May 03, 2008

Copy-Cat Attack on Karzai

- International Terrorism Monitor---Paper No. 390

By B. Raman

President John F. Kennedy of the US was assassinated on November 22, 1963, at Dallas, Texas, as he was being taken in a tightly-protected motorcade. In view of the strict access control, which might not have allowed access to his car, Lee Harvey Oswald, the assassin, took up position in an unoccupied room on the sixth floor of the Texas Book Repository and fired at Kennedy. The incident highlighted the need for perimeter security, meaning the physical security of buildings in the vicinity of a VIP motorcade or a place of meeting of the VIP to prevent anyone taking shelter in a building and opening fire.

2.On October 6, 1981, the then President Anwar Sadat of Egypt was assassinated during the annual 6th October parade in Cairo marking the eighth anniversary of what the Egyptians view as their victory over Israel in the Yom Kippur war of 1973. As Sadat and his security staff were engrossed watching a spectacular fly-past in the sky, Khalid Islambouli of the Islamic Jihad, who was a member of the military formations participating in the parade, ran towards Sadat and shot him dead. Eleven others were also killed by other terriorists, who indiscriminately opened fire

3. The subsequent investigation brought out that a fatwa ordering the assassination had been issued by Omar Abdel-Rahman, a blind cleric who is presently in jail in the US after having been convicted for his role in the New York World Centre explosion of February 1993. Over 300 members of the Islamic jihad were arrested and prosecuted by the Egyptian authorities. Prominent among them were Dy. Ayman al-Zawahiri, the present No.2 of Al Qaeda, who now operates from the tribal areas of Pakistan, Omar Abdel Rahman and Abd al-Hamid Kishk. Zawahiri and Omar were released by the Egyptian authorities in 1984. Both of them travelled, along with a brother of Islambouli, to Pakistan and offered their services to Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in the jihad against the Soviet troops. The ISI recruited them and sent them to Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden joined them subsequently. They were later to constitute the initial hard core of Al Qaeda.

4. Some of the perpetrators of the attack, which killed Sadat, were allegedly members of the Egyptian Army. The investigation brought out that they participated in the parade carrying weapons loaded with live ammunition. The security precaution of a pre-parade inspection of all weapons carried by those participating in a parade to ensure that no weapon was loaded with ammunition was introduced by security agencies of the world thereafter.

5. The modus operandi (MO) used in the attempt to kill President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan during a national day parade at Kabul on April 27, 2008, partly resembles the MO used by Oswald for killing Kennedy and partly the MO used by the Islamic Jihad of Egypt for killing Sadat. The perpetrators decided to strike during the parade held to mark the 16th anniversary of the collapse of the Government of then President Najibullah, which led to the occupation of Kabul by the Mujahideen. During such spectacular parades, the attention of the security staff tends to get diverted by the spectacle, thereby providing the would-be assassin with an opportunity to strike. However, since the access control in the parade ground was apparently tight, the perpetrators took up position in a room of a low-class hotel normally used by migrant labour, which was located about 500 metres from the saluting base, and opened fire with machine guns and grenade launchers.

6. They opened fire at the moment when Mr.Karzai had returned to the base after inspecting the formations, which were to participate in the parade.His personal security guards managed to have him removed safely out of the parade ground without his being hurt. There was an exchange of fire between other security personnel posted in the parade ground and the perpetrators. The security personnel ultimately managed to stop the firing from the building, raid it and make a number of arrests.

7. A self-styled spokesman of the Neo Taliban has claimed responsibility for the terrorist strike and said that a team of six persons participated in the operation of whom three died and the other three managed to escape. A tribal elder on the stage was directly hit and killed by the terrorist fire. A member of parliament, who was injured, succumbed to his injuries later. A 10-year-old child, which was reportedly hit by a bullet fired by the security personnel, also died.

8. While Afghan security sources have projected the incident as an attempt to kill Mr. Karzai, the Neo Taliban has projected it as an operation to demonstrate its capability even in Kabul, despite all the security precautions taken by the Government. The incident has revealed serious deficiencies in route security and perimeter security. The deficiencies in route security enabled six terrorists heavily armed enter the city and reach the hotel without being detected and intercepted anywhere. The deficiencies in perimeter security enabled the perpetrators to take up position in a room of the hotel without being detected and fire from there.

9. Apart from these physical security deficiencies, was there also a complicity by any members of the security forces? That is a question, which should be worrying the Afghan authorities. In Iraq, many successful terrorist strikes have been made possible by internal complicity. In Afghanistan, till now, there have been few instances of such complicity.

10. It has to be stressed that while the Neo Taliban's capability to carry out terrorist strikes in different parts of the country, including Kabul, has remained unimpaired, its capability for large-scale conventional actions involving stand-and-fight battles with large numbers of its men deployed has not been much in evidence this year as compared to 2006-07. The death of Mulla Dadullah, a very competent conventional commander, in a clash in May, 2007, seems to have impaired the Neo Taliban's capability for conventional fighting. It has not yet been able to produce a commander with a similar capability.

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail:

Security Threats Facing India: External and Internal

by A. K. Verma

Threats are a matter of perception. Their assessments take into account capacities, not so much intentions, of a potential adversary. For an accurate reading, the short term and long term objectives of all leading players in the world have to be judged.

Applying this criterion will reveal that India is living in an environment of threat from many corners of the earth.

Is there a threat from the United States? To answer the question one must first identify the basic interests of the US and then examine whether similar interests of India are supplementary or contradictory to those of the US. An objective study will lead to the conclusion whether the relation ship between the two countries is essentially benevolent or malignant.

The broad national interests of the US can be summed as the following:

1. Geopolitical containment of Russia and China.

2. Nonproliferation.

3. Countering and eradicating Islamism or radical Islam.

4. Maintaining access to and dominating control of energy sources

In each of these areas the US is seeking to co-opt India as a junior partner. Since Indian interests do not necessarily dovetail into those of the US, a potential collision lurks in the background.

US possibly views China as the single most potent long term threat to its continued domination of the world. It is, therefore, presently engaged in building coalitions to hamstring it from all directions. The US wants to develop India as an ally in this effort. Although India has its own fundamental differences with China, these do not go to the extent that it should play any role in the US strategy. An implicit threat in the relationship thus emerges.

Non proliferation has been an article of faith with all recent US administrations that have been deeply unhappy with the Indian nuclear weapons programme. They want this programme to be capped, rolled back and eliminated. There have been some studies, commissioned by neo cons in the US, which have even suggested that it could be bombed out. A war was launched against Iraq, under the guise of dismantling its non existent WMDs (Weapons of Mass Destruction). Today, the dominant view in the neo con circles in Washington DC favours aerial strikes against Iran to knock its nuclear facilities to eradicate a possible nuclear programme. How can one assume that the Indian programme, if it is resumed, will forever remain unthreatened?

The US war on Islamism, fought in the name of terrorism, has brought NATO, one suspects, as a permanent presence in Afghanistan. For the US it also serves the collateral purpose of offering a checkmate to China. This war seems to be leading to a gradual polarization of the world into Islamic and non Islamic and could indeed set in a clash of civilizations. The impact of such a development on South Asia will be devastating. Afghanistan is already deeply radicalized. If anti American sentiment can be treated as an index to measure propensity towards radicalism, Pakistan is also affected. A radical fringe can now be identified in India also. The US policies on issues relating to Islam have, thus, a potential for destabilization of communal harmony in South Asia.

A resurgent Russia has put paid to US energy related ambitions in the Central Asian Republics but in the energy belt in West Asia, the latter remains dominant. The American enterprise in Iraq was propelled actually by a desire to strengthen this domination. There is an American effort now to block the growth of Iranian gas and oil markets. Indian oil energy needs to the extent of 70% are met from foreign sources. This requirement is expected to rise to 90% at not too distant a date. The US frowns at possibilities of expansion of India Iran linkages in this sector. In today’s world energy security is needed to reach human developmental goals and economic prosperity. But US eyes it as a strategic weapon. A conflictual environment is, thus, already created.

While all that stated above does not amount to a totality of adverse relations, it is necessary not to ignore these factors while determining policy in India. One should not forget the abiding security dictum: there are only permanent interests, no permanent friends. Further, the ‘transformational diplomacy’ of the Neocons aims at converting nation states into American clones.

In the field of external relations two other countries stand out, meriting continuous scrutiny and caution, China and Pakistan. Unlike the US, there have been violent ups and downs in India’s relationship with them. One, therefore, must attempt to discover what the core problems are.

Looking at China first, its core concern is maintaining its integrity, territorial or otherwise, while it moves dynamically forward to build up its economic, political and military strengths. It seems to it that its strongest challenges will emanate from the US, seen to be encircling it from all directions with the help of its allies, and wanting to force a democratic wave within China, also targeting for loosening of its hold over Tibet and Xinjiang. In the game of diplomatic chess that has emerged China wants to ensure that no lending hand is given to the US by India. It seeks to achieve this objective by keeping India off balance. It has developed Pakistan as its Israel against India, extending nuclear and missile technology, all directed 100% against India. More than collaboration with the US, China fears India over the possible roles it can play around Tibet. As long as fires of Tibetan nationalism burn in Tibet and a diaspora of over 100,000 Tibetans, mostly well educated and politically aware, with Dalai Lama providing a focus, shelter in India, China will view India with grave suspicions. There is no way by which India can succeed in removing such mistrust from the Chinese mind.

While the resulting state of unease may not lead to a war as in 1962, it certainly blocks progress on the border settlement and withdrawal of territorial claims such as over Arunachal Pradesh and. Aksaichin. As of today, one may not be off the mark to state that China India relationship will remain a hostage to China’s crisis with Tibet.

The threat from Pakistan is altogether of a different kind. It is not an exaggeration to say that this threat commenced from the day Pakistan came into existence. It was inherent in the two nation theory, propounded anywhere in the world for the first time, to divide a multi-religious and multi-cultural nation, on a religious basis. An impossible task had been attempted, considering the size of India and its population, religion wise.

