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Russia calling urgent UN Security Council meeting over clash with Ukrainian ships in Azov sea

RT | November 26, 2018

Moscow is calling an emergency UN Security Council meeting following the incident near Crimea that saw the Russian military detain Ukrainian warships for breaking into its territorial waters in violation of the UN convention.

Russia has called for a meeting “in connection to the dangerous developments in the Azov sea and subsequent events,” Russia’s First Deputy Permanent Representative at the UN, Dmitry Polyanskiy, told media late on Sunday.

The meeting is preliminarily scheduled for 11.00 am Monday New York time, he said. “Maintenance of international peace and security” will be the sole item on its agenda.

The Russian military opened fire and seized three Ukrainian Navy vessels after they entered Russian territorial waters while heading to the Kerch Strait, which separates Crimea from mainland Russia.

Three Ukrainian crew members were injured during the altercation and have received medical assistance from Russian medics. Moscow says that the vessels, the ‘Berdiansk’, the ‘Nikopol’ and the ‘Yany Kapu’, did not respond to repeated Russian coast guard warnings as they were violating the Russian territorial sea. Kiev claims that it had given advance notice to the Russian side that the ships were sailing through the waterway towards the Ukrainian port of Mariupol, as per the established procedure. Russia says there was no such warning.

Russia has labeled the incident a deliberate provocation by the Ukrainian authorities, while Kiev denounced it as an “act of military aggression” and is about to declare martial law, pending approval from Ukrainian lawmakers.

Both parties accuse each other of violating international law, namely the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has already appealed to NATO and the EU, asking them to coordinate efforts for a potential rebuke to Russia.

November 25, 2018 Posted by | Aletho News | , | Leave a comment

Ukrainian Forces Pound Donbass Residential Area with Heavy Artillery

Sputnik – 25.11.2018

The Ukrainian army on Sunday opened up with massive artillery fire, shelling residential areas of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), an RIA Novosti correspondent has reported.

The shelling began at about 19:50 GMT, according to the correspondent. The Ukrainian army is using various weapons, including heavy artillery.

The number of attacks by the Ukrainian army in the Donbass region is likely to increase following new deliveries of Polish weapons to Ukraine, Eduard Basurin, deputy commander of the DPR Operational Command, said Friday.

According to Basurin, in mid-November, a Polish company supplied Kiev with over 23,000 60-mm mortar shells and noted that Ukrainian forces in Donbass would receive this ammunition in the near future.

The ongoing military operation in eastern Ukraine was launched by Kiev in 2014 against militias in Donbass, after local residents of the region refused to recognize the new Ukrainian government and its representatives.

In 2015, a ceasefire deal was signed between conflicting sides in Minsk after talks brokered by the leaders of the so-called Normandy group — Russia, France, Germany and Ukraine. Despite the ceasefire agreement, sporadic fighting has continued in Donbass. The situation remains tense, with both parties accusing the other of violating the ceasefire. According to the United Nations, over 10,000 people have died in the conflict.

November 25, 2018 Posted by | Militarism | | Leave a comment

A Gamechanger In European Gas Markets

By Irina Slav – Oilprice.com – November 22, 2018

The Southern Gas Corridor on which the European Union is pinning most of its hopes for natural gas supply diversification away from Russia is coming along nicely and will not just be on schedule, but it will come with a price tag that is US$5-billion lower than the original budget, BP’s vice president in charge of the project told S&P Global Platts this week.

“Often these kinds of mega-projects fall behind schedule. But the way the projects have maintained the schedule has meant that your traditional overspend, or utilization of contingency, has not occurred,” Joseph Murphy said, adding that savings had been the top priority for the supermajor.

The Southern Gas Corridor will carry natural gas from the Azeri Shah Deniz 2 field in the Caspian Sea to Europe via a network of three pipelines: the Georgia South Caucasus Pipeline, which was recently expanded and can carry 23 billion cubic meters of gas; the TANAP pipeline via Turkey, with a peak capacity of 31 billion cubic meters annually; and the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline, or TAP, which will link with TANAP at the Turkish-Greek border and carry 10 billion cubic meters of gas annually to Italy.

TANAP was commissioned in July this year and the first phase of TAP is expected to be completed in two years, so Europe will hopefully have more non-Russian gas at the start of the new decade. But not that much, at least initially: TANAP will operate at an initial capacity of 16 billion cubic meters annually, of which 6 billion cubic meters will be supplied to Turkey and the remainder will go to Europe. In the context of total natural gas demand of 564 billion cubic meters in 2020, according to a forecast from the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies released earlier this year, this is not a lot.

