Saturday, December 5, 2015

Israel trained against Russian-made air defense system in Greece: sources

Israel has quietly tested ways of defeating an advanced air-defence system that Russia has deployed in the Middle East and that could limit Israel's ability to strike in Syria or Iran, military and diplomatic sources said. The sources said a Russian S-300 anti-aircraft system, sold to Cyprus 18 years ago but now located on the Greek island of Crete, had been activated during joint drills between the Greek and Israeli air forces in April-May this year.
The activation allowed Israel's warplanes to test how the S-300's lock-on system works, gathering data on its powerful tracking radar and how it might be blinded or bluffed.
One defense source in the region said Greece had done so at the request of the United States, Israel’s chief ally, on at least one occasion in the past year. It was unclear whether Israel had shared its findings with its allies.
"Part of the maneuvers involved pitting Israeli jets against Greek anti-aircraft systems," one source said. Two other sources said the Crete S-300 was among the systems turned on.
The sources spoke to Reuters on condition they not be identified by name or nationality. The Greek and Israeli militaries declined to confirm or deny any use of the S-300 system during drills held in the Eastern Mediterranean last April-May or similar exercises in 2012 and 2010.
A senior Greek Defence Ministry official, asked whether the system was operating during Greek-Israeli military exercises, said: "At this moment the S-300 is not in operation." He said Athens' general policy was not to permit any other country to test the system's abilities.
The S-300, first deployed at the height of the Cold War in 1979, can engage multiple aircraft and ballistic missiles up to 300 km (186 miles) away. Israel is concerned by Russia's plan to supply S-300s to Iran.
Israel says Egypt, with which it has a cold peace, has bought a variant of the system. The Israelis also worry about Moscow's announcement last month that it will deploy the S-300 or the kindred system S-400 from its own arsenal in Syria, in response to Turkey's shooting down of a Russian jet there.
Israel has bombed Syrian targets on occasion and is loath to run up against the Russians. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has met President Vladimir Putin at least twice in recent weeks to discuss coordination and try to avoid accidents.
Igor Sutyagin, a Russian military expert with the Royal United Services Institute in London, said that for Israel training against the Crete S-300 would be "precisely what you need" to study the system's radar frequency, pattern and reach.
"If you know all these details then you are perfectly fitted to replicate this same signal, which means you have a chance to imitate, to sort of bluff-echo" the S-300, he said.
"You can brutally jam it," he said. "You can take the signal and return it, and then you send another ping which imitates the same signal. So instead of one target, the radar operator sees three, five or 10 and he does not know where to fire."
Tal Inbar, senior scholar for the Fisher Institute for Air and Space Strategic Studies near Tel Aviv, said S-300s in areas where Israel operates or might want to operate would challenge its advanced, U.S.-backed military - but not insuperably so.
"In general, any system can be defeated this way or that. Some are harder and some are easier," he said. "The rule of thumb is that if your friends have a system that you are interested in, you can learn all kinds of things about it."
The Crete S-300 was originally bought by Cyprus in 1997, triggering a vitriolic response from Turkey, its decades-old adversary. Under pressure from Britain and NATO, then Cypriot President Glafcos Clerides agreed to store the S-300 on Crete. A 2007 Greek-Cypriot arms swap formally transferred it to Athens.
Greece has experienced a boom in ties with Israel since Israel's once-strong alliance with Turkey broke down in 2010.
After this year's joint drill, Israel's official air force journal said maneuvers had involved all of Greece's air combat arm and "other apparatuses". It offered no details, but quoted an Israeli air force captain as saying the exercise had fostered "flexibility in thinking and dealing with the unknown".
(Additional reporting by Michele Kambas in Nicosia and Renee Maltezou in Athens; Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Luke Baker and Janet McBride)

Read more at Reuters

OSCE conference ends work without consensus on all issues

The 22nd session of the OSCE Ministerial Council ended in Belgrade late on Friday without reaching consensus on all issues.
Source: Tanjug
The topics considered included the fight against terrorism, Ukrainian and migrant crisis and climate change.
Among the important topics was also the Russian-Turkish dispute after the Turkish shooting down of a Russian bomber in Syria.

OSCE Chairman and Foreign Minister of Serbia Ivica Dacic said in his closing speech that during the meeting efforts had been made to reach a consensus on many issues, but that in some matters "it was not possible."