The attempt succeeded in carving out a religious majority area, already existing, as a new nation, but the rump India still remained a many layered multi-religious and multi-cultural society. The two nation theory encouraged Pakistan to lay a claim over J&K State. Beginning with tribal incursions of late 1947, Pakistan has fought several wars to wrest the state out of Indian control. A proxy war continues even today.

This continued quest has completely reoriented the psyche of Pakistani people and re-aligned all instruments of governance and policy- making in Pakistan against India. The text books in schools and colleges, the entire military doctrine and the entire focus of its nuclear weapon development program is centered against India. The ruling establishment in Pakistan has had to rely more and more on Islam and ‘Islampasand’ parties to keep the nation under its control. Islam is now so deeply embedded in the corridors of power that none in Pakistan can ignore the Islamic perspective. From the Pakistani view point there is no solution to the Kashmir question other than its amalgamation into Pakistan, a position which India can never accept, since any such scenario can ignite a chain reaction of separation in India. The problems between India and Pakistan will thus, remain insoluble, until Pakistan modifies its commitment to two nation theory. The prospects for such a change are absolutely minimal, because demolition of two nation theory means that Pakistan looses its raison-de-etre.

The Pakistani designs against India have created a vast range of threats. Almost all movements within the country, agitating against the centre for political reasons have received support by way of finances, training, arms, guidance and shelter from Pakistani intelligence, ISI. Within Pakistan itself Islamist groups have been created or supported by ISI for sabotage, subversion and terrorism in India. ISI with its surrogate Wahabi groups is now targeting Indian Muslims to get them involved in questionable activities. Whilst under US pressure Pakistan has somewhat relented on its support to Islamic radicals operating against the US, it has abstained from a similar downsizing of its activities against India.

What may one expect from the new configuration in Pakistan after the recent elections? There is no evidence yet that key changes are in the offing. The President retains all his powers as of old. He derives his strength from the military which, while it seems to have moved backstage, has not shed any substantive power. A new era will not dawn in Pakistan until the military is truly confined to the barracks. Till that happens, perceptions of threats from Pakistan must remain as before.

On India’s borders exist other failed or failing states which create deep security concerns. Recent (10.04.08) elections to the Constituent Assembly (CA) in Nepal have pitch forked the Maoists in the leadership position for the first time for government formation. Their immediate objectives in the foreseeable future can be expected to be consolidation and management of CA deliberations to facilitate their smooth assimilation with polity and power in Nepal. Externally, their objectives will to redefine Nepal’s relations with neighbours and other powers. Inevitablly it will mean loss of India’s pre-eminent position in Nepal, with scrapping of mutual privileges. Covert support to Indian Maoists had not been on their agenda in the past and is not likely to be there in future while the process of consolidation is on. But transformation is never without some turbulence and hiccups. As they arise, they will need to be settled with foresight and patience.

Unease with Bangladesh is not likely to end as their response on two major Indian security concerns remain negative, illegal infiltration into India and promotion of cross border terrorism. Bangladesh’s asymmetry with India and its extreme sense of inferiority vis-à-vis India contribute in a big way to these problems. The demographic aggression is a direct result of the pathetic poverty of Bangladesh. Infiltration has significantly altered the population patterns in the border areas of India and constitutes a long-term risk. The Bangladesh situation calls for a holistic approach from India, combining a compassionate approach to help in its developmental objectives with firmness where security gets compromised.

In Srilanka, India is caught between the devil and the deep sea. The best solution for the crisis there would have been autonomy to Tamils in the North East provinces in a federal setup with a guaranteed and substantive devolution of power between the provinces and the centre. The moment seems to have been missed and Srilanka appears to be seeking a military option. India is left painted in a corner, unable to take any initiative on behalf of either side. After Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, public opinion in India is not very sympathetic towards the LTTE but if misfortune continuously chases Srilankan Tamils, there will be calls to come out with a response.

The internal scene in India is also not free from anxiety on the threat front. Growth of Naxalism has been declared by the Prime minister to be the top internal security problem of the country.

Roots of Naxalism, now known as Maoism, predate independence and now affect about 150 districts spread over 13 states. It has grown to this strength on account of cumulative wrongs, absence of social and eco reforms to ensure human dignity, justice and democratic rights to the rural and forest tribal populations of the country. The movement is seeking to establish a contiguous area from Karnataka to Nepal border to set up a compact revolutionary zone and is now well militarized. It will be a mistake to think that the movement can be countered by armed means alone. Ways have to be found to include the Maoists in the main stream and to fulfill the rising expectations of the rural and tribal people through better governance and a paradigm shift in administrative and development strategies, to ensure a better delivery.

Subversion is another form of threat the Indian State is facing from several quarters . In J&K it takes the shape of a proxy war led by militant outfits operating from the safety of sanctuaries in Pakistan, at the behest of the Pakistani establishment. Despite the so called peace process between India and Pakistan, the thrust in this assault remains as sharp and purposeful as before. It is expanding and making inroads into the rest of the country. It wants to transmute itself into what has been dubbed as New Terrorism, mindless destruction of lives and property, merely for spectacular results. New Terrorism will employ WMDs if it can lay its hands on them. Its foreign promoters are eyeing the Indian Muslim community as a fertile field for recruitment of agents. The Pakistani masters try to distort faith by sowing concepts that such terrorism is ultimately a service to the wider community. This in turn promotes sectarian tensions. It is not clear whether the dangers inherent in this Pakistani strategy have been fully comprehended or conceptualized in India. The recent Deoband fatwa, outlawing terrorism, while laudable, does not go deep into the question, whether doctrinal injunctions create a mindset disfavouring growth of liberalism which will offset terrorism. The Muslim community in India needs to be encouraged to examine why it remains out of step with contemporaneous concepts and ideas that can ensure such virtues as gender equality, freedom of expression and keeping religion and state out of each other’s way.

The turbulence in the North Eastern states of India is another form of subversion, orchestrated by foreign agencies, notably Pakistani. No doubt the militants in these states, principally Tripura, Assam, Manipur and Nagaland have long standing local grievances but there is an ongoing effort in most cases by the Central Government to deal with these through dialogue and counter insurgency. Cross border connections, guidance, financing and arming often put a spanner into such efforts.

Maoism and foreign subversion pose strong challenges but the idea that is India remains strong. Nobody can say that India is not an admirably successful example of a multi ethnic, multi religious, multi lingual and pluralist entity in motion. However, interplay of politics and corruption and absence of good governance, a must for efficient security, remains a big blot on India’s record and add to the existentialist threats, facing India from various directions.

(The author can be reached at

Russia’s view of US missiles

‘A world in which there is one master, one sovereign’

Le Monde diplomatique.

To Moscow, the US bases about to be installed in Poland and the Czech Republic look like less like defence against incoming missiles from rogue states, and more like encirclement of Russia and a return to the costly arms race of the cold war.

By Olivier Zajec

The extension of the United States’ National Missile Defence system to Europe has played a significant role in increasing tensions between Russia and the West in the past year. Under recent agreements with Washington, the Czech Republic is to host a missile-defence radar system near its border with Germany at Jince. Warsaw has also agreed to site interceptor missiles in northern Poland (1). The US has justified these plans by citing the need to protect itself and Europe from possible ballistic missile attack by Iran.

Most Poles and Czechs are sceptical about whether this is necessary, and Nato, which has been working on missile-defence plans of its own, has been sidestepped by the US bilateral agreements. There has been no official response from the European Union. Only Russia has openly voiced its objections. The hostile sabre-rattling of Russia’s political and military leaders has been picked up by western media, but without putting the reasons for Russia’s reaction into perspective: it’s too easy for the media to over-dramatise the situation with talk of a new cold war. But if you look beyond missile defence in Europe, it is possible to identify three key factors that explain Russia’s stance.
Balance of power between US and Russia

The first relates to the future balance of power between Russia and the US, put in doubt by the rapid development of the American National Missile Defence system. The decision to press ahead with this followed the Bush administration’s unilateral withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty in 2002. This, dating from 1972, limited the US development of anti-missile defences with the aim of preserving the nuclear balance of power. It was an obvious target for the neocons who wanted the US, as the world’s only superpower, to have complete freedom of action over its defences. As a result, the National Missile Defence programme was officially restarted on 17 December 2002 (2).

For the Russian Federation’s leaders, who inherited the USSR’s strategic mindset if not its ideology, the ABM treaty had long been the cornerstone of US-Russian equilibrium, since whichever of the two countries attacked the other first would also itself be annihilated (the doctrine of “mutually assured destruction”). The treaty preserved the strategic balance through being both fair and potentially deadly. It helped keep Russia satisfied, especially during its turmoil in the 1990s. The only serious challenge to it was the Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI), the “Star Wars” programme that President Ronald Reagan launched in 1983. But after the cold war the SDI programme, which had grown out of control without reaching completion, was scaled down. In reduced form it was taken forward under the new name of Global Protection against Limited Strikes by George Bush Snr and Bill Clinton.

The US unilateral withdrawal from the ABM treaty in 2002 shocked Russia’s leaders and meant the period of sympathy between Vladimir Putin and George Bush Jnr after 9/11 lasted barely two months. The Russians felt that the Americans had taken advantage of the tragedy in New York and the war on terror to change the rules of the game. After the US withdrawal from the treaty came the “colour revolutions” in former Soviet republics, the US push in central Asia and the invasion of Iraq. All of these aggravated Russia’s sense of being outnumbered and outflanked as room for manoeuvre diminished.

The fragility of the balance of power has been keenly felt by Moscow, not least because the US missile defence programme has highlighted the risk of a gulf between the countries’ military capabilities. Russian defence analysts point to the billions of dollars the US spends each year on these projects ($9.6bn in 2008), widening a gap which may become unbridgeable. National Missile Defence is a top-flight research programme which funds many US research institutes and allows Washington to get ahead in a domain the US considers vital – the arming of space.