Yet at some point the TANAP will reach its full capacity and hopefully by that time, TAP will be completed. Surprisingly, it was the branch to Italy that proved the most challenging, and BP’s Murphy acknowledged that. While Turkey built TANAP on time to the surprise of the project operator, TAP has been struggling because of legal issues and uncertainty after the new Italian government entered office earlier this year.

At the time, the government of Giuseppe Conte said the pipeline was pointless but, said Murphy, since then he has accepted the benefits the infrastructure would offer, such as transit fees. And yet local opposition in southern Italy remains strong but BP still sees first deliveries of gas through Italy in 2020.

The BP executive admitted that at first the Southern Gas Corridor wouldn’t make a splash. “The 10 Bcm/year into Europe is not a game-changer from a volume point of view, but it is a game-changer from a new source of product into mainland Europe perspective and it can be expanded.”

Meanwhile, however, Russia and Turkey are building another pipeline, Turkish Stream, that will supply gas to Turkey and Eastern Europe, as well as possibly Hungary. The two recently marked the completion of its subsea section. Turkish Stream will have two lines, each able to carry up to 15.75 billion cubic meters. One will supply the Turkish market and the other European countries. In this context, the Southern Gas Corridor seems to have more of a political rather than practical significance for the time being, giving Europe the confidence that it could at some future point import a lot more Caspian gas because the infrastructure is there.

November 25, 2018 Posted by | Economics | , | 2 Comments

UAE to invest in Israeli plan to pipe gas to Europe

Press TV – November 25, 2018

The media in Tel Aviv have reported that the UAE has invested as much as $100 million in an ambitious Israeli project to pipe natural gas to Europe.

The investment would be made by a company based in Abu Dhabi for a pipeline project which is internationally known to be unique given its record length as well as the extreme depths it would be laid toward Europe, Lebanon’s al-Mayadeen quoted Israeli media as reporting.

The agreement has been described as “historic” by Israeli media, al-Mayadeen added.

Israel has signed a multilateral deal over the scheme – called the East Med Pipeline Project – with Greece, Italy and Cyprus. The European Union also supports the project.

The East Med Pipeline Project is to start about 170 kilometers (105 miles) off Cyprus’s southern coast and stretch for 2,200 kilometers (1,350 miles) to reach Otranto, Italy, via Crete and the Greek mainland, according to a report by The Times of Israel news website.

The pipeline will have the capacity to carry up to 20 billion cubic meters (706 billion cubic feet) of gas from Israeli fields each year. Europe’s gas import needs are projected to increase by 100 billion cubic meters (3.5 billion cubic feet) annually by 2030.

Work on the project is expected to begin within a few months, and to conclude within five years.

UAE’s investment in the project could trigger protests in the Muslim world. The Emirates has already taken moves to approach Tel Aviv with speculations recently emerging that it has even involved itself in certain military operations by Israel on Gaza.

Last December, Israel’s Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said a study on the project showed that the project is feasible, even though it presents technical challenges due to the depths involved and has an estimated cost of 6.2 billion euro ($7.36 billion).

Israel has already engaged in disputes with Lebanon over tapping into Mediterranean energy resources.

Last February, Israel described as “very provocative” a Lebanese tender for projects in two of its 10 offshore blocks in the Mediterranean Sea.

Israel itself has long been developing a number of offshore gas deposits in the Mediterranean Sea, with the Tamar gas field, with proven reserves of 200 billion cubic meters, already producing gas, while the larger Leviathan field is expected to go online in the coming months.

A source close to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in 2012 that Israel’s natural gas reserves were worth around $130 billion. A Business Week estimate later that year put the reserves’ value at $240 billion.

November 25, 2018 Posted by | Economics | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“THE CHIMERA OF DONALD TRUMP, RUSSIAN MONEY LAUNDERER”

Sic Semper Tyrannis | November 23, 2018

Is Donald Trump guilty of money laundering? If you ask most Democrats and anti-Trump Republicans, they fervently believe that he has been moving money for Russian mobsters for more than twenty years and that an investigation of this will bring Trump’s Presidency to an end. Don’t count on it. Although there is clear evidence of Trump’s past relationship with Russian/American mobsters, knowing someone or collaborating on a business deal is not proof of money laundering. I have spent three decades investigating money laundering cases (I helped develop the civil money laundering case against Philip Morris—click here) and it is clear to me that those who are earnestly accusing Trump of such a crime do not understand what constitutes money laundering.

