EU Ministers See Little Reason to Lift Sanctions Against Russia

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BRUSSELS — EU foreign ministers said Monday that there were no grounds to lift economic sanctions against Russia despite conciliatory proposals from the EU’s foreign policy chief as violence intensified in eastern Ukraine.

Federica Mogherini had suggested in a confidential memo that member states could start talking to Russia again about global diplomacy, trade and other issues if Moscow implemented agreements to end the separatist conflict in neighboring Ukraine.

“I don’t think that we now should think how to re-engage. Russia should think how to re-engage,” Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius told reporters as he arrived for a meeting where Mogherini’s paper was to be discussed.

Mogherini’s suggestion has gone down badly with some of the EU’s more hawkish states, such as Lithuania, which suggested it would send the wrong message to Russian President Vladimir Putin that the EU’s resolve was cracking.

The European Union has joined the U.S. in imposing tough sanctions on Russia over its alleged support for the pro-Moscow rebels in Ukraine but the bloc’s 28 member states are divided in their enthusiasm for sanctions.

Linkevicius said there was no reason to change the EU’s policy or to lift sanctions.

With attempts to restart peace talks stalled, rebels have stepped up attacks in the past week and casualties have mounted. Fighting has raged around Donetsk airport.

Danish Foreign Minister Martin Lidegaard said the time was not right for the EU to “give up any sanctions or to send any signals that we are willing to do so, but … we should explore any possibility to find a political solution to this crisis.”

Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom said the EU must hold on to its sanctions on Russia, but it also needed a long-term perspective on engaging with Moscow.

Mogherini said any relaxation of sanctions on Russia would only happen if there were improvements on the ground in Ukraine.

Sebastian Kurz, foreign minister of Austria, on the dovish side of the sanctions debate, said the EU should draw up a strategy to put relations with Russia back on a firm footing in the long term. “It’s not about sharpening or easing sanctions, it’s about coming away from pure reaction … I think it’s false only to be reactive,” he told reporters.

The first sanctions the EU imposed on Russia come up for renewal in March and unanimity is needed to extend them, which may mean more political disputes ahead.

Putin has decided to launch a full-scale war against Ukraine — analyst

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Look, personally, I dont think its going to happen….but….its not impossible.

The reaction of the Russian Foreign Ministry to the escalation of the situation at the Donetsk airport indicates that the Kremlin has launched a media campaign in preparation for a full-scale armed conflict with Ukraine.

Today, when it became quite clear that declarations by the terrorist warlords about gaining control of the Donetsk airport were nothing more than wishful thinking, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) issued a statement accusing the Ukrainian side of violating the Minsk agreements, shelling civilian districts of Donetsk, and so on. There would be nothing new here except for a few details.

First, the Kremlin has announced that, according to the Minsk agreements, it appears the Ukrainian side is supposed to relinquish the Donetsk airport to the terrorists. As the Russian MFA explained: “This issue could not be resolved for a long time because of disagreements regarding several other areas at the battle line. Meanwhile, Ukrainian security forces continued to fire from the Donetsk airport building and other residential areas and as a result civilians were killed, including women and children. Schools, residential buildings, and other civilian structures were destroyed. To stop these criminal acts, the DNR forces have taken control of the airport. However, Ukrainian troops, regardless of the civilian casualties, have launched a full-scale military operation in an attempt to recover this strategic site in order to continue shelling residential areas of Donetsk.”

Second, Russian diplomats noted that in light of recent events, Vladimir Putin has dispatched his “missive” to Petro Poroshenko, insisting that all parties to the conflict must maintain the “regime of silence” and respect the agreements to withdraw heavy artillery from the battle line, but that Poroshenko has rejected this “Putin peace plan.” According to the Russian MFA, “The Ukrainian security forces have rejected the proposals given to them and have renewed the artillery shelling of Donetsk, creating a direct threat to the lives of the civilians and OSCE observers.”

Meanwhile, Russian media has unleashed a new flood of lies about the “Kyiv retaliators.” Thus, the Russian information agency RIA Novosti, citing the Donetsk terrorist leader Aleksandr Zakharchenko, reported that Ukrainian aviation allegedly has been bombing Horlivka using 500-kg bombs. At the same time, Russian political analysts have been dispensing endless commentary on the pages of Russian publications that “the war in the Donbas will continue as long as Kyiv feels immune.”