Both Moscow and Beijing have denounced this policy, seeing it, probably rightly, as the means by which the US hopes to maintain the strategic and technological advantage it enjoyed as sole world superpower at the end of the cold war. But the Russians could be accused of exaggerating the current stakes. Russia’s defence and national security are based on a non-conventional arsenal which may have shrunk in size since the cold war, but is now of significantly higher quality, and includes tactical ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and anti-missile defences. The SS-27 Topol-M surface-to-surface missile is typical of the updating of defence capability: it has a range of 10,000km and can carry multiple MIRV (multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicle) warheads.

When its programme is complete – around 2020 according to recent estimates – Russia will have a fleet of 10 submarines capable of launching missiles, and around 100 long-range ballistic missiles. The whole arsenal will consist of 500-600 nuclear warheads. Add its air capacity, and Russia will have nearly 2,000 nuclear warheads available. This, backed with an enhanced range of conventional weaponry, such as Kh-555 cruise missiles, which have a 5,000km range, could not be neutralised by US anti-missile defences. Russia is currently the only country with a more or less viable anti-missile system capable of defending at least part of its territory. It is improving its defences with the S-400 Triumph programme and an upgrade of the radar alert system deployed around Moscow. Russia’s offensive and defensive capability can protect it from a pre-emptive US strike. But although the Kremlin may be overstating its concerns over shifts in the balance of power in eastern Europe, it remains worried about a widening gap between Russia and the US in the long term.
Future threats

The second factor influencing Moscow’s position stems from its perception of the origin of future global threats. Russia takes a different view of the international situation from the US and some European countries: from the Kremlin’s point of view the situation in Iran, while needing careful monitoring, may develop differently from western predictions. President Putin took pains to elaborate his position at the 43rd Munich Conference on Security Policy on 10 March 2007: “Missile weapons with a range of about 5,000 to 8,000km that really pose a threat to Europe do not exist in any of the ‘problem countries’. And in the near future, this will not happen and is not even foreseeable. And any hypothetical launch of, for example, a North Korean rocket to American territory through western Europe obviously contradicts the laws of ballistics. As we say in Russia, it would be like using the right hand to reach the left ear.” Putin’s speech effectively dismissed the US justification for anti-missile systems, the threat from rogue states armed with WMDs capable of attacking Europe (3).
Fears of containment

As Russia sees it, if the danger from rogue states is neither immediate nor credible, the US anti-missile programme in Europe can only come down to the desire to contain a re-emergent Russia within its borders. Since Nato’s eastward expansion began in the 1990s, the strategic imbalance in Europe has seemed ever more pronounced to Russian eyes, as a growing number of states (Romania, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Poland, the Czech Republic and the Baltic states) sign bilateral military agreements with the US.

But the geopolitics of eastern Europe gives only a partial impression of the thinking that underpins the US anti-missile defence system. Russia’s concerns seem better founded if you look at the US system as a whole. There are two main axes running from the North Pole, along which a series of active or planned interceptor sites and pursuit and warning radars are located.

The first axis exists to defend the western US against a North Korean threat. There are missiles on the Vandenberg base in California, interceptors at Fort Greely in Alaska and the Cobra Dane radar on the Aleutian Islands, as well as a radar system in the Sea of Japan, as near the potential threat as possible. The second axis, which defends the east of the US against the perceived threat from Iran, is studded with missile sites near Boston and others in Greenland. The missing piece is a radar site nearer Iran, capable of intercepting a missile aimed at the US in its early boost phase. Hence the need for the radar site at Jince in the Czech Republic.

But is this base really the answer? The US would be better served by radar close to the source of the threat, say in Georgia or Azerbaijan, which is what Russia proposed at the G8 summit in June 2007, near the start of the European anti-missile controversy. It even offered to put the base at Gadala, which Russia rents from the Azeris, at the disposal of the US. This would also have provided defence against any threat from Pakistan, an unstable nuclear power whose ballistic capabilities are much greater than Iran’s. Bush called the Russian offer “very sincere” and “innovative” but turned it down, insisting on the importance of Poland and the Czech Republic as an integral part of the defence system.

Russian leaders must be wondering: if a radar in Azerbaijan is not the answer, why not one in eastern Turkey, a historic bulwark of Nato? To the Kremlin, the motive is clear: insistence on the Iranian threat is just a pretext. The choice of Poland and the Czech Republic is a matter of extending US influence, a diplomatic manoeuvre to encircle Russia. This presumed US hypocrisy over strategy in Europe, where Moscow feels it has already given many concessions, masks other potential points of agreement between the Kremlin and the West: Russia too has worries about China in the medium term, India remains an ally, and it views Pakistan as an unpredictable state and international jihadism as a threat. In these respects Russia is closer to the Western outlook than is usually admitted.
Why Moscow is mistrustful

But two critical points provoke Russia’s mistrust. There is the rhetoric surrounding the “axis of evil”: Moscow has denounced its counter-productive effects, which end up backing the targeted regimes into a corner. There is Russia’s feeling of being encircled, especially on its western borders. For Moscow, the far-reaching and irreversible links which the US NMD system is establishing in Europe, without regard for the interests of the continent, threaten European autonomy.

The anti-missile defence programme in Europe is a chess game in which each side is thinking several moves ahead. On the Kremlin’s side, the long term extends beyond 2025, when the disparity between Moscow and Washington’s capability and technology could threaten Russian strategic autonomy. Despite its current comparatively good financial position, Russia does not want to repeat the mistake it made during the Star Wars era, when it had to struggle to catch up with the US, ultimately costing the USSR its empire. Vladimir Putin and his successor as president, Dmitri Medvedev, would prefer to intervene preventatively at this stage and dissuade possible European partners from getting too intimately involved with the US in the first place. This explains recent Russian threats to turn its missiles towards Poland, Ukraine (4) and the Baltic states, if they go ahead with the US system. At a meeting with the Ukrainian prime minister on 13 January 2008, Putin warned: “We will be obliged to redirect our missiles at installations which we firmly believe pose a threat to our national security. I am obliged to say this openly and honestly today.”

It also explains a major decision taken by Russia in December 2007 in suspending its adherence to the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe treaty between Nato and the Warsaw Pact. (Russia will no longer permit inspections or exchange information on its deployments, which caused consternation across Europe.) It explains the constant stream of comments by Russian generals, from reasoned (if not always reasonable) statements from the current top brass to aggressive posturing by cold war dinosaurs. While it has moderated some of the dinosaurs’ roaring, the Kremlin hasn’t denounced their substance. It has steered a middle course: appearing to be holding its anti-US old guard in check, while keeping up the pressure on Washington during the dying days of a weakened US administration bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The effects of the Russian counter-offensive are beginning to be felt: already the Ukrainian president, Viktor Yushchenko, as well as Donald Tusk’s new Polish government, which has been keen to improve relations with the EU, Germany and Russia since coming to power in 2007, are worrying about what the US will do after the presidential elections. A Democratic administration wouldn’t abandon the principle of a National Missile Defence, but will it press ahead with a plan which has marginalised Nato and been the cause of European concern and Russian anger?

The outcome of the anti-missile question in Europe will be determined by three factors. First, the strong US desire to see an anti-missile capability in Europe, which is unlikely to disappear even with a change of administration in Washington. Second, the necessity of taking the Russian viewpoint into account. The Europeans are especially sensitive to this (5), since Russia is a near neighbour and an energy supplier, but for the moment they haven’t dared to cross the US. Third, a clarification of the decision-making process which is part of the US system: whose finger will be on the button (6)? Who will decide how the interceptors are to be programmed? What happens, in the event of deployment, to the debris that falls back to earth?

Given the apathy of the EU, perhaps Nato is the forum in which a resolution will be worked out. It provided the framework in which Russia was already working on ballistic anti-missile defence plans before the current controversy. It would also provide a context in which the Europeans could participate directly in strategic and technical development. But in order to overcome the current controversies, all parties would have to look beyond the current bilateral agreements.

Moscow continues to blow hot and (more often) cold. This is how Putin summed up his viewpoint: “What is a unipolar world?... at the end of the day it refers to one type of situation, namely one centre of authority, one centre of force, one centre of decision-making. It is a world in which there is one master, one sovereign... this is pernicious not only for all those within this system, but also for the sovereign itself because it destroys itself from within” (7). This is an area in which the former USSR can speak from experience. Despite the clear subtext and evident bad faith on Russia’s part, Europe – if it wants to preserve its strategic autonomy – cannot afford to ignore this warning.

Translated by George Miller

Olivier Zajec is a consultant for the Compagnie européenne d’intelligence stratégique (CEIS), Paris

(1) The first interceptor could be operational by 2011.

(2) For more on the origins and ideology of the National Missile Defence programme, see “Missiles and the American psyche”, Le Monde diplomatique, English edition, July 2007.

(3) Russia does not, however, underestimate Iran’s ability to develop an intercontinental missile by 2030.

(4) Ukraine submitted an application to join Nato’s Membership Action Plan in January 2008.

(5) Especially Germany, which is keen to refocus the debate on Nato. Germany’s concerns are shared by Belgium, Holland and even Canada.

(6) It is currently planned that the system will be run from a control centre in Colorado under the aegis of United States Strategic Command.

(7) Speech given by Vladimir Putin at the 43rd Munich Conference on Security Policy, 10 February 2007.

De Gaulle, Nato and France

‘A world in which there is one master, one sovereign’

Le Monde diplomatique.

More than 40 years ago de Gaulle took the decision to withdraw from Nato’s military command. President Sarkozy has promised to reverse that decision.

By Dominique Vidal

“France considers that the changes which have been accomplished or begun since 1949 in Europe, Asia and elsewhere, together with the development of her own situation and her strength, no longer justify from her point of view the military arrangements made after the conclusion of the Alliance.”

On 7 March 1966 Charles de Gaulle, who had defeated François Mitterrand three months earlier and been re-elected president of France, announced to US president Lyndon B Johnson the withdrawal of his country from the integrated military command of Nato – an organisation of which France had been a founder member.