Apart from not understanding how to make a money laundering case, the anti-Trumpers have failed to grasp another key element to the narrative that Trump was a puppet to the Russians—one of his longtime Russian business associates, Felix Sater, was an FBI informant during the entire time that Robert Mueller was FBI Director. Since Sater was a fully signed up FBI informant or asset, he was in a unique and powerful position to implicate Trump. But none of the “evidence” uncovered or planted by Sater ever produced an indictment of Donald Trump. With the benefit of hindsight it appears that the FBI, relying on Sater, used Trump and his organization as bait to go after Russian mobsters.

The Democrat case for Trump’s money laundering is laid out in a complaint the Democratic National Committee filed in April 2018 against the Russians, Julian Assange and Trump:

Beginning in 2003, Trump engaged in multiple real estate deals with the Bayrock Group, a firm founded and run by Soviet emigres, who reportedly had close ties to the Russian government and Russian organized crime. In 2004, Trump negotiated with the Deputy Mayor of Moscow over a potential real estate development. In the mid-2000s, Trump partnered with wealthy Russian-Canadian businessmen to develop real estate in Toronto. And in 2006, Trump contracted with the Russian Standard Corporation, a Moscow-based entity that owns and operates the Miss Russia beauty pageant, to allow the winner of the pageant to compete in Trump’s Miss Universe pageant, an action that had not been taken since at least 2002. In 2008, Trump sold a Palm Beach, Florida mansion to a Russian oligarch for a $54 million profit. In 2013, Trump established a business relationship with Russian oligarch Aras Agalarov, a close ally of Putin, to bring the Miss Universe pageant to Russia and work on plans to develop a Trump-branded project in Moscow. . . .

As Trump, Jr. explained, the Trump Organization “s[aw] a lot of money pouring in from Russia,” and “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of our assets.” And Trump’s son Eric Trump has reportedly stated that substantial funding for Trump’s golf courses comes from Russian investors.

I do not know who was advising the DNC on this complaint, but it is clear that the drafter or drafters do not have a clue about money laundering. Money laundering is very easy to define:

The act of disguising the source or true nature of money obtained through illegal means.

The key element is the phrase, “illegal means.” If you are going to be charged as a participant or accessory in a money laundering case, you must be handling or receiving money that came from a criminal activity, such as trafficking in drugs, arms or people. So here’s the critical question with respect to Donald Trump and money laundering—what was the predicate crime?

In the world of real estate, the money laundering component is always in the financing.  That is, you want to trade the bad money for good bank money by using the property as the chattel to do it. But when this is done as part of a money laundering scheme, it almost always involves the financing of major building projects. Someone with dirty money is not going to waste time purchasing individual condos or homes as their primary means of cleaning the money. When the dirty money comes from activities like drug trafficking, the amount of cash generated is enormous. You need big money projects to launder large quantities of cash.

Given Donald Trump’s extensive and controversial real estate ventures over the last thirty years, which have involved several Russians, it is understandable why those opposed to Trump seize on these transactions as evidence of “money laundering.” Unfortunately, the journalists who have tried to make the case that Donald Trump was “laundering” money for the Russian mob, have failed to provide actual evidence of such activity. Instead, they have relied on innuendo and guilt by association.

Yes, it is true that Russians with ties to organized crime purchased condos in Trump Towers in New York City. But there is no evidence that the sales of these condos were an organized, structured transaction. Individual Russians, acting in person or through shell companies, purchasing a condo is not proof of criminal activity. The fact that those who have made such purchases have not been arrested or indicted undermines the claim that their mere presence in a Trump building is proof of criminal activity.

As Shakespeare wrote, “Ay, there’s the rub.”  Association with unsavory characters is not a criminal offense. While it is quite true that Trump associated with several Russians with links to organized crime it is also true that Trump has never been indicted or charged with such criminal activity. Is he really that good in hiding his trail?

One of the loudest voices claiming that Trump is in bed with the Russians is Craig Unger. Craig was known as a good reporter at one point in his life, but I think his work on Trump is both shoddy and incomplete. To be fair, Craig is not the only one claiming Trump is facilitating Russian money laundering. Other prominent journalists, including Richard Behar, Tom Burgis of the Financial Times and John Harwood of CNBC, also have echoed Unger’s thesis.

All four focus much of their reporting on a Russian born American “mobster”, Felix Sater, to implicate Trump as a Russian money laundering chump. The following snippet from an interview Unger did with Vox about his book, House of Trump, House of Putin is representative of how Sater is used as some sort of proof that Trump is part of a money laundering scheme:

Bayrock was a real estate development company located on the 24th floor of Trump Tower. The founder was a guy named Tevfik Arif and the managing director was Felix Sater, a man with numerous ties to Russian oligarchs and Russian intelligence. Bayrock proceeded to partner with Trump in 2005 and helped him develop a new business model, which he desperately needed.

