Sunday, 6 April 2014

Kiev Sees Russian Federalization Plans As Attempt To Destroy Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- First, Russia took over a chunk of their country. Now, to the astonishment of many Ukrainians, Moscow is telling them how to run the rest of their nation. The lectures do not sit well here. Russia has been insisting that Ukraine adopt a federal form of government that would give regions nearly boundless authority. It’s a means to make the regions vulnerable to Russian interference, Ukrainians say, and eventually tear the country apart. And, they point out, Russia would never tolerate such a system itself. “The issue of federalization is absolutely artificial,” said Yuriy Yakymenko, a political expert at the Razumkov think tank in Kiev. “It’s part of Russia’s plan to impose control over Ukraine and prevent it from integrating with Europe.” Overall, 14 percent of Ukrainians support federalization, according to a poll released Saturday by the International Republican Institute, a U.S.-financed organization that supports democracy. Federalization was more popular in the south, 22 percent, and the east, 26 percent. The poll, which included Crimea, was carried out from March 14 to 26 as Crimea was being annexed by Russia. The results contradict the assertions Russia has made to justify its annexation of Crimea and its threats to intervene in eastern Ukraine, instead finding widespread opposition to Russian incursion and a growing preference for ties to Europe rather than Russia. Ukraine definitely needs decentralization, said Oleksiy Haran, a professor of comparative politics at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy. Cities and villages want real self-government, he said. But federalization? “This is an idea developed by the Kremlin,” he said, “as a tool to divide Ukraine and play one region against the other.” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, however, was adamant when he explained the plan in a television interview in Moscow several days ago, saying federalization would give each region of Ukraine authority over its own “economics, finance, culture, language, education, foreign economy and cultural ties with neighboring countries or regions.” He described recent events in Ukraine, where three months of demonstrations for good government resulted in the pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych fleeing the country, as “the result of a deep crisis of national identity” caused by the inability to reconcile the interests of the various regions. “Things cannot keep going on in this way,” Lavrov said. “We are convinced that deep constitutional reform is required. Frankly speaking, we do not see any other way for sustainable development of the Ukrainian state other than a federal state.” A clearly irritated Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a rejoinder last week. “Instead of dictating its ultimatum-like terms to a sovereign and independent state, it should first pay attention to the catastrophic condition and complete lack of rights of its own national minorities, including Ukrainians,” the ministry told Russia. Officially, Russia itself is a federation and the Russian constitution guarantees freedom of speech and assembly, but in practice the country is highly centralized and freedom is limited, Haran said. Russian President Vladimir Putin has steadily built a top-down system he calls the “vertical of power.” And Russia, which snapped up Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula after arranging a March 16 referendum in favor of annexation that violated Ukraine’s constitution, has shown no tolerance for separatism at home. A declaration of independence by Russia’s southern region of Chechnya in 1991 led to two wars with Moscow that were fought with exceptional brutality and bloodshed. Although a Kremlin-installed strongman has extinguished most of the violence, Chechnya remains unpredictable. Last week, four Russian soldiers were killed and seven were wounded when their armored vehicle drove over an explosive device in Chechnya during what the Interior Ministry described as a reconnaissance mission. And Islamist separatists have taken the struggle to neighboring Dagestan, where shootouts kill hundreds of police and militants every year. Ukraine is tranquil by comparison. Although some pro-Russian crowds in eastern Ukrainian cities have clashed with pro-Ukrainian crowds since the fall of Yanukovych, Ukraine authorities say Russian agents provoked the disorder. But Russia has described what it calls “atrocities” against Russian-speakers, issuing warnings that suggest it is building a case to send troops into eastern Ukraine as it did in Crimea. The IRI poll released Saturday, however, found Ukraine’s Russian-speakers did not feel under threat. Even in the Russian-speaking east and south, including Crimea, 74 percent said they felt no threat. The Ukrainian government was overly centralized during the Yanukovych years, Haran said. “He sent his own people to rule every region.” Local executives now are appointed by the president and prime minister. The new Ukrainian government is working on changes to the constitution that are expected to result in decentralization, with executives elected locally. Volodymyr Hroisman, a deputy prime minister in charge of regional development, said last week that amendments would be made to the constitution this year, clearing the way for local elections next year. Until February, the 36-year-old Hroisman was the mayor of the city of Vinnytsia, about 160 miles west of Kiev. Ukraine’s Cabinet of Ministers, he said, has put itself on the record in favor of self-government and giving local communities the financial resources to solve their own problems. Lavrov said Russia had no intention of backing off. “I am convinced that we must insist, not because we want this,” he said, “but because it is a request of the southern and eastern regions.” A December poll by sociologists at Razumkov, however, found widespread opposition both to federalization and to any Ukrainian regions separating and joining Russia. Then, 15.8 percent (the March IRI poll found 14 percent) supported federalization, and only 7.5 percent were in favor of Ukraine’s southeastern regions jointing Russia. “People want the kind of self-government that will allow them to solve their own problems,” Yakymenko said. Broadly speaking, decentralization is a good idea, according to Oleksiy Matsuka, an online journalist in eastern Donetsk — as long as the country takes up the fight against widespread corruption. “When Yanukovych was in power, no one demanded federalization,” he said. “Yanukovych created more centralization. Strange. Once Yanukovych fled, his supporters started demanding decentralization. They want direct access to money, so they can steal it here.”