De Gaulle went on to explain that in practical terms France “proposes to regain the control of sovereignty over her whole territory, which is currently compromised by the permanent allied military presence and by the use which is made of her air space; to cease her participation in the integrated command structure; and to no longer make her forces available to Nato.” Nonetheless, France remained “willing to reach agreement with [her allies] on military facilities they would provide each other in the event of a conflict in which she was engaged alongside them”. In short, France “believes she must for her own sake alter the form of the alliance without changing its substance.”

Just over a year later the withdrawal had been accomplished. On 14 March 1967 US general Lyman Lemnitzer, commander of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) and of US forces in Europe, presided over a departure ceremony at Saint-Germain-en-Laye. The starred Nato flag came down and was taken off to the new headquarters at Casteau near Mons in Belgium.

In total the United States evacuated 27,000 soldiers, 37,000 other personnel and 30 air, naval and land bases. Finally, on 22 August Lemnitzer and General Charles Ailleret, the French chief of staff, signed a protocol making provision for maintaining French forces in Germany under Nato’s operational control for a specified mission and time in the event of external aggression.

De Gaulle’s decision should have come as no surprise to political observers: on 17 September 1958, less than three years after his return to power, he had sent a memorandum to President Eisenhower and British prime minister Harold Macmillan demanding that France participate in a tripartite leadership of the alliance. They refused his demand and thereafter he increasingly distanced himself from them. In spite of this, his letter to Johnson seems to have caught the French press off guard.
’Let’s not talk hot air’

The first reaction came on 8 March 1966, the day after de Gaulle’s letter, in the rightist but anti-Gaullist paper, L’Aurore. Here André Guérin wrote: “Let’s not talk hot air. For years the presence of the Americans has been the only guarantee of national liberty for us and for our neighbours. Does the general believe today that there is no longer a danger of the Communists taking us over? Evidently, since he means to send the Americans away. Let’s just hope that we don’t forget to say thank you.” On 11 March the paper went further, accusing de Gaulle of stabbing the Americans in the back “at the very moment when the US is fully committed to the war in Vietnam, that advanced bastion of the free world in Asia.”

The pro-Gaullist Le Figaro waited till 11 March before commenting. André François-Poncet warned not only of the “Russian peril” (“A new Stalin could be born tomorrow”) but also of other dangers: “Mao Zedong is another Hitler. In his place a Genghis Khan, a Tamburlaine, or a Muhammad armed with atomic weapons could rise up, capable of rallying the starving peoples of Asia and Africa to mount an attack on the well-off and prosperous nations, the white peoples and their civilisation.”

On 12 March Combat took the counterview to this dire warning of the clash of civilisations: “If Nato wishes to persist with its increasingly improbable hypothesis of a Soviet attack, so be it. But what general de Gaulle has said no to is France being dragged into all the adventures that the US becomes involved in. For, going down a familiar path and intoxicated by its military might, the US wants its ideology to prevail everywhere.” Raising the possibility of war with China, the author of the article, Jean Fabiani, wondered “in the name of what obligation France would be bound to commit herself to such an adventure”.

On 8 March L’Humanité had underlined the unique position of the Communists, who still numbered a fifth of the French electorate. Yves Moreau wrote: “Our opposition to the Atlantic Pact has a fundamentally different character from that of the ruling Gaullists. From its creation, we denounced the Atlantic Pact as a new, reactionary Holy Alliance.” Moreau added, however: “Whatever reasons inspired General de Gaulle’s announcement to president Johnson, we approve of it, since it is a step towards disengagement and peaceful coexistence.”

Forty years later, it is impossible not to be struck by the astonishing topicality of this debate, and by the coherence of de Gaulle’s long-term strategic thinking. He clearly was not anti-American: his staunch support for the US during the Berlin crisis in 1961 and the Cuban missile crisis the following year had already given ample proof of that. What motivated him was the defence of French sovereignty and self-determination against anything which might undermine them, including the US.

As leader of Free France, he had thwarted Anglo-Saxon attempts to reduce France to the status of a protectorate after the war. On 10 December 1944, as head of a provisional government of the French Republic, he signed a treaty of alliance and mutual security with Moscow, to which he referred in glowing terms. He explained the need for a French policy which created a “balance between the two great superpowers, a policy which I believe absolutely necessary for the interests of the country and even for those of peace”. With his departure from office in early 1946 and the dawn of the cold war, France’s allegiances gravitated to the North Atlantic, especially after Nato was established in 1949.
Rapidly changing climate

When he returned to power in 1958, de Gaulle pursued his quest for sovereignty in a rapidly changing geopolitical climate. The East-West balance of power was shifting, especially as a result of the USSR recovering its strength, not least its military capacity: Moscow had detonated an A-bomb in 1949 and an H-bomb in 1953 and was now able, as the first Sputnik satellite showed, to extend its reach as far as US territory. The US for its part replaced its military strategy of massive reprisal with one of “flexible response”, based on the use of nuclear weapons on the battlefield.

This development strengthened the fear that, faced with a Soviet missile threat, the US would make war on the USSR irrespective of its cost to Europe. This awareness of the limits of the American nuclear shield should, de Gaulle felt, make France’s neighbours press for a rebalancing of power within Nato. All the more so since according to Washington “western solidarity, the cornerstone of the Alliance, must not be limited to the problems of the North Atlantic zone” but should also cover “all East-West problems wherever they are”, including Asia. The reconstruction of European economies and the foundation of the six-nation European Community (West Germany, Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands) in the spring of 1957 created – at least in theory – more favourable conditions for bolstering the autonomy of European states in relation to the US.

Was this a battle which de Gaulle believed he could win? All his pronouncements make plain that he did not underestimate Washington’s determination to safeguard its hegemony, nor the difficulty European countries faced in trying to free themselves from it. But France had an advantage over her neighbours: it had detonated its first atomic bomb in the Sahara in 1963 and therefore possessed its own means of self-defence (as did Britain, though it was inextricably bound to Washington). That being so, the general knew he was on his own. And if Nato reform was impossible, then he would have to make do with freeing himself from the ties which straight-jacketed his foreign policy. It is unsurprising, therefore, that withdrawal from Nato’s military command appears as the linchpin in a series of spectacular foreign policy pronouncements:

• On 27 January 1964 France became the first western nation to establish diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China.

• On 30 June 1966 De Gaulle broadcast a speech from Moscow in which he called upon Russians and French to help each other so that “our old continent, united and no longer divided, may resume the capital role which is its due for the stability, progress and peace of the world.”

• 1 September 1966: in Phnom Penh he noted that the war in Vietnam “will not have a military solution” and called on the US to “renounce its distant campaign, since it has neither benefit nor justification, in favour of an international agreement which will organise peace and the development of an important region of the world.”

• 24 July 1967: De Gaulle shocked listeners to an improvised address given in Montreal by concluding with the words: “Long live a free Quebec!”

• 27 November 1967: after the Six-Day war, which he had condemned, he declared that Israel “is organising an occupation of the territories it has taken which can only entail oppression, repression and expulsions; resistance against it has sprung up, which Israel has branded terrorism.”

This period proved short-lived, however. De Gaulle resigned from the presidency in 1969 and died the following year. Stage by stage, his successors, Georges Pompidou and François Mitterrand, put his policy into reverse. And on 5 December 1995, as the 30th anniversary of de Gaulle’s letter to Johnson approached, France rejoined Nato’s military committee. President Jacques Chirac, a self-proclaimed heir of de Gaulle, thereby paved the way for full French reintegration into Nato, which Nicolas Sarkozy is currently working to complete

Rethinking European defense policy

With Sarkozy contemplating bringing France back into the NATO fold, the need for a strong European defense force is at the forefront, writes Daniel Rackowski for ISN Security Watch.

Commentary by Daniel Rackowski in Brussels for ISN Security Watch (02/05/08)

At the NATO summit in Bucharest in April, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel declared that they would jointly host NATO's 60th anniversary summit next year in Strasbourg and its German sister town of Kehl - shortly after Sarkozy plans to announce his decision on whether France will become a full NATO member. What better timing could there be to show a much needed political breakthrough for the alliance?

Recent statements made by Merkel, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Sarkozy regarding the sorry state of European defense capabilities have spurred the debate over struggling armies on the continent and the need for enhanced military cooperation. But this debate predates even the European institutions without yielding much return, and one might be excused for asking what could give new impetus to an essentially old idea.

For one thing, these comments come from the EU "big three." While an accord on such a major policy issue among these leaders is in itself a sign that the message should be taken seriously, they are also known to be in favor of stronger trans-Atlantic ties and as such, they arguably helped to generate a paradigm shift in US attitudes toward a strong and more independent European military.

This shift was perhaps most vociferously articulated by US-NATO Ambassador Victoria Nuland in a landmark speech in Paris in late February during which she went as far as to call for "a place where we can plan and train for such missions as a NATO-EU family."

The location and timing of Nuland's speech were by no means a coincidence. The main thrust behind European defense has traditionally emanated from the Elysée Palace, but it was Sarkozy's bid to re-join the NATO military integrated command and the suggestion that an EU bloc within the grouping with a more synchronized voice would be mutually beneficial to the US and EU, that really did the trick.

Curiously, the US may give the EU a decisive push toward a "permanent structured cooperation" within the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) framework, as set out in the Lisbon Treaty.

With France poised to take over the EU presidency this summer, the US and NATO have lent their support at a critical juncture. Sarkozy has been pushing heavily for a defense bloc consisting of, at least initially, the EU's six biggest member states. What would be novel about this force is not so much the idea, but rather the fact that under the Lisbon Treaty, single member states would not be in a position to veto such a push forward. One of the envisaged requirements for membership would however be a minimum allocation of 2 percent of their respective GDP, a condition currently met only by the UK and France.