"Nevertheless, I believe that the meeting was held in a constructive and sincere atmosphere, and that this atmosphere will contribute to solving the open issues and overcoming the differences during the next presidency," Dacic said.

Dacic added that during the Serbian chairmanship of the OSCE many problems remained unsolved, and that "perhaps more decision might have been taken" - but that "it seemed to him the spirit of member-states was positive, and the organization on the right track."

"If we adopted no decisions tonight, I would have been ready to declare that the organization no longer exists, because there is no purpose if there is no willingness to compromise. If the discussion lasted for another half hour, I would have been tempted to throw tear gas," Dacic said, recalling that he in the past served as interior minister.

According to reports late on Friday, among the proposals of statements that the OSCE conference failed to adopt is that related to freedom of assembly, expression and media.

The Beta agency quoted Dacic as saying that while "not all members agreed on the causes of the crisis in Ukraine, they supported OSCE's engagement in that crisis."

Speaking late on Friday, OSCE Secretary-General Lamberto Zannier said that Ministerial Council ended with moves forward being made despite differences and that significant progress had been made during the Serbian chairmanship.

"We have managed to make progress on certain issues and although the discussions did not produce a document we hoped for, we still made concrete steps ahead," Zannier told a press conference after the conclusion of the 22nd OSCE Ministerial Council in Belgrade late on Friday.

He said that the discussions on many topics during the plenary sessions had been very intense and with sincere engagement of those involved.

Zannier said that during the Serbian chairmanship, "we saw a team work with a strong leadership from Serbia and from the chairman-in-office personally."

Speaking during a joint news conference with Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic on Saturday, Ivica Dacic specified that the OSCE conference on Friday adopted documents on the fight against terrorism and violent extremism that leads to terrorism, on youth and safety, and on "concrete discussions related to Moldavia and Pridnestrovie."

Coming Home to Roost: Kosovo Sees Return of Locals Who Fought for Daesh

Kosovo police officers escort unidentified Kosovo Albanian men who are suspects in a terror plot, to a court in Kosovo's capital Pristina, Sunday, July 12, 2015

© AP Photo/ Visar Kryeziu

At least 120 natives of Kosovo have returned home during the last few years after taking part in the ongoing hostilities in Syria on the side of Daesh (ISIL), according to local police reports.

Milovan Drecun, chairman of the Serbian parliamentary Committee on Kosovo-Metohija, told Sputnik that these former militants may establish ties with local political extremists, thus further exacerbating the current volatile situation in Pristina. He pointed out that ties already exist between the jihadists and certain Albanian organized crime groups, as well as former militants of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) – a terrorist group that was officially disbanded but still exists.
"These ties were established back in the 1990s, after Osama bin Laden visited Albania," Drecun said. "In the meantime, radical Islamists strengthened their position in Kosovo, even gaining a certain degree of independence. We know about their contacts with the former commanders of the KLA and Kosovo Protection Corps as well as with members of Drenica Group (Drenicka grupa), a criminal organization run by Hashim Thaci."
Drecun added that on numerous occasions, he has warned about the existence of a well-organized, trained and supplied ‘base’ of radical Islamism, jihadism and terrorism in the Balkans. So far, however, this ‘base’ was mostly used as a source of recruits for the terrorist groups.
"The presence of former Daesh militants in Balkans is a potential security threat and hints at the possibility of terrorist attacks and suicide bombings," Drecun said.
He added that while the current situation in Balkans remains more or less stable, Daesh militants have already listed the region and Serbia in particular among their targets during their latest video address. It is only a matter of time before Daesh becomes ‘active’ in the Balkans, Drecun said.
Residents of the so-called Kosovo republic are statistically more likely to fight for Daesh than any European nation; The Telegraph reports that just one town of 30,000, Kacanik, managed to send two dozen local men to join Daesh's dubious cause. The inefficient local authorities, ailing economy and soaring unemployment make this territory a fertile source of recruits for terrorist organizations.

Critical vote on 2016 budget to take place Saturday evening

The debate in Parliament continues with tension between the government and opposition parties escalating

Friday, December 04, 2015
Critical vote on 2016 budget to take place Saturday evening
The critical budget for 2016 is currently being debated in Parliament, with a roll all vote scheduled to take place late on Saturday evening. With the coalition government currently numbering 153 MPs, the Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is hopeful that he will survive Saturday’s vote unscathed, in order to face the serious votes in Parliament that have yet to come.