This entire stream of falsehoods appears to be an informational preparation for a full-scale war with Ukraine. The Kremlin’s messages are intended primarily for ordinary Russians in order imprint the following scenes on their brains: “Kyiv, incited by its Washington master, has treacherously violated the Minsk peace agreement, ignoring all appeals for a ceasefire by the peace-loving Putin and has continued a particularly brutal and cynical operation in the Donbas, massively destroying the Russian-speaking population. In this situation, Russia simply has no other choice than to intervene in order to force Ukraine to accept peace and to rescue the people in the Donbas from the bloody revenge of the junta.”

It is quite likely that Putin will not dare launch an outright invasion. This is why the responsibility for “punishing Ukraine” will rest with the “lost paratroopers” and the “little green men” without insignia. However, there is no way that this secret war will avoid the “cargo 200″ transports (Russian casualties — Ed.). Therefore, the main goal of Putin’s message is to psychologically prepare Russians to accept the caskets of their friends and relatives.

However, this new disguised Russian invasion is not the only possible scenario. The quotes from Putin’s message to Poroshenko that have been released by the Russian MFA suggest that a final decision has not yet been reached by the Kremlin dictator. Otherwise, the Russian president would hardly appeal to the OSCE promising to cooperate with international organizations in monitoring the ceasefire. “I propose that both sides — Ukrainian security forces and the Donbas militias (DNR and LNR) — take immediate steps to stop reciprocal shelling and immediately abandon the use of firearms with 100 mm or more calibers, as established by the Minsk memorandum of September 19, 2014, based on the actual passage of the battle line according to the attached map… In turn, we will be ready to organize the monitoring of these steps together with the OSCE,” Putin declared.

It appears that Putin fears the consequences of another escalation after all, and is leaving himself some room for maneuver if Kyiv proves to be more compliant. However, the likelihood that these developments will occur is not very high.

Russia ‘plans to steal Ukrainian gas’ using offshore drilling rig

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A gas company in Russian-occupied Crimea is pushing ahead with plans to drill for gas offshore, potentially extracting every year $50 million worth of Ukrainian gas that Ukraine no longer has the means to exploit.

Chernomorneftegaz, which was legally a subsidiary of Ukraine’s state-owned oil and gas company Naftogaz Ukrainy, but which was seized by the region’s parliament after the 2014 Crimean invasion, announced in December 2014 its plans to resume drilling operations on two wells in the Odesa gas field.

They will be put in operation in January, enabling the company to increase annual production by 146 million cubic meters of gas, which has an approximate value of $50 million based on the current prices, Ukrainian information web portal Nashі Hroshі reports.

Drilling and production is to be carried out at the Odeske gas field, which is located on the continental shelf of Ukraine, less than 100 kilometers away from the Ukrainian coast, whereas the nearest coastal point to Crimea is more than 150 km away.

Extraction work is to be carried out by the self-elevating floating drilling rigs vessel the Peter Godovanets, which Ukraine purchased for $400 million in 2011, at a price almost twice as expensive as the producer’s price.

Because of the scandal over the rig’s purchase, it became known informally as the Boyko Tower after the then Energy Minister Yuriy Boyko. It was his department that was engaged in the rig’s acquisition.

In 2014, drilling rigs and other assets of the Ukrainian state company Chernomorneftegaz were seized during the Russian annexation of the Crimea. Since then, Chernomorneftegaz has extracted 1.5 billion cubic meters of gas over nine months, while making plans to increase its output by means of gas extracted from Ukrainian territory.


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I cant confirm this is true….but…here it is..

Vladimir Putin has been silent lately. But if anyone thought he had been shamed into defeat or marginalized, then think again.

In the last few hours Russia has announced two key strategic decisions that show they are not going to stand idly by while their economy and way of life are destroyed by Western forces.

First, presumably in response to stiff sanctions leveled by the United States and the European Union after the annexation of Crimea last year, Russia has cut off 60% of Europe’s gas supplies right in the middle of winter. This has caused an almost immediate crisis in six European nations that have seen a complete cut-off to their supplies – Bulgaria, Greece, Macedonia, Romania, Croatia and Turkey – with more to follow. According to reports via Zero Hedge, the effect has been almost instantaneous.

Without Russia residents across Europe have no way of staying warm.