This of course is emblematic of the European defense predicament. While there have been complaints about the lack of a European strategic vision for defense and the absence of real common institutions, the actual problem seems to lie in the reluctance to invest in the necessary military equipment and training as well as a disinclination to create comprehensive synergies between member states that would make Europe ready for the security challenges of the 21st century.

The figures are in fact staggering.

While the defense expenditures of EU member states collectively match more than half the US expenditure (3.7 percent of its GDP), for defense, it does not even come close to reaching 50 percent of America's military capabilities.

Less than 5 percent of the armed services in Europe are currently deployed abroad, and vast deficiencies in military gear and training suggest no chance for an increase.

There is a dire need for UAVs, helicopters and special forces, to name but a few areas where Europe's armies suffer from significant shortcomings. And the Atlantic gap is widening.

The US increases spending in strategic areas such as research and development by about 9 percent each year, compared to a meager 1.5 percent in Europe.

The EU will clearly have to spend more, but it will also have to spend more wisely. A structured defense policy would help to save costs for member states, make European forces more effective and foster cohesion. Interoperability and the harmonization of equipment are prerequisites for at least the restoration of the status quo ante at NATO.

A strengthened ESDP does not have to produce a zero-sum situation; rather, it has the potential to complement NATO structures as long as existing structures are not unnecessarily duplicated.

The realization on the part of the US administration that the US needs a strong partner - both in terms of soft and hard power - is to be welcomed. And the thought is not a new one. Presidents Truman and Eisenhower were enthusiastic about the prospects of a European army at a time when few Europeans would have even considered doing away with what many still consider an essential pillar of national sovereignty. Ripeness is considered a decisive factor for a political sea change. NATO's 60th anniversary could mark the beginning of such an event.

Daniel Rackowski is senior fellow for EU affairs at the Brussels-based Transatlantic Institute.

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author only, not the International Relations and Security Network (ISN).

Nigeria, US ties may chart AFRICOM path

Amid opposition to AFRICOM, Nigeria is pushing a different vision of military partnership that could make US troops less visible but still effective, Dulue Mbachu writes for ISN Security Watch.

By Dulue Mbachu in Lagos for ISN Security Watch (02/05/08)

US Africa Command (AFRICOM) envisages US military cooperation with African governments where possible and direct interventions in the continent as necessary; but the idea of US troops on African soil rankles observers across the Africa, rendering local leaders reluctant to offer their countries as bases.

AFRICOM, which is currently based in Stuttgart, Germany, was established in 2007 by the Bush administration. It is scheduled to be fully operational by September this year.

A different vision of military partnership with Washington being espoused by Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua appears set to get AFRICOM going and possibly chart its future. During a visit to the White House in December last year, Yar'Adua argued that what Africa needed was support for standby forces working under the various regional economic groupings in the continent to deal with perceived security threats without direct US military involvement.

"We shall partner AFRICOM to assist not only Nigeria but also the African continent to actualize its peace and security initiatives," Yar'Adua told reporters during his White House visit. Amid media reports in Nigeria that his statement meant acceptance of AFRICOM, Yar'Adua insisted upon his return that he had not changed his government's earlier position against the stationing of US troops in Africa.

"I did not accept AFRICOM in my discussions with Bush," he said in a Nigerian radio interview. "I asked for assistance and told Bush that we have our plans to establish bases for African countries. We asked for [weapons training] and training to establish our bases to be managed by our people," Yar'Adua added, mentioning specifically plans by Gulf of Guinea countries to set up a joint security force.
A partnership sealed by oil

For the Nigerian leader there are indeed pressing reasons to seek US military partnership in the country's Atlantic waters.

The southern Niger Delta coastal areas, which account for nearly all of Nigeria's oil output, juts into the Gulf of Guinea. Militants bred on decades of discontent on the part of impoverished locals who feel cheated out of the oil wealth pumped from their land, have taken to armed insurgency, hitting oil exports hard. Half of the exports of Africa's leading producer go to the US, whose imports from the Gulf of Guinea are expected to jump from the current 15 percent to 25 percent of all oil imports by 2015.

The prevailing lawlessness has spilled over into the maritime corridor across the Gulf of Guinea, threatening other oil producing countries such as Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon, Gabon, Sao Tome and Principe.

Recent figures released by the International Maritime Bureau show that Nigeria's Atlantic waters now have the worst records of piracy, surpassing former leaders Indonesia and Somalia. Most of the attacks in Nigerian waters have targeted oil and fishing vessels.

Signs are emerging that Yar'Adua's model may be acceptable to the US, offering it a chance to maintain an effective but less obtrusive military presence in Africa.

It is an option the US military recently tested with its Africa Partnership Station set up in November 2007 to help train West and Central African countries to protect their coastal areas and maritime resources. Under the program, the warship USS Fort McHenry and a companion ship, High Speed Vessel 2 Swift, have visited 14 West and Central African countries in the past seven months to train with their navies.

The presence of the warships in Africa form part of a new US military policy to maintain a "persistent presence" in the Gulf of Guinea through continuous deployment of warships in the region, according a 13 April report in the military newspaper Stars and Stripes, citing Fort McHenry Commander Navy Capt John Nowell.

Fears of a hostile reception in Africa at the start of the mission, born of opposition to AFRICOM, so far have not materialized, according to Nowell.

"We found there actually ended up being little suspicion or fear about Africa Partnership Station, about bases or expanding the footprint," Nowell was quoted as saying. "Every place we went, we were asked 'When are you coming back? Can you stay longer next time? We want to partner.'"
MEND threatens to heighten attacks

The reception was different when the High Speed Vessel 2 Swift arrived at the Nigerian port of Lagos the following week.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), the main armed group active in the oil region, said that militant attacks against major oil pipelines run by Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron Corp. subsidiaries at about the same time were intended to "welcome" the US vessel.

"Mr President, your warships do not intimidate us. Instead they only embolden our resolve in fighting the Goliaths of the world that support injustice," MEND spokesman Jomo Gbomo wrote in an open letter to Bush, which was emailed to reporters.

MEND fears Yar'Adua's apparent rapport with Washington will translate into US military support in containing its insurgency without addressing its demands for more regional autonomy and control of oil resources.

Well aware of the impact of its armed campaign on oil prices, MEND in turn is threatening to escalate its attacks on the oil industry to help draw attention to its cause knowing the "ripple effect will touch your economy," as the group said in the letter to Bush.

A string of other attacks on oil pipelines claimed by MEND helped drive global crude oil prices above US$115 a barrel.

Faced with the escalating violence threatening Nigeria's main source of revenue, Yar'Adua is pressing for quick moves to set up a Gulf of Guinea Force drawn from the militaries of Nigeria, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Congo Republic, Sao Tome and Principe and Angola with US support.

Since the beginning of the year, the Nigerian leader has met twice with his Equatorial Guinea counterpart, Theodoro Obiang Nguema, who was the target of a failed mercenary coup a few years ago. On each occasion, Yar'Adua expressed impatience with the pace of progress in setting up the force.

Another complementary effort known as the Gulf of Guinea Security Strategy - involving the UK, the US, Canada, France, the Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland - aims to stamp out the theft and sale of crude oil in the Niger Delta, believed to be the major source of funds for the armed groups active in the region.

The most recent meeting of the grouping in Abuja in March, focused on how to identify and track the movement of illegal crude cargoes in the international market in order to discourage their buyers.

"Yar'Adua's approach appears to be to use every force he could leverage upon, including US, domestic and regional might, to end the oil region uprising," Alex Powell, a London-based security analyst who advises oil companies working in the Gulf of Guinea, told ISN Security Watch. "This appears to have pushed the delta militants into more desperate action, such as the blowing up of pipelines, which have dramatic effects on oil prices."

If the Nigerian government is able to neutralize the militants without direct US involvement in protecting oil exports, it will make a good case for the idea of supporting African forces to maintain security in the continent, said Powell. But with largely demoralized troops under corrupt governments in the region, it is unlikely that the proposed Gulf of Guinea Guard will suffice.

"The more the regional governments are unable to maintain security, the more likely it is the US may be forced to intervene directly in its own interest," Powell concluded.

Dulue Mbachu is a correspondent for ISN Security Watch based in Nigeria. He has reported for international media outlets including The Washington Post and the Associated Press.

Iran Begins $1.2 bln Upgrade for Sri Lanka Refinery

TEHRAN (FNA)- Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad this week launched a $1.2 billion project to upgrade Sri Lanka's sole refinery at Sapugaskande, outside Colombo, the island nation's capital.

Sri Lanka's Petroleum Minister A.H.M. Fowzie said the 4-year upgrade will triple his country's refinery capacity to 150,000 b/d from the current 50,000 b/d. Earlier plans had called for an increase to 100,000 b/d.

Iran, which supplies 70% of Sri Lanka's oil needs, agreed to finance $700 million of the upgrade in the form of a 10-year loan, with a 5-year exemption period from payment of the loan's installments. Sri Lanka will provide the remaining $500,000 for the project.

In March, Saudi Arabia expressed its willingness to assist Sri Lanka with its oil needs-including the Sapugaskande refinery-following a meeting in Riyadh between Fowsie and his Saudi counterpart, Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi.

"We have plans to improve our refining capacity from 50,000 b/d to 100,000 b/d and getting Saudi expertise for the proposed expansion will facilitate the successful implementation of the project," said Fowzie.

The Sri Lankan minister added that his country also needed a cracker to convert crude oil into diesel and gasoline which would cost the government some $400 million. He asked the Saudi oil minister to request funds from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to enable Sri Lanka to purchase the facility.

The importance of the refinery upgrade was underlined in January when Sri Lanka, which has to import all of its oil needs, saw its trade deficit double to $610.8 million as higher oil import costs exceeded export gains.

Sri Lanka bought $302.1 million worth of oil in January, when the island's sole refinery shut down for upkeep work, compared to $54.2 million a year earlier.

In February, the Sri Lankan central bank said the country's trade deficit widened to $3.56 billion in 2007 from $3.37 billion in 2006 due to the high cost of importing petroleum products. It said the country's oil import bill stood at $2.49 billion for 2007, a 20.6% increase over the cost of imports in 2006.