The Drama Of Albania

Since I deliberately landed in Albania this past Sunday 30-August I have met about one hundred of the country's most relevant personalities, including Ministers, Deputy Ministers, members of parliament, Presidents and CEO's of the largest business conglomerates, University Rectors, Vice Rectors, Deans and Professors, NGO Leaders and Executive Secretaries, Ambassadors and Honorary Consuls, Foundation Directors, Writers, Painters, Museum Theater and Opera Directors, Mayors, Actors, Movie Directors, journalists, reporters, Presidents of Orders and Associations and Intellectuals. In fact I challenge anyone to find a foreign Author who in less than three months has recently met with more relevant authorities. Many are asking me what I think about the small and dynamic Balkan republic. My diagnosis must be brutal: the system has failed in Albania. My diagnosis is not personal but belongs to the one hundred of the country's most relevant personalities whom I have met thus far. World Bank and IMF missions last a few days. You can only grasp a country's reality under the appropriate circumstances and an accurate sampling strategy in three months.
Difficult it is for me to ascertain the convenience of being brutally honest. But I must. Otherwise I would be not abiding by a code of ethics which intends to make a contribution to the country's future prosperity. In order to improve we must first be brutally honest with our weaknesses and identify the reasons why institutions and policies are failing. We must then design solutions which with vision, courage, discipline, leadership and determination shall be implemented for the sake of Albanians. I will leave the specific drawbacks of the system in Albania for later analysis. I would like to focus on the fundamentals addressed by the Experts related to why the system failed in the small Balkan republic after only 25 years of improvised and somewhat chaotic reforms driven and oftentimes imposed by the international agents and donors.
In 1991 Albania left behind the world's most tight and closed communist regime dominated by Enver Hoxha until his death in 1985. Many areas in the previous regime worked better then than they do today. Market economy and democracy have brought chaos, corruption and improvisation to the young and dynamic republic. To be remembered institutions, public transportation, the educational system in the three levels primary, secondary and university all worked much better during the communist regime. Even culture was better funded and society was characterized by a total absence of corruption. Nobody questions the necessity and convenience of embracing a well-functioning market economy within a smoothly-ran democracy. This is not the case for today's Albania where the need to embrace radical policy making is manifest.
I talk to the Albanian elites who might read my analysis. Many will be surprised even astonished by the clarity and brutality of my words. Do not be surprised. Be warned. These are not my words. These words, these statements that I make explicit today belong in the mouths and the offices of the country's most relevant personalities. There is no room for optimism. The situation is dramatic. Albania must change the course of its path to change the course of history. The country can continue to move as fast as a steam wagon or become a maglev train. Be warned, in both scenarios we will be moving ahead with a perception of progress. The current elites lack the insight and the technology to accelerate changes so that relative improvement is feasible.
Albania is today a country ran by a myriad of political parties ran by a zillion of mediocre politicians. There are -as always- exceptions to the rule. Endogamy and nepotism feed the ranks of the public administration, where connections, money, or traffic of influence rules who is hired and who is turned down, within Ministries, the Central Bank, City Halls, Public Hospitals, Schools and Universities. A total absence of meritocracy encourages everyone to call a friend or acquaintance when trying to "place" sons and daughters in the public administration. Large corporate tycoons control a radically polarized and segmented media which according to the Western model purely broadcasts garbage entertainment full of irrelevant chartalan-based politics and violence which matters little next to the the country's and the World's real challenges. Undoubtedly and unwittingly, citizens become the miserable victims of a 1984-George Orwell's big brother which contaminates the gossip with biased priorities.
Albania is today a country where corruption is manifest in every single level of society, from the individual to the group, from the poorest to the richest. Everyone without exception tries to find the shortcut to obtain an unfair competitive advantage exploiting the system at its best and most. Pressure from parents in the schooling system forces teachers and professors to inflate the grades of the children of the better off and the powerful. Members of parliament run private universities of questionable quality selling diplomas the youth will never be able to exploit while using the proceeds to finance their children's education at top institutions abroad. Youth unemployment and a buoyant informal economy challenge the nation's ability to raise taxes. Unable to raise taxes properly the political establishment chooses to engage in a rising taxes policy. Those living in rural areas migrate to the city in search for a better living which they shall not find. Those in Tirana who realize the lack of opportunity is here to stay choose to migrate abroad where they will usually remain underemployed in the services sector. In the meantime politicians try to dictate how society should be without excelling by example. There are no role models to follow or be inspired with.