Ukraine Threatens To Take Russia To Court Over Gas Price Hikes

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine on Saturday rejected Russia's latest gas price hike and threatened to take its energy-rich neighbour to arbitration court over a dispute that could imperil deliveries to western Europe Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said Russia's two rate increases in three days were a form of "economic aggression" aimed at punishing Ukraine's new leaders for overthrowing a Moscow-backed regime last month. Russia's natural gas group Gazprom this week raised the price of Ukrainian gas by 81 percent -- to $485.50 (354.30 euros) from $268.50 for 1,000 cubic metres -- requiring the ex-Soviet state to pay the highest rate of any of its European clients. The decision threatens to further fan a furious diplomatic row between Moscow and the West that has left Kremlin insiders facing sanctions and more diplomatic isolation than at any stage since the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall. "Political pressure is unacceptable. And we do not accept the price of $500 (per 1,000 cubic metres of gas)," Yatsenyuk told a cabinet meeting called to get a handle on the economic crisis that threatens to escalate tensions in the culturally splintered nation of 46 million. The profound scale of the rift between those who see their future tied to either Europe or the Kremlin was underscored when security agents announced the arrest of 15 men who allegedly planned to distribute 300 machineguns for the armed overthrow of the local government of a region neighbouring Russia. Ukraine's heavily Russified southeastern swaths have sought to stage their own independence referendums similar to the one that resulted in the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea being annexed by Moscow last month. Yatsenyuk said Ukraine must now prepare for the possibility that "Russia will either limit or halt deliveries of gas to Ukraine" in the coming weeks or months. Gazprom's European clients saw their deliveries limited in 2006 and 2009 when the gas giant -- long accused of raising the rates of neighbours who seek closer ties to the West -- halted Ukraine's shipments due to disagreements over price. The state gas company supplies about a third of EU nations' demand, despite efforts by Brussels to limit energy dependence on Russia over its crackdown on domestic dissent and increasingly militant foreign stance. Nearly 40 percent of that gas flows through Ukraine, while the remainder travels along the Nord Stream undersea pipeline to Germany and another link through Belarus and Poland. Ukrainian Energy Minister Yuriy Prodan said Kiev was ready to take Gazprom to arbitration court in Stockholm if Moscow refused to negotiate over a lower price. "If we fail to agree, we are going to go to arbitration court, as the current contract allows us to do," Prodan warned. But Gazprom countered that it was ready to defend any court action because it was simply reverting back to the price set in a 10-year contract that Ukraine had signed in 2009. This week's rate hikes reflected the elimination of two separate discounts that Moscow had extended to the government of ousted pro-Kremlin president Viktor Yanukovych. Ukraine's state gas company "has already been executing this contract," Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kuprianov told the Interfax news agency. "So from the standpoint of international trade practises, that means that it recognised (the 2009 contract)." The budding gas war adds another layer of concern to a crisis that has seen Russia mass tens of thousands of troops along Ukraine's eastern border and ignore Western pressure to cede its claim on Crimea -- rejected by both Kiev and the UN General Assembly. The Unites States has responded by boosting NATO's defence of eastern European nations and trying to isolate Russian President Vladimir Putin on the world stage. And both German Chancellor Angela Merkel and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said on Saturday that Europe -- once divided in the face of Putin's new expansionist streak -- was ready to impose broader economic sanctions against Russia if it pushed any harder against Ukraine. "If the territorial integrity of Ukraine continues to be violated, then we will have to introduce economic sanctions," said Merkel. "Might does not make right," she told a congress of her Christian Democratic Party. Ashton also said Europe was "prepared to take measures" against Russia. Yatsenyuk said he was busy trying to seal agreements with Ukraine's western neighbours on gas deliveries that would cost about $150 per thousand cubic metres less than Gazprom's price. Ukraine has already received small quantities from Poland and Hungary despite Russian disapproval. Yatsenyuk said he was also keen to secure an agreement with Slovakia, which receives all its gas from Russia and has been unwilling to complicate relations with Gazprom in the past. But Gazprom chief Alexei Miller responded by warning that Russia would be looking closely at any independent deals its client states reached with Ukraine. "European companies that are ready to provide reverse flow deliveries to Ukraine should take a very careful -- very careful -- look at the legitimacy of such sorts of operations," Miller told Russian state television.