Vladimir Putin ordered the Russian state energy giant Gazprom to cut supplies to and through Ukraine amid accusations, according to The Daily Mail, that its neighbor has been siphoning off and stealing Russian gas. Due to these “transit risks for European consumers in the territory of Ukraine,” Gazprom cut gas exports to Europe by 60%, plunging the continent into an energy crisis “within hours.” Perhaps explaining the explosion higher in NatGas prices (and oil) today, gas companies in Ukraine confirmed that Russia had cut off supply; and six countries reported a complete shut-off of Russian gas. The EU raged that the sudden cut-off to some of its member countries was “completely unacceptable,” but Gazprom CEO Alexey Miller later added that Russia plans to shift all its natural gas flows crossing Ukraine to a route via Turkey; and Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak stated unequivocally, “the decision has been made.”
Russia has taken similar steps in the past because of non-payment but turned the gas supplies back on once deals were reached.

This time, however, there won’t be a deal.

Russia says it will deliver the gas through Turkey, and then it’s up to the European Union to build the infrastructure that will transport it to the rest of the continent, as noted by Bloomberg.

“Transit risks for European consumers on the territory of Ukraine remain,” Miller said in an e-mailed statement. “There are no other options” except for the planned Turkish Stream link, he said.

“We have informed our European partners, and now it is up to them to put in place the necessary infrastructure starting from the Turkish-Greek border,” Miller said.

“The decision has been made,” Novak said. “We are diversifying and eliminating the risks of unreliable countries that caused problems in past years, including for European consumers.”
Europe, of course, does not have the necessary infrastructure in place for this, and Vladimir Putin most certainly knew this before he shut off the spigots.

Second, and perhaps even more significant than the overt move to show Europe who’s boss, Putin took a direct shot at the United States.

Also from Zero Hedge:

As Bloomberg reports Russia “may unseal its $88 billion Reserve Fund and convert some of its foreign-currency holdings into rubles, the latest government effort to prop up an economy veering into its worst slump since 2009.”

These are dollars which Russia would have otherwise recycled into US denominated assets. Instead, Russia will purchase even more Rubles and use the proceeds for FX and economic stabilization purposes.

“Together with the central bank, we are selling a part of our foreign-currency reserves,” Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said in Moscow today. “We’ll get rubles and place them in deposits for banks, giving liquidity to the economy.”

Call it less than amicable divorce, call it what you will: what it is, is Russia violently leaving the ranks of countries that exchange crude for US paper.
What we are seeing are the strategic moves that will eventually catalyze the next great war. And make no mistake, this is exactly what’s in store for the world should these escalations continue.

Why Is Donetsk Airport So Important?

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As of writing, after having almost lost Donetsk’s poor, battered airport to rebel forces, the Ukrainian army seems to have launched a counter-attack which has at least stabilised the situation, and may even mean they will take it back in its entirety. This is ‘proper’ war in all its boy’s own pyrotechnics, with armour, artillery and close-quarters fighting, and has left the recently-rebuilt and once-glittering airport a blasted ruin. So why is it so important?

1. Symbolism. Kiev’s forces have, to be charitable, a mixed record in fighting this conflict. Regardless of the scale of Russian assistance to the rebels–sometimes in the form of direct intervention, largely through men and materiel–the government forces have often seemed badly-prepared, unable to follow through local successes and, frankly, badly commanded. The “cyborgs” defending the beleaguered airport for so long, despite near-constant threat of snipers, artillery and outright assault, have been conspicuous in their resolution. For them to have lost the airport, that advance intrusion into the heart of the rebellion, would have been a serious blow to their morale and the credibility of the government, as well as a fillip for the DNR at a time when its backing in Moscow looks under some pressure.

2. Supply. One of the clear aims of successive government offensives has been to isolate Donetsk or at least to be able to do more to interdict resupply to the city. Luhansk is one thing, but Donetsk is the real heart of the rebellion. If they were able to encircle the city, they could besiege it, and while one hopes they would not violate international law and try to starve it, they could at least seek to prevent the resupply of weapons and ammunition. Modern warfare is voracious in its demands for logistical support, and the capacity of the rebels to maintain the kind of high-tempo attacks we’ve seen of late would be severely affected. Sure, they wouldn’t run out of bullets for a long time, but the Grad rockets and similar artillery support they’ve deployed would have to be used much more sparingly.

However, if the rebels controlled the airport, and could clear it enough to be even marginally useable (and let’s face it, for all their crudity at times, Soviet/Russian transports are typically better at rough landings), Moscow acquired the air resupply option. Let’s say they mounted their own “Berlin Airlift”, with white-painted aircraft they say are just bringing in relief supplies for the poor, hungry citizens of Donetsk. This would pose a tricky military/political dilemma for Kiev. Let the planes through and allow the Russians to resupply DNR forces with impunity? Or try to block the flights and look heartless and, worse yet, maybe ending up shooting down a plane and give Moscow a casus belli and something that would make the MH17 shootdown history?