Recall that Trump was $4 billion in debt after his Atlantic City casinos went bankrupt. He couldn’t get a bank loan from anywhere in the West, and Bayrock comes in and Trump partners with other people as well, but Bayrock essentially has a new model that says, “You don’t have to raise any money. You don’t have to do any of the real estate development. We just want to franchise your name, we’ll give you 18 to 25 percent royalties, and we’ll effectively do all the work. And if the Trump Organization gets involved in the management of these buildings, they’ll get extra fees for that.”

It was a fabulously lucrative deal for Trump, and the Bayrock associates — Sater in particular — were operating out of Trump Tower and constantly flying back and forth to Russia. And in the book, I detail several channels through which various people at Bayrock have close ties to the Kremlin, and I talk about Sater flying back and forth to Moscow even as late as 2016, hoping to build the Trump Tower there.

Tom Burgis, writing in the Financial Times, provides additional details on the relationship between Sater and Trump and implies something nefarious, perhaps even illegal, was afoot:

As work on Trump Soho got under way in 2007, the partnership between Mr Trump and Bayrock was gathering momentum. Another tower, in Fort Lauderdale, was rising. A 2008 Bayrock presentation includes a picture of Mr Trump grinning beside Mr Arif and names him as a referee. Bayrock had its office on the 24th floor of Trump Tower and calls the Trump Organization a “strategic partner”.

The same presentation says Bayrock was one of the backers of the redevelopment of the 101-year-old Hotel du Parc on the shores of Lake Geneva, owned by Swiss Development Group, a Geneva-based company. In May this year, Nicolas Bourg, a Belgian businessman who says he worked with Viktor Khrapunov’s son Ilyas on US real estate deals, claimed in a separate dispute that Swiss Development Group was “owned and controlled by Ilyas and his family and used to conceal the movement and investment of his family’s money”.

All of this sounds pretty bad on the surface until you examine what Sater actually did. Messrs. Unger and Burgis neglected to analyze the critical fact that Felix Sater was an FBI informant since 1998. If Trump was taking dirty money or engaged in criminal activity with Russians then he was doing it with Felix Sater, who was under the control of the FBI. Felix Sater was proposing deals and making contacts with Russian criminals overseas and this activity surely was known by the FBI. If there was any suspicion on the part of the FBI that Trump was taking bad money, they would have recorded such activity in detail and he would have been indicted. Instead of running around in an orange jump suit, Donald Trump ran for President.

Given Sater’s relationship with the FBI, one needs to look at Trump’s relationship with Russians, especially those facilitated by Sater, in a different light. Put simply, were Trump’s real estate deals being used as bait to attract targets of interest for the FBI. Was Trump a witting cooperator with the FBI or unwitting?

We do know that Sater was trying to put together real estate deals overseas while serving as a FBI informant and working from Trump Tower in New York City. This was reported in a March 2017 Los Angeles Times piece:

Working from a 24th-floor office in Manhattan’s Trump Tower, Felix Sater spent years trying to line up lucrative deals in the United States, Russia and elsewhere in Europe with Donald Trump’s real estate organization.

For much of that time, according to court records and U.S. officials, Sater also worked as a confidential informant for the FBI, and — he says — U.S. intelligence.

“I was building Trump Towers by day and hunting Bin Laden by night,” Sater, now 50, told the Los Angeles Times in a phone interview from New York.

As managing director of Bayrock Group LLC, a real estate development firm, the Russian-born businessman met Trump in 2003, court records show, when Trump was looking to expand his business and branding organization around the globe.

Why are the anti-Trump forces failing to grasp the import of Sater and his role as an FBI informant as undermining the claim that Trump was conspiring with the Russians? Sater’s role with the FBI has been widely reported:

There is no question that Sater led a double life during the years he worked with the Trump Organization.

In 1998, Sater pleaded guilty to a federal charge of racketeering for his role in a Mafia-linked $40-million stock fraud scheme. He quickly cut a deal, agreeing to become a secret FBI informant in hopes of getting a lenient sentence.

Court records were sealed to protect Sater’s identity, so his role in the fraud case stayed secret for a decade while he was at Bayrock. After a court hearing in 2009, he was fined $25,000 but was not sent to prison or ordered to pay restitution.

Along with press reports regarding Sater’s role with the FBI, we have Sater’s attorney, in a letter sent to Judge Leo Glasser of the Eastern District of NY on 1 September 2005, telling the court that:

. . . Mr. Sater has been involed in on-going cooperation activities with law enforcement agents, and has provided truthful and credible information on a wide variety of criminal activities, some of which has already led to criminal prosecution of others.