Tending Their Wounds, Vowing To Fight On

KOBLENZ, Germany -- Shot twice at the bloody denouement of Ukraine’s revolution, Yuri Marchuk spends his days in the most pristine of hospital wards, gazing out the window at this orderly German city, churning images of battle through his mind. Mr. Marchuk, 36, a self-described nationalist and small-businessman, is among several dozen Ukrainians sent to four countries in Europe to recover, physically and mentally, from their wounds. Their memories bring stark life to the drier language of a report last week by the acting government in Kiev that blamed former President Viktor F. Yanukovych, his riot police and their suspected Russian assistants for the violence that killed more than 100 people in Kiev in February. Those who survived could prove to be important witnesses to the events of Feb. 18-21, days in which, Mr. Marchuk said, the protesters almost lost control of their Independence Square, the Maidan, before pushing back riot police despite deadly fusillades from unseen snipers. That bloodshed prompted three European foreign ministers to broker an agreement between the protesters and Mr. Yanukovych, who fled some hours later as his government crumbled around him. Mr. Marchuk and others who were wounded are being treated in five hospitals in Germany, as well as in Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, and say that they are chafing at being out of action. They are left hoping against hope that the blood spilled to oust Mr. Yanukovych will, after 23 years of rocky independence and flagrant corruption, finally usher in a new era in Ukraine. “Some people on Maidan were irritated by corruption, some by bribery, some by police injustice, some by absolutely buyable judges,” Mr. Marchuk said. “For some, it was hard to accept that they live from pension to pension while others sit on gold toilet seats. “But for all the people on Maidan, there was a uniting factor,” he added. “That is ‘dostalo,’ ” he said, repeating three times the Ukrainian word meaning “We’ve had enough!” Dmitri Herasimenko, 28, an electrician who worked near the Maidan in Kiev and went each day to the square after work, now nurses serious internal and shoulder wounds that his doctors in Prague say will keep him off work for a year. “My only hope is that we elect the right people to government this time,” he said in an interview last week. “Those who will not steal and then run.” While foreign reports on the unrest in Kiev often depicted peaceful scenes of tens of thousands waving European flags, some of those hurt said it was always clear to them that violence would be needed for real change. Vitaly Samoylenko, 37, from Irpin, just outside Kiev, took part in the peaceful 2004 Orange Revolution, which ultimately brought little relief from Ukraine’s chronic problems. “I knew this time we would need force and that there would be blood if we wanted to break free,” he said in Prague, a day before he was released and returned to Ukraine. He was treated for triple gunshot wounds to his arms and chest sustained on the Maidan on Feb. 18. That night, Feb. 18-19, Mr. Marchuk recalled as “the longest night of my life.” The Berkut riot police advanced on the protesters, who set fire to their own barricades, he said, in a desperate effort to confuse their attackers. When the smoke had cleared at dawn, Mr. Marchuk said, he was struck by the realization that “there were critically few people on Maidan.” At night, he said, the Berkut had been like “blind cats,” lashing out because they could not see their exact targets. In daylight, he said, “it was really, really scary” because the Berkut could overwhelm the protesters. Carefully skirting questions about the arrival of guns stolen from a government depot in the western Ukraine city of Lviv, he said the Maidan was saved because hundreds of new volunteers from three cities in western Ukraine got around roadblocks and arrived by bus. At the time, organizers in Lviv said they alone were sending 600 people a day to Kiev. That enabled exhausted defenders to eat and sleep while new arrivals built barricades and then, early on Feb. 20, thrust toward the Berkut positions. Mr. Marchuk, who said he was from Khmelnitsky and the leader of a sotin, or hundred — an organizational formation used by protesters — followed around 8:30 a.m. He was shot in his right leg, and said he lost much blood but continued on Institutska Street, the main scene of carnage that Thursday. Only when he took a second hit, from a bullet that seared through his left leg, did he crawl under a shield, he said. Others carried him to the makeshift medical center at the nearby Hotel Ukraina, then to another first aid post, where he was taken to a hospital. “Later, I understood that many people died because they did not get medical assistance in time,” he said. Against a doctor’s advice, Mr. Marchuk said he discharged himself after getting a splint on his left leg and bandages on his right. He