The baby boomers born in the aftermath of the communist regime fall encounter a terrible job market in which their best aspirations consist in finding a job in a call center serving the Italian market. The lucky ones who do get a job exploit whatever connections they may have. The total lack of competitiveness makes Albanian Universities the worst choice possible, even the private ones. Those who can send their kids to study abroad, and to remain living abroad to avoid the country's fallacy of apparent leadership and prosperity.
The international institutions are only worsening the scenario doing a disservice to the Albanian society by acknowledging the validity of accountability of the current elites. Everyone who has a vested interest in the system cannot speak up. I choose to speak up because I am a foreigner with nothing to lose and no conflicts of interest when it comes to being blunt and blatant with a reality which is impossible to digest any longer. A World citizen rather than a foreigner who by the way feels at home in Albania.
Yes there are many reasons to be optimistic when looking at the country's progress since 1991. But there is enough room to be seriously concerned. The macroeconomic indicators could and should be much better starting with per-capita incomes, GDP growth, unemployment rate, foreign direct investment or public debt-to-GDP ratio.
In the meantime Western countries continue to export an obsolete economic model based on the inundation of unnecessary and redundant multiple-choice and programmed obsolescence products and services which by the way Western countries manufacture and export for the sake of their developed economics and their highly-educated personnel. Albanians continue to love Mercedes Benz and I-Phones, surprisingly abundant for a country with a per capita income under the USD 10 000 mark. Politics-based governance articulated according to the fragmentation of the ideological spectre is ruining the possibility of uniting society along an axis different from nationalism and football, which may bring apparent and temporary joy and pride but never progress or prosperity. And by the way in spite of the appearance of the left-wing or right-wing dress, all political parties exert a same ideology in the very center of the vast range of possibilities.
Albania and Albanians may be making absolute progress. But what matters in today's world is relative progress compared to more developed nations. If relative progress is slow Albania will continue to fall and not climb in the international rankings. The drama, the orgy of bad governance, the pandemics of corruption, the evils of nepotism and connections will destroy a country and a society already confused, tired, lost in a transition to nowhere where the light is being shadowed by partisan and spurious domestic and international interests. Subsequent to Enver Hoxha's death, Albanians opened Pandora's box when they looked at the West as a benchmark to copy and follow. Western countries are the foremost example of what not to copy or embrace as standards for the developing World. Canada and The United States would not be what they are today in the absence of the massive diasporas of qualified personnel landing on their shores. Western Europe would not be what it is today in the absence of centuries of excessive and sometimes abusive colonization and annihilation of remote territories where societies were massacred and imposed upon systems and standards that simply did not fit.
Albania must change the course of its governance and leadership to change the course of history. The country must embrace extreme cooperation with its neighbors including Kosovo but also Macedonia and Serbia. A large market shall benefit everyone in the Balkans. The country's protagonists and intellectuals must hear my call and join our efforts to launch post-politics as an alternative governance paradigm. The mediocre and corrupt must either resign or embrace radical change. Aggregate interest must prioritize individual interest until Albania reaches a reasonable level of prosperity well beyond its current level.
My due diligence is accurate, exact and fair. It portrays in a straightforward and descriptive narrative the central part of the distribution of opinions I have incorporated from circa one hundred personalities. Whoever wishes to challenge me can confront the domestic protagonists who have welcomed me and my presence in Europe's friendliest republic. I feel confident and comfortable with my analysis. Statistically speaking I cannot be wrong or biased after speaking and spending hundreds of hours with the countries' real insiders and visionaries.
I speak onto you Albanians. There is still time to re-route our journey towards the best possible future. You must be bold and brave. Together we can do it with the help of the Expert Dreamers. Europe's most beautiful and friendliest republic can accomplish the dream, but not with the current players and stakeholders.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Whose is Bigger? Russian and Turkish Militaries Compared