Even Obama’s Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, provided Sater cover :

At his sentencing hearing, several FBI officials vouched for Sater’s help. He got his biggest endorsement in January 2015 when Loretta Lynch was asked at her Senate confirmation hearing for U.S. attorney general why court records had been sealed in the fraud case.

If Trump was the target of the FBI, then fair observers must concede that the Bureau has failed during an 18 year period to obtain any incriminating information about Trump and his business practices. Had the FBI been successful, Trump surely would have already been indicted by now in the Southern District of New York and charged with criminal conduct.

Sater’s status as an FBI informant is not an honorary position. It is not a job that entitles the informant to regular social chats with an FBI agent. It is a job that puts the informant in the position of having to help the FBI make criminal cases, including entrapping folks willing to engage in illegal acts. The FBI website describes the informant role:

The courts have recognized that the government’s use of informants is lawful and often essential to the effectiveness of properly authorized law enforcement investigations. However, use of informants to assist in the investigation of criminal activity may involve an element of deception, intrusion into the privacy of individuals, or cooperation with persons whose reliability and motivation may be open to question. Although it is legally permissible for the FBI to use informants in its investigations, special care is taken to carefully evaluate and closely supervise their use so the rights of individuals under investigation are not infringed. The FBI can only use informants consistent with specific guidelines issued by the attorney general that control the use of informants.

And who was in charge of the FBI during all of the time that Sater was a signed up FBI snitch? You got it—Robert Mueller. Let us just stick with the facts—during Mueller’s term (2001 thru 2013) the FBI did not make or bring a case of money laundering against Donald Trump. Yet, during this period, Felix Sater, a fully signed up and operating FBI informant, was trying to cobble together real estate deals with Russians of questionable character. Trump and his organization were not implicated in any of this activity in a way that led the FBI to seek an indictment against them.

Many House Democrats are convinced that there is untapped evidence implicating Trump in a variety of money laundering schemes. But their belief, in my view, is based on a fundamental ignorance about money laundering and financial crimes in general. Tax avoidance, for example, is not money laundering. Highly publicized real estate deals are not the kind of cleaning operation that genuine money launderers embrace. Why? Those kind of deals come with scrutiny and the last thing that criminals with dirty money want is a high profile and public attention.

If you hate Trump and are betting that the Democrat investigative tsunami will bring Trump down, I have a word of advice—don’t bet your house. Donald Trump may be guilty of boorish behavior and brash comments, but the evidence of laundering money for the Russians is not there.

November 25, 2018 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , | 1 Comment

3 Ukrainian navy ships violate Russian border near Crimea, ignore orders to leave – FSB

RT | November 25, 2018

Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) says three Ukrainian navy vessels, violated its border on Sunday morning, and are heading for Kerch Strait that lies between Crimea and mainland Russia.

“This morning at around 7 a.m. Moscow time, three vessels belonging to Ukrainian armed forces violated the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea… to cross the Russian border,” read a statement from Russia’s federal security agency FSB, which is responsible for maintaining the country’s borders.

It said that the ships are sailing towards the Crimea Bridge, but have made no application to pass under it.

The vessels are undertaking dangerous maneuvers, and are not obeying lawful instructions from the Russian authorities.

Adding that they are taking “all necessary security measures” FSB also made public a series of photos of the Ukrainian vessels being escorted by larger Russian patrol ships.

“The purpose of these provocative actions by the Ukrainian navy is to create a conflict situation in the region,” said a statement from the FSB headquarters in Moscow.

The Ukrainian side, which does not recognize Crimea as Russian territory, or the status of its territorial waters, also accused the border forces of a “provocation” during what it said was a planned and routine vessel transfer between the Black Sea and the Azov Sea, which the Kerch Strait separates.

Accusing Moscow of “openly aggressive actions,” the Ukrainian Navy said through its Facebook page that one of the Russian ships rammed its tugboat that accompanied the two armored artillery boats, inflicting significant damage on the vessel.

While tensions between the two navies have run high since Crimea voted to leave Ukraine and join Russia in 2014, they have particularly escalated this year.

The Russian Nord fishing vessel was detained by Ukrainian border guards in March, while the Mekhanik Pogodin oil tanker has been held in the Ukrainian port of Kherson since August, as a result of Kiev-imposed sanctions against Moscow.

Russia has accused Ukraine of “marine terrorism” and in return, its vessels have been subjected to more regular inspections while moving through the Kerch Strait.

In September, Moscow accused another military ship belonging to Ukraine of violating its marine exclusive economic zone, and escorted them out of its waters.

November 25, 2018 Posted by | Aletho News | , | Leave a comment