went back to City Hall, he said, checking on the fate of the 35 members of his hundred who had volunteered for that Thursday. Two were killed, 12 wounded, the rest all right, he found. Two days later, he said, friends sent an ambulance that took him to a hospital in Khmelnitsky. His father, Nikolai, had been a surgeon in the town, but it was not clear if that connection played a role in Mr. Marchuk’s being transported to Germany. Volunteers, either Ukrainian or with Maidan connections, helped select and arrange the transport of the wounded in Europe. Ivo Dokoupil, of the charity People in Need, in Prague, said he traveled to Kiev several times during the protests. After the Feb. 18-20 violence, he said, he and his colleagues took care of about 150 people, many in private apartments because they were frightened of arrest — or worse — in state hospitals. “Police would barge in and drag people out of medical facilities,” Mr. Dokoupil said, citing witnesses. He said he and others selected 38 of the wounded to come to the Czech Republic. Most had been hurt in Kiev, but three came from Khmelnitsky, where a Feb. 19 demonstration turned violent, killing two bystanders and wounding several people. Mr. Dokoupil said he was still getting word of patients needing treatment, some even from as far east as Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city. In Koblenz, Mr. Marchuk said he will need at least one operation to graft bone from the back of his body to his knee. A volunteer from Cologne visited him and brought postcards of its splendors, and strawberries. All that matters to Mr. Marchuk — a man who said he had fought official corruption and harassment since 1998 and has long been close to Oleg Tyagnibok, leader of the nationalist Svoboda party — is getting back to the action, he said. In these revolutionary times, he suggested, it is not enough simply to be a patriot. You have to defend what you treasure. “To sit in the kitchen and simply cry about how much we love Ukraine, that is a crime,” he said. While thankful to Germany for his treatment in one of the country’s best hospitals, the army facility in Koblenz, he says he is disgusted by what he sees as German acquiescence and puny sanctions in the face of Russia’s annexation of Crimea. “Germans are used to living by exact rules,” he said, gesturing to the ward, the town and the neat vineyards etched for centuries into the Rhine and Mosel Valleys here. “That doesn’t exist in Ukraine. If we had these rules, we wouldn’t have needed to make this revolution.”

Ukraine and Crimea - an Illegal Putsch and a Democratic Referendum

At 6.05 a.m., (GMT) on Tuesday 1st April, a correspondent on the BBC's flagship morning news programme "Today" stated that Russia had "seized Crimea", faithfully following the rampant propaganda being hysterically stirred from Washington and Whitehall and by newspapers ranging from the Los Angeles Times to pick-your-favourite-news-outlet land. Again, for anyone just returning from another planet, Crimea with a turn out of 83.1%, voted, in a referendum, by nearly ninety seven percent, to rejoin Russia. Not only was not a shot fired (apart from a couple in the air and one by a sniper suspiciously mirroring actions by the far right in Kiev) but incredibly, Russia is now contemplating returning some of the arms from the bases it has taken over, to Kiev. Reportedly two thirds of Ukrainian armed forces are so underwhelmed by those who, backed by the US, illegally overthrew the government in Kiev, that they have opted to stay in Crimea and/or join Russia's defence forces. Incidentally, a google of "referendum" elicits that: "A referendum ... is a direct vote in which the entire electorate is asked to either accept or reject a particular proposal. This may result in the adoption of a new constitution, a constitutional amendment or a law ... the referendum is one of the three pillars of direct democracy." (Emphasis mine.) Never the less, on Thursday 27th March, the UN, ever willing to do Washington's bidding, carried a majority vote for a Resolution which dismissed Crimea's vote as: "having no validity (and) cannot form the basis for any alteration of the status of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea or of the (Capitol) City of Sevastopol." Surely the key to this craven farce is also in the word "Autonomous", of which the dictionary definition is: "(of a country or region) having the freedom to govern itself or control its own affairs." Western diplomats were quoted as saying the UN vote sent a "strong message" to Russia. Well no. Since it is non-binding the bluster is hardly worth the oxygen expended, or the hot air that accompanied it. Perhaps the most laughable statement of the day was from Ukrainian "Foreign Minister" Andriy Deshchytsia, who said that: "The purpose of this document is to reinforce core United Nations principles ... This text is also about respect of territorial integrity and non use of force to settle