The Arctic - melting ice reveals mineral wealth

13:03 | 01/ 05/ 2008

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti commentator Tatyana Sinitsyna) - The Russian Academy of Sciences has summed up the first results of its expedition to the Kara Sea in October 2007.

The voyage of the research vessel Akademik Mstislav Keldysh was devoted not only to national scientific programs, but also to the International Polar Year, designed to study changes in wildlife and inorganic nature, which have been caused by the global warming.

Deputy Director of the Institute of Oceanology (Russian Academy of Sciences) Professor Mikhail Flint, who headed the expedition, explained: "We have chosen the Kara Sea for several reasons. On the one hand, it is influenced by the waters flowing into the Arctic Sea from the Atlantic; on the other, it is a classic Siberian sea with an enormous shelf, into which two mighty rivers - the Ob and the Yenisey discharge their waters."

A shelf affects the Arctic climate. "The Arctic is changing under the impact of global processes, and is in turn influencing the climate. This interdependent system is affected by some threshold processes (for instance, water vertical mixing), which may cause masses of ice to melt," Professor Flint explained.

In general, in the last 12 years, the Arctic's ice cover has been reduced by 25%-27%, while ice has become thinner. In 2006-2007, it decreased by 1.5 million square kilometers. This was an unprecedented reduction in the 50 years of monitoring. It was caused by many hydrologic and hydro-physical consequences of changes in the global temperature.

The Arctic has many other interesting aspects. Its waters abound in biological resources, and its shelves harbor tremendous amounts of hydrocarbons. The melting of ice may open considerable expanses for navigation, and the Northern Sea Route will be ice-free all the year round. Professor Flint said that it is "difficult to even imagine how much this would reduce the costs of communications between Europe and America and oil transportation." This is important not only for Russia. For instance, the distance between Rotterdam and Yokohama will be 40% less compared to the modern route via the Suez Canal.

The Arctic has huge hydrocarbon reserves. Shallow shelf seas occupy 30% of its territory, 70% of which belongs to Russia.

Experts maintain that the reserves of gas hydrates and condensates in the eastern Arctic shelves are comparable to their entire resources on land. But it would be difficult to exploit them. This task will require huge investment, an entirely new technical potential, and innovative methods.

Professor Flint said that the expedition made a very interesting discovery - it was established that except in winter, the current in the Kara Sea moves along the eastern coast of Novaya Zemlya and into open sea, whereas before it was believed to flow inside the Kara "pocket."

Scientists are seriously worried about the negative consequences of economic activity on the shelves. "The life of the ecosystems in the Arctic is short -- from two to two and a half months. Unregulated navigation, active construction, and irrational mining may turn these sensitive systems into a heap of waste, which will be very hard to clean up. Any intervention into these systems is dangerous. A good example is the imprints left by SUVs in the tundra; they do not disappear for decades. Heat exchange starts in the grooves, which exerts a negative influence on the permafrost. The same may happen in the sea," Professor Flint explained.

But does the Arctic hold prospects for the formation of the powerful infrastructure of the Northern Sea Route and the commercial production of hydrocarbons? Will the trend toward warming last? If it doesn't, it will be necessary to adopt a different strategy that would ensure the profitable and safe development of Arctic territories. But nobody can give a precise answer to this question now.

Theoretically, the Arctic can melt. Scientists that study the paleo-climate (which existed tens of thousands of years ago) maintain that such temperature fluctuations occurred in the past as well. Some believe that we are at the top of the global warming process, but nobody can predict how long it will last. But one thing is clear - all developments in the Arctic are of major importance for everyone.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

Russian equipment for Bushehr NPP in Iran - Tehran

12:56 | 03/ 05/ 2008

TEHRAN, May 3 (RIA Novosti) - The Russian equipment for the Bushehr nuclear power plant earlier held up on the Azerbaijani-Iranian border has been finally delivered to Iran, a spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry said Saturday.

"The cargo is on its way to the Bushehr NPP after Azerbaijan received all documents required from the Russian side," Mohammad Al Hosseini told Iranian satellite TV channel Alalam.

The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry said Thursday Azerbaijan has allowed the Russian equipment for Bushehr, detained on the border more than a month ago, into Iran.

A column of vehicles carrying heat insulators for the Bushehr NPP, which Russian contractor Atomstroyexport is building in the southwest of the Islamic Republic, was stopped at the border between Azerbaijan and Iran in late March.

Atomstroyexport earlier said the cargo destined for Bushehr was not a dual-purpose product or nuclear material, but insulating equipment. "The shipment was registered in line with all accepted international practical regulations."

However, Azerbaijani authorities said earlier they had not received information from Russia over the cargo in a timely and appropriate manner.

Azerbaijani Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov said Wednesday he met with Iranian Ambassador to Azerbaijan Naser Hamidi Zare on Tuesday and assured him that the delay was caused by technical formalities rather than political issues.

Iran is currently under three sets of UN sanctions over its uranium program. The latest resolution against Iran froze accounts of certain Iranian companies and banks, and introduced inspections for goods leaving and entering the Islamic Republic.

Russia's ambassador to Azerbaijan, Vasily Istratov, confirmed on Wednesday that the shipment would soon be delivered to Iran.

Russian N. Cargo Arrives in Iran

TEHRAN (FNA)- Iran's Foreign Ministry Spokesman Seyed Mohammad Ali Hosseini said on Friday that the consignment of heat insulation material, destined to Bushehr nuclear power plant from Russia, has entered Iranian soil after being stranded by Azerbaijan recently.

"The consignment is on the way to be transferred to Bushehr nuclear power plant after Azerbaijan received related documents it demanded from Russia," Hosseini told Iran's Arabic TV network Alalam.

Sources at the State Customs Committee of the Azerbaijan Republic said on Thursday that Azerbaijan has let through its territory the cargoes consigned from Russia for the Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran.

A truck carrying the consignment crossed the Azerbaijan-Iran border shortly after noon Thursday, the sources said.

Diplomatic sources indicated that the authorities issued permission for the transit of the cargo Wednesday.

Azerbaijan customs officers stopped the consignment of heat-insulating materials, due to be delivered to the Bushehr plant, on the border with Iran March 29.

They said then there was no permission on the part of the Azerbaijan government for the transit of that cargo via the country's territory.

On April 30, the Russian side handed over all the required documents via the embassy in Baku, and Azerbaijan Foreign Ministry said the problem of the cargo's passage would be settled shortly.

World Food Crisis: Jewel in whose crown?

02.05.2008 Source: URL:

The much-vaunted political and economic model the world has so readily adopted and whose virtues so many have for so long expounded, simply does not work. The market-based economy is based on fundamentals too easily swayed by speculation and Social Democracy would have all the ingredients for a perfect mix, but for the fact that it is neither democratic, nor is its social component minimally sufficient to meet the needs of the citizens of the world. The current food crisis is a shining example of the disaster this model has become.

According to the UNO, at least 100 million people are at risk of enduring food shortages because of soaring costs – a growing trend which is particularly hard felt by families in the developing world, where typically up to 80% of the family budget is spend on feeding the family.

From 2006 to 2007, food prices rose by 37%, and from 2007 to 2008, by 56% while the price of cereals in the same period shot up by a staggering 74%. This unprecedented and unfettered jump in costs places the achievement of some of the Millennium Development Goals at risk.


The causes are many – growing populations and a growth in income leading to greater demand, weather conditions reducing supply and then a myriad of conditions imposed by greed and speculation. Soaring oil prices have led to a high in transportation costs and fertilisers, meaning that in some areas farmers have been forced to cut their production by two-thirds, which in turn pushes the prices up higher. Panic buying and gambling on commodities – a favourite pastime which underpins today’s economic systems – has done the rest.


Those worst hit are as always women and children in general, orphans in particular, along with the ill (AIDS And HIV patients), refugees and Internally Displaced Persons, pastoralists and the urban poor.

The concrete effect for those affected are three stark choices: between eating something every day or skipping meals, spending money on food or medication and sending the children to school or to work in the fields.


The UNO has stressed that the situation is not uniformly dire in all areas but nevertheless warns that over 100 million people are at risk. It has drawn up plans for a three-pronged offensive: in the short term, a fact-finding mission to assess needs, identify the vulnerable and target distribution; in the medium term, there are distribution programmes for seeds, fertilisers and for the expansion of credit and finally, long-term plans include policy reforms to bolster production and investment in sustainable safety nets.

However, how telling it is of today’s international community that the United Nations’ World Food Programme is currently struggling with a shortfall of some 755 million USD in funding, in a world more intent on wasting hundreds, if not thousands, of billions of dollars on wanton acts of butchery such as we see in Iraq than on providing public services on a global scale. Such is the wonderful capitalist-monetarist system the world has embraced as its economic and social Manna.

More than a feather in the cap, the world food crisis is a shining jewel in the crown of an economic and political system whose only raison d’être was from the beginning to be a thorn in the side of Socialism and which did not rest until trillions of dollars had been wasted in sabotaging the model. The result is crystal clear to behold: chaos in the international financial system, chaos in the world economy, chaos in the supply of a basic need such as food on the table for hundreds of millions of people.

This system does not deliver.



Africa: India-Africa Summit

Daily Trust (Abuja)

2 May 2008
Posted to the web 2 May 2008

An impressive number of African delegations attended the first India-Africa Summit recently convened in Delhi by the government of India. Although China similarly attempted to strengthen its economic and diplomatic ties with African countries two years ago, Indian officials were keen to stress that the Delhi summit was more than an attempt to counterbalance China's growing influence in Africa. There is little doubt however that the increasing focus of Asia's emerging giants is predicated on a renewed scramble for Africa's natural resources, for hydrocarbons in particular, as well as their mutual determination to counter each other's influence in the region. India is reported to be especially worried about China's "encroachment" on the African rim of the Indian Ocean which Delhi has long considered its strategic backyard.

