6 percent according to the country’s last census in 2011, unlike the two other Baltic enclaves, Estonia and Latvia where Russian speakers account for approximately one-quarter of the population.

Recently, President Dalia Grybauskaite, an outspoken critic of Russia, has moved to restrict the broadcast of Russian state channels in Lithuania.

NATO’s General Philip Breedlove announced this week that the alliance was looking to beef up its operations in the Baltic region.

“There will be several adaptations of our exercise program. The first series of changes will not be an increase in number but they will be to group them together … to better prepare our forces and to allow nations to work together as a NATO force, but we are looking at increasing some exercises,” he said Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Ruptly news agency on Thursday captured footage of a train loaded with various American military vehicles rolling through Klaipeda, a coastal town in western Lithuania.

In November, during the Iron Sword military drill, 2,500 servicemen from nine NATO countries staged a two-week training operation in Lithuania. Iron Sword was originally planned as a purely Lithuanian endeavor but was expanded in response to the ongoing crisis in eastern Ukraine.

Russia Is Losing Control Over The European Gas Market


Oil isn’t Russia’s only problem.

The energy exporter is losing its dominance over the European gas market.

In the past there were two factors that kept Russia as the major gas powerhouse: European policies and cold winters.

But both of those things have changed — and Russia is starting to explore non-Western countries.

Europe Is Making Bold Moves

Back in 2009 the EU passed the Third Energy Package, which said that Russia can’t both own and control pipelines on the EU territory. (Russia filed a lawsuit with the WTO against the EU over this in April 2014, after the first rounds of Western sanctions.)

Additionally, the EU has been putting taxpayers’ money into new inter-connectors, so now if Russia decides to cut off supplies, the affected countries can still get gas from somewhere else, according to the Economist.

This is a major move because in the past Russia punished countries by cutting off gas.

Ukraine’s gas was shut off for six months in 2014, as well as 2006 and 2009, and Latvia and Lithuania were punished by Moscow “for their alleged mistreatment of Russian minorities or for awarding refinery or construction contracts to European rather than Russian companies.”

The Economist also cites the following changes in Europe:

  • Lithuania started importing liquefied natural gas from Norway.
  • Ukraine is importing more gas from the west.
  • The EU has brokered a deal on debts and prices between Ukraine and Russia, which will keep gas going to Ukraine at least for the first quarter of 2015.

To cap things off, in December lack of funds forced Russia to cancel the South Stream pipeline to supply gas to Europe without crossing Ukraine.

europe gas

Russia’s Hegemonic Control Over Gas In The Past

Back in late November, Putin coolly noted that “winter is coming,” and thus he was “sure the market will come into balance again in the first quarter or toward the middle of next year.”

What he meant by that was that cold weather is great news for the Russian economy because Europeans would have to import more oil and natural gas.

“It is the power of colder weather that allows Russia, as the key supplier of energy to Europe, to apply leverage. That leverage can take the form of higher prices, restricted volumes, a combination of both, or negotiations that directly or indirectly affect these additional costs,” Cumberland Advisors Chair David Kotok wrote in August.

Russia provided one-third of the natural gas that European countries relied on both for heating their homes and running industries. Since Russia played such a huge role in the gas market, it was able to command high prices.

But the European winter is pretty mild this year, the Economist notes, so “even if Russia did try to interrupt supplies, the effect would be modest.”

Russia’s Future Game Plan Outside Of Europe

Russia has been publically exploring energy (and military) relationships with countries outside of Europe — most notably, China and India.

In May 2014, Russia’s Gazprom and China National Petroleum Corp. (CNPC) signed a historic 30-year contract to supply natural gas to China.

Screen Shot 2015 01 14 at 7.33.30 PM

Near the end of 2014, Putin met with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi where they agreed to several energy deals, and Russia invited India to “work on projects” in the Arctic.

“Rosneft and Gazprom, our biggest companies, together with their Indian colleagues, are preparing projects for the development of Russian-Arctic [and] the expansion of liquefied gas,” Putin said.

Poland, Ukraine and Lithuania form joint military unit

Polish soldiers during joint military exercises in Ukraine - 19 September 2014

Poland, Ukraine and Lithuania have agreed to set up joint military unit of several thousand soldiers.Defence ministers from the three countries signed the deal on Friday.

Poland’s defence ministry said the brigade would be based in the eastern Polish city of Lublin but the soldiers would remain in their home countries.

Poland and Lithuania are eager to bolster defences following Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula earlier this year.

Russia sent thousands of troops to the peninsula in March, eventually forcing Ukrainian soldiers to withdraw.

Shortly afterwards, pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions declared their independence.

More than 3,000 people have died in fighting between Ukrainian government forces and separatists since April.

Peacekeeping role

A spokesman for the Polish defence ministry said work to form the joint unit with Ukraine and Lithuania first began in 2007, adding that it would operate under the guidance of the UN, Nato and the EU.

The unit would participate in peacekeeping missions, the spokesman added, but no details were given on any potential role in Ukraine’s conflict.

Ukrainian Defence Minister Valeriy Heletey (R), his Polish counterpart Tomasz Siemoniak (C) and Lithuanian counterpart Juozas Olekas (L) shake hands after signing an agreement on the creation of a joint military brigade - 19 September 2014Defence ministers from Ukraine, Poland and Lithuania formed the long-awaited military pact in Warsaw

Earlier this week, soldiers from Poland and Lithuania joined about 1,300 soldiers from 15 countries – including the US and other Nato members – in military exercises in western Ukraine.

In response, Russia’s Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said it must boost its forces in Crimea to counter the presence of Western troops in Ukraine.

Also on Friday, Nato defence chiefs agreed to set up regional centres in several Eastern European countries, during a meeting Lithuania’s capital Vilnius.

Lithuania’s chief of defence Jonas Vytautas Zukas said the “command-and-control” centres would be launched in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland and Romania and would each employ up to 120 military personnel,

Meanwhile, Sweden said on Friday that it had lodged a complaint with Russia’s ambassador in Stockholm about two Russian fighter planes entering Swedish airspace.

Swedish officials said the jets had briefly violated Swedish airspace on Wednesday near the eastern island of Oland.

In another diplomatic row, Lithuania said it had summoned Russia’s ambassador to Vilnius after a Lithuanian fishing vessel was detained by Russian authorities earlier this week.

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