disputes" and that challenges would not be allowed: "to our rules based on international framework." This from a man involved in the US funded overthrow of a sovereign government, resulting in over one hundred deaths and a mob: "Feeding the blazing defenses with blankets, tires, wood, sheets of plastic foam and anything else that might burn", in their efforts to overthrow President Viktor Yanukovych, who whatever his failings, was democratically elected. ' "It is called the tactic of scorched earth," said a protester who identified himself as Andriy.' (New York Times, 19th February 2014.) This was the mob of which US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki tweeted: "To echo Barack Obama today - proud to stand #UnitedForUkraine. World should stand together with one voice." She was joined by an un-named "Senior White House official" who: "posted a 'selfie' on Twitter holding a sign that read: '#United_For_Ukraine @State_Dept_Spox." Those with whom they were "standing" were also, presumably, the: "Hundreds of members of the ultra-nationalist Right Sector movement" who "stormed the parliament (Rada) building in Kiev, smashing windows and breaking down doors" on 19th March.(1) Meanwhile, "scorched earth" seems to be the order of the day, with former Ukraninan Prime Minister and jail bird, Yulia Tymoshenko, in an alleged telephone conversation (2) with former Deputy Secretary of the National Security and Defence Council, Nester Shufrych, stating that arms should be raised against the Russian Federation so that: "not even a scorched field will be left in Russia." "This is really beyond all boundaries. It's about time we grab our guns and go kill those damn Russians together with their leader", she is cited as saying. "Tymoshenko confirmed the authenticity of the conversation on Twitter" but claimed: "a section where she is heard to call for the nuclear slaughter of the eight million Russians who remain on Ukrainian territory was edited." On President Putin, seemingly she was also prepared to: "grab a machine gun and shoot that m*********er in the head." That German hospital must have worked miracles on her alleged severely damaged spine. Meanwhile, in the Crimea this week, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, with a delegation of Cabinet Ministers, paid a surprise visit promising funds for improved power supplies, water lines, education, health care, infrastructure, salaries and pensions for the elderly. Shortly before when much of the power supplied by Ukraine was mysteriously cut, Russia immediately supplied mega-sized generators - some which had been formerly deployed as power back-up for the Sochi Olympics. Medvedev also announced that Crimea would benefit from the creation of a special economic zone, with lower taxes, simplification of bureaucracy, incentives for business development and the development of the region - named by National Geographic as a "Best Trip" in 2013 - as a top tourist destination. Meanwhile, Russia's Defence Minister announced that all men of conscription age will get a one year deferral of draft. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen finds this all very threatening, warning of danger of "intervention", "miscalculation", strategic implications." Ratcheting up rhetoric to hysteria level, warning that Russia could "invade" swathes of the Ukraine in three to five days - a statement with more than a whiff of Tony Blair's weapons of mass destruction which could be launched in "forty five minutes." Threatening is actually NATO, whose member countries near encircle the Russian Federation, with Ukraine's troops to train with NATO in Bulgaria in shortly upcoming exercises. The trained killers have wasted no time in recruiting new members to their international gang. The US has sent six F-15s to "patrol" the Baltic and twelve f-16s to Poland, pledging that: "more US support is on the way." America's friends better watch out - it's "support" is more often than not an occupation - and mega scorched earth. Meanwhile, back in Ukraine, the population is set for financial nightmares. Russia's parliament has cancelled rents for the Black Sea Fleet's base until 2042 - worth $98 million annually. Also cancelled are generous discounts for Russia's natural gas. Household gas prices are expected to rise by fifty percent from the 1st May. The complex gas discount and the hosting of the Black Sea Fleet are linked, thus, additionally, Kiev may also be additionally obliged: "to return $ eleven billion which Russia paid to lease the bases."(3) Meanwhile, Ukraine's "interim government" has to ponder on how to repay a believed $ twenty seven Billon loan to the IMF, with its entire gold reserves allegedly "confiscated"(4) in more than forty heavy boxes and taken for "safe keeping" to the US - as Iraq's and Libya's gold reserves and with Germany's from WW11 still unreturned. In all, it has to be wondered how many in the Ukraine are wondering whether to move to Crimea.