Whose is Bigger? Russian and Turkish Militaries Compared


Jet formation flyby was carried out by four Su-34 Fullbacks

Although Russia and Turkey are unlikely to go to war, discussion of the two countries' relative military strength has blossomed on the Internet.

After the Turkish shootdown of the Russian plane exacerbated relations between the two countries, discussion of a potential conflict between the two began in the media and on social networks.
Both countries have said that a direct military confrontation is impossible. However, the Global Firepower Index, which compiles information on the strength of countries' militaries based on publicly available information could give an indication of the two countries' relative strengths.
Russia is ranked second in the index, after the United States, while Turkey is number 10.
Russia would be able to mobilize over 69 million people in case of a military confrontation, to Turkey's 41 million. At the same time, while Russia has 766 thousand active servicemen to Turkey's 410 thousand, Russia would has nearly 2.5 million troops in reserve to Turkey's 186 thousand. In terms of equipment, Russia is said to have a total of 15,398 tanks, compared to Turkey's 3,778, with a similar ratio of personnel carriers, with 31,298 to Turkey's 7,550.
The gap is more apparent in self-propelled artillery, of which Russia has 5,972, compared to Turkey's 1013. In terms of multiple rocket launcher systems, Russia has 2,793 systems compared to Turkey's 811.
At the same time, in the aerial naval balance which would be more important in such a potential confrontation, Russia has 3,429 planes to Turkey's 1,020. When it comes to naval ships, Russia has 352 to Turkey's 115.
In terms of logistical factors, Russia is an oil producer, while Turkey is a net importer of oil. Relative military budgets are also compared, with Russia's reported $60.4 billion to Turkey's $18.2 billion. At the same time, the rating, while providing a simple comparison, relies on publicly gathered data, sometimes estimated. More complex analyses, such as Military Balance, published by the International Institute of Strategic Studies, give a more in-depth look at the state of countries' military strength and ongoing conflict analysis.

Frontex examining Greek request for RABIT support in the Aegean

Additional Frontex officers are expected be deployed on the Greek border with FYROM next week

Friday, December 04, 2015
Frontex examining Greek request for RABIT support in the Aegean
The European Union’s external border protection agency Frontex is currently examining a request submitted by Greek authorities for the the deployment of Rapid Border Intervention Teams (RABIT) on Greek islands in the Aegean. Frontex is expected to come to a decision within five days.
Should Frontex accept the Greek request, then EU member states and other countries related to the Schengen Treaty may be asked to supply border guards and the necessary equipment in order to assist in the protection of Greece’s borders. RABIT regulations stipulate that only countries facing special circumstances themselves, which affect the execution of national duties, are exempt.
As explained by Frontex, when deployed, RABIT border guards operate under the command of the authorities of the country that requested the assistance. Currently Frontex has provided 16 craft, 2 helicopters and 195 employees to assist in operations in the Aegean Sea, as part of the Poseidon operation.
On Thursday Frontex came to an agreement with Greek authorities to expand their operations on the border with FYROM, where tension has risen in recent days. Frontex will begin deploying additional officers in the ear over the next week to assist in the documentation and registration of refugees and migrants.

'Creativity and art often start in unlikely places': Exploring Albania's hidden creative potential