The "Framework for Cooperation" issued at the end of the summit outlines ways in which India and Africa hope to work together in the areas of health, food security, water sanitation, poverty alleviation, manpower and infrastructure development; to reinforce efforts to promote trade and industry, foreign direct investment, development of business enterprises and Africa's integration; and to exchange experiences in security, peacekeeping, governance, climate change research, science and technology. The development of railways, information technology, telecommunication and power generation are expected to be accorded priority attention.

The chairman of the African Union (AU) clearly spoke for all Africans in expressing the hope that "concrete action" will follow the Delhi summit's initiatives. Significantly, India has joined many African countries to insist that while agriculture remains the key to the conclusion of the Doha Round of global trade talks, "any acceptable agreement must adequately protect the livelihood, food security and rural development concerns of developing countries" and bring about significant and effective reductions in trade-distorting domestic support and subsidies provided by developed countries. We particularly welcome the Indian government's commitment to double the number of long-term scholarships for African students, increase the slots for African trainees under its technical assistance programmes, and boost investment in and modernisation of Africa's agricultural sector.

We are persuaded that the mobility of its knowledge-based capital, particularly its expertise in providing cheap generic drugs and low-cost technology, gives India an unassailable edge in the African arena over its Chinese rival which, already saddled with excess productive capacities at home, would much rather import raw materials from and export finished products to Africa. We fear however that Africa would remain economically underdeveloped, unable to derive the optimal benefits from productive investments, unless and until it subsumes its plethora of nation-states into sovereign regional blocs. That will in turn require at least four essential elements to succeed: first, an ideology, Afro-centrism for example, under which necessary changes could be subsumed, validated, and justified; second, organisations that are capable of mobilising popular support in favour of such changes, such as progressive political and civic organisations; third, bureaucracies with the requisite executive capacities and the mental orientation inculcated by the progressive political and civic organisations; and fourth, adequate instruments to guarantee social cohesion.

Projections based on the economics of scale and forward linkage benefits from integrated industries justify our view that sovereign regional blocs would be better-placed to tackle Africa's numerous development and security problems than debt-ridden nation-states with little organic ties which are largely dominated by foreign powers through the mere presence of embassies. West Africa alone is credited with an economic potential greater than those of France and England combined. The potential must first be tapped of course, but political stability and the availability of skilled manpower in the raw-material-rich sub-region will in due time undoubtedly conjoin with the provision of modern infrastructures to attract the required productive investments.

Honeytrap reason for RAW official's repatriation?

2 May 2008, 0211 hrs IST,Saibal Dasgupta,TNN

BEIJING: A day after sections of the Indian media reported that an Indian Embassy official in Beijing was recalled to New Delhi for falling to the charms of a Chinese honeytrap, the Indian Embassy on Thursday tried to play down the controversy involving the decision to send back Manmohan Sharma, a senior officer of Research and Analysis Wing, to New Delhi.

An Embassy official said the government had merely acted on Sharma's request that he be sent back as his wife had a serious ailment and had to be attended. Other sources here, however, endorse reports that Sharma was in a romantic affair with his Chinese language teacher. The government decided to move him out of Beijing before the "situation went out of hand".

A source said New Delhi was concerned that the woman in question could have been an informant of the Chinese government. If true, it could mean the Chinese side knew about India's moves and counter-moves on the border talks over the past one year when Sharma served in the Embassy in Beijing.

India-China border talks have picked up momentum over the past year and got a fillip after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Beijing last January. The two sides have held over ten rounds of talks on the border question.

Sharma worked as a first secretary dealing with issues relating to science and technology at the Embassy. That it has now been publicly revealed that Sharma was actually a RAW officer throws some light on the government's ability to keep its own secrets, a source pointed out.

There was no immediate reaction from the Chinese government on the issue. This is the second occasion in recent years that a senior government official serving at the embassy here has been charged with romantic liaison with a local woman.

The foreign office on Thursday denied that an Indian Embassy official, in the eye of a scandal, was caught in a honeytrap by a Chinese language teacher.

RAW official in Beijing recalled for links with Chinese teacher

Wednesday, 30 April , 2008, 13:36

New Delhi: An intelligence official from the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), India's external intelligence agency, posted at the embassy in Beijing is being recalled for his alleged links with a Chinese language teacher.

Manmohan Sharma, who was posted in Beijing a year back, will be returning to headquarters shortly and a departmental inquiry has been initiated.

"We will find out if there has been any misdemeanour on his part and get to the bottom of this sensitive matter," highly placed government sources told IANS.

"In the meantime we have called him back."

Sharma's alleged liaison with his Chinese teacher came to light in February and in the last few months had caused embarrassment to embassy officials and also visiting officials from New Delhi.

"The matter was brought to the notice of the ambassador as well but there was one incident recently that precipitated his recall," admitted a senior government official, refusing to divulge details of the episode.

This is not the first time that a RAW official has been called back because of these reasons.

In October last year Ravi Nair, a 1975 batch RAS officer, who managed to get plum postings despite being on scanner for a long time, was recalled from Sri Lanka for having alleged connections with a foreigner woman.

During his posting in Hong Kong, Nair had met a "foreigner friend" believed to be working for a Chinese spy agency prompting the authorities to ask him to come back.

However, within a brief time Nair was again given a foreign posting in Colombo where the woman also came and allegedly started staying with him, raising suspicion.

The officials of other departments, posted at the Indian high commission, sent reports about Nair to their respective departments paving way for his recall.

This is the latest scandal to hit the agency which is facing the heat after former official Major General (retd) V K Singh published a book last year that was highly critical of RAW's functioning.

He has been charge-sheeted by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) that registered a case against him under the Official Secrets Act (OSA) for alleged "wrong communication of information".

Three years back a former RAW joint secretary (a senior official), Rabinder Singh, fled the country to the US, causing a lot of red faces in the intelligence establishment.

INDIA : Wheat procurement tops target

Wheat procurement tops target

The Hindu

Our Bureau

Chennai, May 2

Wheat procurement this year has exceeded the Centre’s target of 150 lakh tonnes (lt) within a month of the crop arrival this year.

An official statement said the total procurement by various government agencies as on May 1 was 154.2 lt. This is against 82.4 lt procured during the same period last year. The Centre had set a target of procuring 150 lt wheat this year against last year’s procurement of 111 lt tonnes.
Lion’s share

Once again, Punjab and Haryana have contributed a lion’s share to the procurement programme, meant to beef up the buffer stocks. In fact, Punjab’s share is more than 50 per cent of the total wheat procured this year. Punjab’s contribution is 82.9 lt, while that of Haryana is 46.5 lt. Among other States, Madhya Pradesh contributed 9.5 lt, Uttar Pradesh 8.2 lt, Rajasthan 5.5 lt and Gujarat 1.1 lt.

Other States that contributed to wheat procurement were Bihar, Chandigarh, Uttarakhand and Delhi. Out of 154.2 lt procured by various agencies, Food Corporation of India (FCI) has procured 27.7 lt.
Special feature

One feature of this year’s procurement is that the over 150 lt have been procured in less than 20 days. Though Central procurement of wheat begins on April 1, it began late this year due to delayed arrival of the crop, which has been affected by unseasonal rain and hailstorm.

The other aspect that has helped the procurement is higher minimum support price of Rs 1,000 a quintal extended by the Centre this year. The higher support price coupled with market fees, value-added tax and commission for arthiyas (commission agents) especially in Punjab and Haryana made it a tough task for private trade to procure wheat from these two States.

Also, Food Corporation of India’s move to give 2.5 per cent commission to the arthiyas in Uttar Pradesh was expected to help to a great extent.

This year’s higher procurement comes on the heels of a projection of record 76.78 million tonnes of wheat. Last year’s production of wheat was 75.81 mt. Going by the current procurement pace, total wheat purchase by the Government agencies can easily exceed 170 lt

Gujarat shows the way

By Balbir Punj
Daily Pioneer

During last winter's Assembly election in Gujarat, the 'secularists', while demonising Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, sniggered at his claim that the State's development is the best in the country. Union Ministers like Mr Kapil Sibal were at pains to pick holes in his statistics. But the people stood like a rock behind Mr Modi and he was retuned to power with a solid majority.

Now, in these times of crushing inflation, skyrocketing food prices and global decline in agricultural production, comes the report that Gujarat has achieved 33 per cent increase in wheat production during the rabi season. The State's wheat acreage has gone up from 6.64 hectares in 2005 to 13.93 lakh hectares in December 2007. Production has gone up from 27 lakh tonnes to 37 lakh tones in just one year. This when the countrywide increase in wheat output is stated to be only marginally higher while global wheat production has declined substantially. At least Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram should congratulate Mr Modi for helping out at this critical juncture.

The report on Gujarat also adds that the higher output and acreage are due to "sustained campaign by the State Government to increase overall acreage under the crop over the past few years." The campaign included irrigation initiative like water harvesting and cleaning up of village ponds, making use of the Centrally funded national food security mission and ensuring the availability of proper seeds. Mr Modi has kept his word that every village would get specified hours of quality power. In water scarce Gujarat, has ensured micro-management of irrigation water, apart from extending the canal-based water supply from Narmada to the dry region of Saurashtra.

Gujarat's success story inevitably leads us to the larger question of farm crisis management and runaway inflation. On both issues the Congress-led UPA Government at the Centre seems to be clueless. There are clear signs of discord between the UPA and the Left, within the Left parties and among the UPA members. The Left is calling for stricter controls, ending futures trade, even banning private procurement and cracking down on trade. But how much of all this the Left Governments themselves practice is a matter of debate.

The irony of the Left posing as the champion of urban consumers who want food grains at low prices is clear from the fact that the only State where food riots have taken place is Left Front-ruled West Bengal. And the trigger for the riots was the skewed distribution of low-priced food grains through the public distribution system. The fair price shops are said to be controlled by Marxist cadre and when they claimed they had no stocks, enraged people ran riot, bringing a bad name to the Left Front Government.