Obama wants Saudi Arabia to destroy Russian economy

U.S. President Barack Obama tried to convince the King of Saudi Arabia to coordinate actions in the oil market to reduce world oil prices, the main source of Russia's export revenues, and "punish its behavior" in Crimea. Experts estimate that if the prices are reduced by as little as 12 dollars per barrel, the Russian Federation will lose $40 billion in revenue. There has been a precedent, because this is precisely how the USSR collapsed. Before Obama's visit to Saudi Arabia, the U.S. media was discussing options of "punishment" for Russia with sanctions for its "behavior in Crimea." The first option was proposed by an American financier George Soros. According to him, every day the U.S. could offer for sale 500-750 million barrels from its strategic resources (SPR) estimated at 700 million barrels, which should lead to the decrease in world oil prices by about $10-12 dollars per barrel. Immediately after the formal reunification of Russia and Crimea, the Obama administration gave orders to sell 5 million barrels of oil from the SPR. However, after two weeks of discussions, U.S. analysts agreed that the effect of such actions will be short-lived, and squandering suitable strategic reserves of the country was not a good idea because you never know what might happen. Another idea immediately followed - to convince Saudi Arabia to increase oil production. Steve LeVine spoke about it in detail. He suggested adding a few million barrels from Saudi Arabia to the oil from the U.S. reserve, and because oil prices are determined by profitability, the cheap oil in the range of 2-3 million barrels per day could significantly derail the price. Allegedly, Obama traveled to Riyadh to discuss this option on March 28, said the analyst. Russia receives approximately 70 percent of its export revenue from oil and gas, so even this kind of fall would mean a significant impact, LeVine wrote. He referenced the expert evidence that if there is a fall in price by only $12 dollars per barrel, Russia would lose $40 billion revenue in the budget. According to LeVine, such talks between the United States and Saudi Arabia are already underway, as Prince Turki bin al-Faisal recently noted that the modern oil market was global in nature, and one country cannot affect its stability. There is a precedent of such joint action that caused the collapse of the USSR. In 1985, the Kingdom has dramatically increased oil production from 2 million to 10 million barrels per day, dropping the price from 32 to 10 dollars per barrel. USSR began selling some batches at an even lower price, about $6 per barrel. Saudi Arabia has not lost anything, because when prices fell by 3.5 times the production has increased five-fold. The planned economy of the Soviet Union was not able to cope with falling export revenues, and this was one of the reasons for the collapse of the USSR. Has Obama made a deal with King Abdullah? "No, I'm pretty sure he has not," Sergei Demidenko, an expert of the Institute of Strategic Studies and Analysis told Pravda.Ru. "First of all, the situation in the 1980s and the current situation in the oil market and general political situation in the world are very different. The Saudis are no longer dependent on the United States, they are relatively independent, they have their own groups of influence both in Congress and the State Department, and they can already influence the U.S. policy," said the expert. "The global economic crisis has not been canceled, it continues to have a negative impact on the Persian Gulf, so Saudi Arabia is unlikely to do this," agreed Yelena Suponina, head of the Center of Asia and the Middle East at RISS. Indeed, as the largest producer of oil, the country would lose a great deal in the event of price reduction. Now, the OPEC countries that include Venezuela and Angola will not allow tripling production. In addition, the alliance relations have been severely marred lately. The King called them "unreliable" because of the U.S. position in Syria. Moreover, he is angered by Obama's "flirting" with the Iranian leadership and unlocking sanctions against it. Interestingly, the President of the United States has severed diplomatic relations with Bashar al-Assad before the visit, perhaps it was a gesture of reconciliation that indirectly confirms Obama's intentions. But it is not so much about politics as it is about the economy. Merrill Lynch estimated that the Saudis should keep global oil prices near $85 per barrel to avoid a budget deficit. Now the prices are kept at the level of $105-110 dollars per barrel. It would seem that a price reduction of $12 dollars is possible, but the situation in Saudi Arabia is not easy, said Sergey Demidenko. "First, there are not that many readily available deposits, and there is a need to develop more complex fields. This automatically increases the cost of a barrel. Moreover, the country is now facing an unstable social situation and needs a serious financial cushion to solve social problems. The Kingdom remains an island of calm, but only because they push their opposition out of the country to the outside edges of global jihad, and this is a boomerang that sooner or later will come back to them. To ensure that the people do not follow the extremists, they must be bribed. This is why Saudi Arabia will not agree to this plan, it's quite obvious," said the expert. Nevertheless, analyst Nicholas Cunningham of Oilprice.com wrote that Obama was likely to hold on to the strategic reserve card and play it if Russia deploys wider