'Creativity and art often start in unlikely places': Exploring Albania's hidden creative potential'Creativity and art often start in unlikely places': Exploring Albania
When I say Albania, creativity and design probably isn't the first thing you'd think of. The capital city's architecture has an intimidating simplicity to it, and the country's history is fraught.
From the end of the Second World War until 1990, the Albanian people were under the rule of the dictator Enver Hoxha, in a situation similar to what can be seen in North Korea today.
The country was isolated for 50 years. You and your family could, and would, go to jail for life if you listened to the Rolling Stones; wore blue jeans; created a DIY antenna to receive TV channels and radio stations from countries nearby or by simply implying the dictatorship was not the best thing ever. The situation remained unstable for the next decade: anarchy, pyramid crisis, and civil war, but Albania started to grow for real in the noughties.
The country is young, in all sectors. This includes the creative industry. And so, the need to bring the creative community together and initiate a dialogue about quality in the market is an exciting time.
Last month, advertisers and creatives descended on the Albanian capital for the annual Design Overview in Tirana (aka DOIT) - a celebration of creativity and communications in traditional and new media and sponsored by big names J. Walter Thompson, McCann, DDB and Ogilvy. Now the festival is in its fourth year, and the country is full of creative potential.
Renato Tata, head creative director of Ogilvy & Mather Albania initiated Design Overview, he says: “The creative industry in Albania is in the infant stage. It’s easy to understand that there is no advertising history. Role models and pop culture were missing and young people didn’t have any reference from the past.”
With regard to advertising and marketing this is evident - Ogilvy & Mather Albania was established only in 2006.
Some of the ad agencies in the country are starting to import talented people who can teach and lead the next generation of young talent. This is a country teeming with potential, and the time is now.
This is why Design Overview is so important, as it inspires and gives a brighter future for Albania and its creative scene in order to raise the standards and put the country on the map as an active part of the European creative industry, with a visible presence in festivals and awards.
One of the big themes of the festival was awards and the entry barriers that this creates for smaller markets. The cost of one entry is a couple of months' wages for a designer in Albania, and when your agency has a total staff of 10, entering awards is an unaffordable cost. Many markets are getting lost as they can't afford to get recognition and visibility in industry awards.
It was just last year that Albania, Ghana and San Mariano entered Cannes Lions for the first time (the USA alone entered 6,213 times that year).
I believe that creativity can so often be found in the fringes of society. In fact, David Ogilvy said “talent I believe is most likely to be found among non-conformists, dissenters and rebels”.
Creativity and art often starts in these unlikely places and then, as we see so often see, ends in the upper echelons of society. Bohemian (Boho) cities are a hotbed for the creative class and cultural industries.
In Richard Florida's ‘Rise of the Creative Class’ he writes: "Members of the creative class ... do not consciously think of themselves as a class.  Yet they share a common ethos that values creativity, individuality, difference, and merit" and this needs to be celebrated.
For Charles Leadbeater, who wrote ‘Living on Thin Air’ about the creative economy, he says: "Settled, stable communities are the enemies of innovation, talent, creativity, diversity and experimentation.  They are often hostile to outsiders, dissenters, young upstarts and immigrants...this can be the enemy of knowledge creation, which is the well-spring of economic growth."
It's not a surprise to learn that big marketing budgets don't land in Albania. But is this a missed opportunity?
UK and US agencies have budgets aplenty, but can these lesser known markets be a minefield for marketeers seeking new creative ideas and celebrate different cultures and people?
Inspiration is the first step. The Albanian creative community is growing, hopefully some of this potential will end up in the upper echelons one day.

Kerry: “The USA will do everything it can to help Greece return to growth”

Regional developments, security concerns, energy and the Cypriot dispute will be on the agenda

Friday, December 04, 2015
Kerry: “The USA will do everything it can to help Greece return to growth”
The US State Secretary John Kerry was received by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras at the Maximos Mansion on Friday, shortly after arriving in Greece.
The Prime Minister welcomed Mr. Kerry’s visit to Greece at such a critical period for the region and told the American diplomat how Greece acts as a ‘hub of stability’ and ‘pole of cooperation’ in the greater region. PM Tsipras stressed the importance and need for solutions to serious problems in the region.
On his behalf, Mr. Kerry pledged US support in assisting Greece exit the financial crisis and return to growth, while praising the Greek government’s efforts. The American official also recognized that Greece is facing major challenges, particularly is relation to the refugee and migration crisis.
The chief of US diplomacy, arrived in Athens today for a series of meetings with the Greek leadership, including Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras at 11:40 and the Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikos Kotzias later on at 12:30. Mr. Kerry’s visit comes in light of the recent developments on the crisis in Syria and terrorist attacks in Europe. As such, security will be high on the agenda, given the recent rumors of a Greek expulsion from the Schengen zone. Greece’s relations with Turkey in relation to the Cypriot dispute will also be discussed, with the US urging calm. With Turkey’s relations with Russia in crisis, following the shooting down of a warplane, Washington believes that a constructive stance is necessary.
Energy will also undoubtedly be on the table, since the US wants to supply the European market with LNG shale gas. This will, however, require that the construction of the terminal stations in Revythousa and Alexandroupoli completes. The US also wants to expedite the construction of the TAP and IGB pipelines.
Finally, Athens will also discuss the US support in relation to debt relief. Although the provision of debt relief will ultimately depend on the implementation of reforms and the US will not necessary support an outright write off of the debt, American support will have a symbolic value.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Greece faces the prospect of an expulsion from the Schengen Treaty

The government must implement a series of measures by the 17th of December to avoid the possibility