The division within the CPI(M) on the question of corporate links to farming came to the fore during the last conference of the party in Coimbatore. The Kerala bosses of the party expressed their opposition to corporate houses procuring food grains and vegetables directly from farmers to feed their superstore chains. But their counterparts in West Bengal favoured such procurement. So guidelines were laid down at the Coimbatore congress.

But soon after the congress, the Kerala Chief Minister declared he would not let the superstore chains to buy directly from farmers. The Kerala Government runs stores that are supposed to supply vegetables and fruit at moderate prices. In effect, these stores have either gone dry or become a big drain on public resources. In any case, farmers in Kerala are organising themselves to demand their right to sell to the superstore chains.

What about the UPA itself? On the sugar price front -- a very sensitive issue as the politics of Maharashtra revolves around co-operative sugar factories -- the Congress is believed to favour de-controlling it so that the open market can depress prices while farmers will get a better price due to competition. There are excess sugar stocks with the factories but the co-operatives and the politicians who control them feel that total decontrol will depress prices at a time when the mills are unable to pay farmers for their sugarcane. The NCP is against immediate de-control while its ally, the Congress, wants full de-control. This has delayed action on the sugar front, a key component of rising prices.

The Prime Minister has chosen to ignore violations by his own party on the inflation front. The Congress, for instance, has promised rice at Rs 2 per kg to BPL families in its election manifesto for Karnataka. The Congress Government in Andhra Pradesh has implemented a similar measure. This is playing to the gallery -- the Prime Minister knows such steps are counter-productive but has done nothing to prevent it.

The short and long answer is the same -- increase food production and also productivity. As Prof Swaminathan, the country's most outstanding agricultural scientist, has said, the extension services have lost their verve. Farmers require timely and proper inputs and also a supply chain to consumer centres that will encourage the cultivation of vegetables, fruit and animal products to supplement income from cereal cultivation.

This would mean micro-management of both inputs and outputs. The micro-management of inputs is the Government responsibility. That this can be successfully done if the political leadership puts some passion into its efforts is what Mr Modi has demonstrated in Gujarat.

April 30, 2008

Russia upgrades its strategic bombers

18:15 | 30/ 04/ 2008

MOSCOW. (Nikita Petrov for RIA Novosti) - On April 29, representatives of the Kazan Aircraft Production Association (KAPO) presented the 121st Heavy Bomber Regiment of the Russian Air Force's 37th Army with a brand-new Tupolev Tu-160 Blackjack strategic bomber.

The warplane is named after Vitaly Kopylov, who headed the company in 1973-1993.

Russia now has 16 front-line Tu-160 bombers, each of which can carry 12 X-55 subsonic nuclear-tipped cruise missiles with a range of over 3,000 km. Each bomber can carry up to 40 metric tons of ordnance, including conventional X-55 missiles.

Before December 1991, the Soviet Union had 36 Tu-160 bombers. After the break-up of the U.S.S.R., Ukraine seized 20 of these in the city of Priluki. Under the Lisbon Agreement between Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, the United States and Russia, the former three countries were not allowed to have any nuclear weapons or their delivery vehicles. Twelve Ukrainian strategic bombers were eventually cut up in the presence of international inspectors and journalists.

After protracted talks, the remaining eight Tu-160s were transferred to Russia as payment for Kiev's gas debts. However, the planes had to be overhauled at KAPO, which is still upgrading some of them.

According to official military documents, the Tu-160 is intended to "launch conventional and nuclear weapons against vital targets in remote regions and in the deep rear of continental theaters of war." Unlike the Boeing B-1 Lancer bomber, the Tu-160 has never taken part in such military operations. Instead of being part of the Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) concept, the Tu-160 serves to deter possible aggression.

From the late 1980s and until the early 1990s, Tu-160 bombers flew regular patrol missions over the Arctic, Atlantic and Pacific oceans. They carried no weapons, although Moscow did not tell anyone about this.

The Air Force high command said its strategic bombers, which resumed flying regular patrol missions over the Arctic, Atlantic and Pacific oceans from August 17, 2007, carried only dummy weapons.

Their crews conduct bombing runs over Russian territory. Russian strategic bombers flying routine missions in the North Atlantic are shadowed by NATO fighters.

Colonel General Alexander Zelin, commander-in-chief of the Russian Air Force, said this was also a good way to train NATO crews.

Both sides do their best to avoid direct confrontation. The NATO pilots keep their distance. In fact, the professionalism of Russian and Western air crews has so far prevented any emergencies.

The media sometimes report incidents involving Russian bombers buzzing U.S. aircraft carriers. According to General Zelin, Russian pilots do not violate any international agreements or safety precautions.

Although Moscow is not obliged to notify its NATO partners about all upcoming patrol missions involving Tu-160 and Tu-95 Bear bombers, it does so on a regular basis.

General Zelin said bomber crews commanded by young captains and majors would fly up to 20-30 patrol missions per month, and that 40 missions had been flown in January-March 2008. He said 40 crews had been trained to fly in polar regions without any visible landmarks or reference points, and that pilots had logged an average of 60-80 hours in mid-air.

The Vitaly Kopylov strategic bomber will help implement combat-training programs. The Russian Air Force is to receive four to five more upgraded Tu-160s before the year is out.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

Will gas OPEC have final say on pipeline plans?

13:05 | 30/ 04/ 2008

MOSCOW. (Igor Tomberg for RIA Novosti) - Last week, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and India signed a framework agreement to build a Trans-Afghan Pipeline (TAP) by 2015.

This news once again shows that energy security and the high demand for Central Asian hydrocarbons continue to be at the top of the global agenda.

At the same time, on April 28, experts from the Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF) met in Tehran to discuss the charter of the so-called gas OPEC. GECF energy ministers are expected to finalize the latter's formation this summer in Moscow. This event may seriously change the situation on the global gas market.

With a projected capacity of over 30 billion cubic meters of gas per year and a length of 1,680 kilometers, TAP will cost almost $8 billion. As before, Russian experts are doubtful about this project's success for a whole number of economic, technical and political reasons.

The pipeline is supposed to be filled with gas from the Dovletabad deposit in Turkmenistan, but its resources have not yet been proven. It is also not clear how much gas can be produced by Turkmenistan. Its gas resources are estimated between 8 and 20 trillion cubic meters (BP puts them at a mere 2.9 trillion cubic meters).

In 2007, Turkmenistan produced about 70 billion cubic meters of gas. As of today, it has contractual commitments to Russia's Gazprom and Iran for all of its gas. Russia is planning to buy 80-90 billion cubic meters from it a year until 2028. Moreover, Turkmenistan has signed a framework agreement to supply China and India with 30 billion cubic meters of gas each, starting next year.

It is abundantly clear that TAP is primarily a political project for Turkmenistan. It will gain from this project even if it is never carried out. The framework agreement is supposed to show that Turkmenistan has lots of options and may bargain with its best clients.

TAP is the fourth or fifth project of the Turkmen government. All in all, its gas pipeline plans are estimated at over 200 billion cubic meters, which is three times higher than the current production level. It may simply not have enough gas.

Moreover, there are political risks as well. The pipeline's Afghan leg will be 830 km long. Military tensions in Afghanistan may thwart its construction. Pakistani-Indian relations are not trouble-free either.

There are other difficulties as well. Afghanistan's geological conditions may be unfit for the pipeline. Afghanistan also has no railways, which complicates the project and increases its costs, because trucks will have to bring the pipes from Turkmenistan and Pakistan via the Kandagar road.

India is pleased to be a partner in the Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) gas pipeline project, which is an alternative to TAP. A gas pipeline from Iran to Pakistan and India with a price tag of $4.1 billion and a length of 2,700 km is supposed to be built next year. Starting in 2010, India and Pakistan expect to receive 35 billion cubic meters of gas per year, and twice as much in 2015. The two projects are not superfluous - India and Pakistan need more gas than they can produce. Gazprom is very enthusiastic about IPI, and is even eager to invest in it in exchange for a share in the consortium.

The Russian-Iranian gas tandem is not a secret. On the one hand, Tehran is quite rightly positioning itself as the only source of gas for the Nabucco project. Politically, in its conflict with the United States, Iran is trying to exploit the European Union's interest in finding sources of gas outside Russia. In turn, Russia wants to prevent its potential rival from reaching out to Europe by re-orienting Iranian gas eastward - to India, Pakistan and China.

At the same time, Russia is stepping up its participation in developing Iranian gas deposits. Last week, Gazprom signed a contract with the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) to drill and produce oil and gas in Iran, take part in prospecting, and invest in its economy. The sides have also agreed to set up a joint energy company to develop two or three blocks of the South Pars gas deposit.

In the near future, the Russian gas monopoly will produce large amounts of gas in Iran. Although Iran allows foreign companies to be reimbursed only with money rather than gas, Gazprom will be able to exert serious influence on the directions of its gas exports.

Experts working in Tehran to finalize the future gas OPEC's charter are supposed to compose it from two documents prepared in Moscow and Tehran. Iran wants to involve Gazprom in its hydrocarbon projects as much as possible because it wants to set up a serious organization of gas exporters. Considering that American sanctions are making it difficult for Iran to attract Western investment, Tehran is also trying to get a partner and political ally in the diplomatic war with the West, a part of which is the formation of the gas OPEC.

In this context, Russia is ready to offer Iran and India one more route to consider for Iranian gas supplies to India that bypasses Pakistani territory. This project is similar to Nord Stream, and will pass in the shallow shelf waters of the Arabian Sea outside Pakistan's economic zone. This project may become a certain guarantee for the Indian economy and power industry against moody Pakistan.

To sum up, for the time being TAP is no threat to Russia's gas interests. Moreover,

Moscow's active involvement in gas supplies to South Asian countries may bring it more dividends and enhance its position as a leading gas exporter.

Dr. Igor Tomberg is a senior research fellow at the Center for Energy Studies, the Institute of World Economy and International Relations at the Russian Academy of Sciences.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.