activities in Eastern Europe. "We cannot rule out this scenario, and OPEC is not the guarantor of high oil prices. A reasonable government should be prepared for this," told Pravda.Ru Yelena Suponina. "The best solution is to diversify the economy rather than rely on oil and gas exports alone. Rumors of an impending decline in oil prices have been floating around for five years. It is a method of psychological pressure, such methods are often used in politics. These rumors are designed to annoy major oil and gas miners, and this factor is used in the psychological war against Russia. Since Russia is acting very confident in the international arena, the West will try to apply if not the oil weapon, then at least rumors about the possibility of its application. It fits into the logic of contradictions existing in the relations between Russia and the West, and we have to be ready,"

Loose NATO may rise against Russia with Ukraine's help

April 4th marks the 65th anniversary since the creation of the North Atlantic Alliance (NATO) that was established to counter the "Soviet threat" after the Second World War. Today, the alliance consists of 28 countries, although only two or three states have combat-capable armies. Does the alliance have a future? After the collapse of the USSR and the "Eastern bloc" in the face of the Warsaw Pact, NATO, despite promises, began to expand to the east. In 1949, the alliance had 12 member countries; at the peak of the Cold War - 16; by 2009 - already 28 (Albania, the United States, Belgium, Bulgaria, Estonia, Spain, Holland, Croatia, Iceland, Italy, Canada, Greece, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Latvia, Norway, Poland, Portugal, France, Romania, Germany, Slovakia, Slovenia, Great Britain, Denmark, Czech Republic, Turkey, Hungary). Even a cursory glance at the list is enough to understand that only two or three countries are capable of waging war. All the rest are persistent in their unwillingness to participate even in peacekeeping operations (Germany). Yet, decisions in an alliance should be made collectively, after all. Therefore, the discussions of the campaigns that the alliance conducts outside Europe have been rather scandalous lately. The wars that NATO wages are related to establishing control over specific regions, control of sources of raw materials and military-political pressure on those who disagree with interests of NATO members. The interests of these 28 countries are, of course, significantly different. "NATO today is a loose political-military organization with extremely poor results of combat use," Alexander Fomenko, an independent political analyst, told Pravda.Ru. No significant progress has been reached either in Afghanistan or Iraq. The Americans can count only on themselves in NATO, and perhaps on Western Germany, and it does not go about war here. The French tend to gain autonomy in military policy." In addition to poor governance, NATO suffers from the lack of ideology. Nobody wants to die in an "unjust", as the Americans say, war in Afghanistan. Other wars show that the morale of the troops is pretty low. This was already evident in Yugoslavia in 1999, when the alliance practiced bombing tactics, rather than ground operations. The experience obtained in previous campaigns in Asia convinced the alliance that Americans lose in a guerrilla warfare. However, after the Ukrainian events, the Western press broke a series of articles about the "renaissance of NATO," because here she is, Russia, "threatening" Western values. In fact, it was nothing more but a financed propaganda action to increase the military budget of the United States and NATO countries (the military budgets have significantly lost weight lately due to the crisis). Those who feed on that money, i.e. generals themselves, became much more active too. "We need to increase military spending of member countries to demonstrate the commitment of the members of the military alliance to what it calls the protection of its allies," U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on April 1 at the summit of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels. Noteworthy, the total budget of the alliance is ten times as big as the military budget of Russia. "If you compare their budget with that of Russia, then the Russian military budget is at least ten times smaller than the total military budgets of NATO members. Moreover, the alliance is superior in all major categories of weapons," Russia's permanent representative to NATO Alexander Grushko said. Grushko explained that the countries that speak about the lack of security and fear Russia's possible military intervention indirectly recognize the fact that they have missed a lot in terms of protection of human rights of the Russian-speaking population. "Instead of sending fighters to the Baltic countries, it would be better if the EU and NATO convinced the governments of Estonia and Latvia to start substantive work to eradicate the shameful phenomenon of being stateless, when people are deprived of citizenship and political rights just because they speak Russian," said the Russian permanent representative. According to Alexander Grushko, NATO's expansion process ran its course a long time ago. "It proved that it weakened security and did not erase the dividing line, moving it to the east, bolstering the psychology of frontline states. We see that the countries that join NATO, start to demand additional guarantees and additional measures," said the Russian diplomat. The above-mentioned summit considered the Ukrainian conflict and actions of the alliance on the post-Soviet space. The participants of the summit spoke about the need to intensify the patrolling of airspace of the Baltic countries, as Lithuania requested. It was also said that NATO needed to buildup troops in the areas that border on Russia. Poland stated that one needs to deploy two 10,000-strong armored brigades on its territory, although the country borders on Russia only in the Kaliningrad enclave. As for Ukraine, it was said that NATO and Ukraine would be strengthening cooperation to implement reforms in the defense sector by strengthening the defense ability. The Verkhovna Rada passed the law about the admission of units of the armed forces of other states on the territory of Ukraine in 2014 for their participation in international exercises. This year, it is planned to conduct eight of such exercises. This is the initial stage of Ukraine's integration into NATO, which looks very similar to what happened in Serbia: the country is now ready to join the alliance, despite protests of the population. Nevertheless, experts do not believe that "Ukraine may serve as a springboard for NATO's renaissance. "NATO could rise with the help of Ukraine if Ukraine had the military industry, the real army and modern combat experience. Ukraine has none of that," said political scientist Alexander Fomenko. It was also announced that NATO was terminating cooperation with Russia. However, if we take a closer look at that, it becomes clear that the alliance was cooperating with Russia closely only on Afghanistan. The damage from this decision is therefore symbolic, as it designates a negative development of relations between Russia and NATO. Has it ever been positive, though? The foreign ministers wrote that NATO was going to develop "smart defense" during the coming years, although the alliance has never had defensive wars. "Smart defense is a specialization of NATO countries on specific areas of military security, based on the appropriate level of qualifications and preparation of a particular country and its agencies to reduce costs on overall defense," Igor Korotchenko, the chief editor of National Defense magazine told Pravda.Ru. To put it in a nutshell, this is nothing more but co-operation in various fields, for example, in patrolling, logistics and missile defense. Smart defense also includes high-precision weapons. "We have such elements - we have high precision weapons (S-500, new air-to- air missile K-77m - ed.) and means of information warfare, - Boris Yulin, historian and military expert told Pravda.Ru. - But the problem is that we lost too much time, we do not have sufficient power of the military-industrial complex, so we have new technologies represented in fairly limited numbers. So the Russian army today is still far away from normal combat readiness." Thus, it is not NATO, but the US Army that opposes the Russian Armed Forces today. The U.S. Army is superior to the Russian Army in many respects. Secondly, Washington will no longer accept unstable post-Soviet countries in the alliance that ask for guaranteed protection against Russia. Thirdly, the Americans will not directly fight with a country that can destroy them in a nuclear war. Moscow has learned a good lesson. Now Russia eyes military ties with China, to which Russia will undoubtedly sell the promised S-400 systems. Most likely, Russia and China will join efforts for military drills as well. China is not the partner, whom Russia can trust unconditionally, but if the West burns bridges, Russia will go for it. "The world war is basically underway already. That is, the countries that were running independent policies, aiming China, rather than European countries, have been, in fact, destroyed. Libya, then Syria and Sudan - Sudan was selling fuel mainly to China, so the country has been torn into three parts. The war is on now, NATO has been strengthening control over strategically important areas, taking large sources of raw materials under control. I do not know whether there will be a direct military standoff between Russia and NATO, but I think this is not likely,"

Viktor Yanukovych goes to Sochi on vacation

It became known that Viktor Yanukovych with his common-law wife Lyubov Polezhai and her daughter are currently resting in Sochi. The information was received from former prefect of the Northern Administrative District of Moscow Oleg Mitvol, who learned the news from his friends that live next to the fugitive Ukrainian President in the Moscow region. "Presumably, Yanukovych is now in Sochi on vacation and he will remain there for long. He has nothing to do in the Moscow region, because he is not attached to any specific location. His stepdaughter, of course, needs to go to school, but they, as far as I know, use the services of private teachers," Mitvol said. He also said that Yanukovych has two houses in Moscow suburbs: his own one in the village of Landshaft and another one in the elite village of Meiendorf Gardens. Yanukovych's neighbors are such wealthy people as Roman Abramovich's son-in-law Alexander Zhukov, ex-spouse of pop singer Christina Orbakaite, Ruslan Baysarov, and the family of ex-president of oil company Rosneft Sergey Bogdanchikov. Mitvol added that according to rumors, the ousted President of Ukraine purchased his estate near Moscow for $ 52 million. In addition, the ex-prefect said that several Ukrainian politicians visited Yanukovych in his estate in the Moscow region. "I can not give specific names, but they were the ones who are interested in electoral information," he said.