Thursday, December 03, 2015
Greece faces the prospect of an expulsion from the Schengen Treaty
The European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos warned against the prospect of a creating a “mini Schengen” zone at the College of Commissioners, in response to a leak in the Belgian press by European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Vytenis Andriukaitis over the situation on Lesvos.
According to Mr. Avramopoulos the creation of such a zone, to which the Eurogroup president Jeroen Dijsselbloem recently made a reference, poses a significant threat to the entire European foundation. He also stressed that along with the implementation of reforms, Greece must be supported in its efforts to address the refugee crisis
In order to avoid such a prospect, Greek authorities will request the assistance from FRONTEX to carry out the identification and registration procedures of refugees arriving in Greece. Additionally, the civil protection will activate its services to address the humanitarian and medical needs on the islands where refugees initially land.
Furthermore, the deployment of Rapid Border Intervention Teams (RABIT), in order to assist in operation on the Greek island borders, is being discussed. The Greek government had requested RABIT assistance in 2010 for the borders in the north of Greece at Evros.
The impression among many European countries is Greek authorities are either delaying or unable to effectively carry out the necessary screening procedures. As such, the council meeting of European Ministers of Foreign Affairs on Friday and the upcoming European summit scheduled for the 17th of December are critical.

Serbian president likens Russia to "mother"

Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic thanked Russia on Thursday "on behalf of our little Serbia" for the country's assistance.
Source: B92, Beta, Tanjug, TASS
During his meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who is in Belgrade for the OSCE Ministerial Council, Nikolic stressed Serbia would not join the sanctions imposed on Russia.
"I wish you success at the conference in Belgrade, and that you speak to those with whom you are currently not talking enough, because only something good can come out of that," Nikolic said.

He expressed gratitude on behalf of Serbia to Russia and in particular its president, Vladimir Putin, for fighting against global terrorism, expressing his regret over the Russian victims, but also noting that the battle's goal was great, and that Serbia was "ready to offer every possible assistance to anyone who is opposing this evil."

"We will certainly cooperate with Russia more intensively than until now, because we wish to show we are against sanctions and to show our friends from Europe that to be in the EU does not mean to be against Russia, and that to be a friend of Russia does not mean to be against the EU," Nikolic said.

He stressed that the two countries cooperate well politically and that he hopes Serbia had not caused Russia too much trouble as it was helping solve "important problems."

"A person has friends around the world, but most often recalls their mother - Serbia is like that too, when it most needs help it thinks of the Russian Federation and that help has not been missing or withheld from us, through history," he said.

The president also said that Serbia "will implement everything it agrees to, but it will never recognize Kosovo."

"You should not support us if one day we betray it, and also we will not impose sanctions on Russia, because we suffered from sanctions for much too long to be introducing them against someone else," Nikolic said and added:

"Here your role is very big, major, although many do not want to acknowledge it, you are influencing this to be a gathering on European peace and security."

According to the president, the Su-24 of the Russian Aerospace Forces was shot down last month in Syria "because of the mistake of somebody in Turkey." But, Nikolic observed, "Russia is great - and can find the right way out of any problem."

The Serbian president believes that the anti-IS fight so far "has not been resolute, but rather selective, and not always aimed against the terrorists, but often against the officially elected representatives in the country (Syria)."

"Whom the people elect deserves to lead the state. No imposition on the people against their free will can be carried out," said Nikolic.

Speaking about the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue, he said it was "often not easy - because we are talking to the arrogant, and to the people who have the support of a large part of the western civilization" - but added he appreciated the fact that Serbia had Russia's support.

"We will continue to talk, nothing will be achieved by conflict," said the Serbian president.

Nikolic also asked Lavrov to relay his greetings to Russian President Vladimir Putin and and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.

During the meeting, Lavrov said that Russia is ready to continue developing relations with Serbia and increase cooperation in all fields.

Lavrov added he hoped that the cooperation between Serbia and Russia will be even greater in both "the economy and in the international arena."

"We evaluate highly your personal contribution to efforts geared toward strengthening partnership between Russia and Serbia. We are ready to step up and expand cooperation, including in the spheres of economy and European security," Lavrov said, according to TASS.

Moscow is grateful to Belgrade for "expressing solidarity" with Russia after the incident with Turkey’s downing the Russian bomber in Syria, Lavrov said.

Russia and Serbia share the position that all problems in Europe should be addressed via dialogue, without imposing any unilateral approaches, he said.

"We were inspired by your personal participation in the Victory Parade on May 9," the Russian minister noted, adding that a Serbian military unit that was "marching along the country’s main square" represented "a symbol of the unity of our peoples."

"We have always been and will always be allies," Lavrov stressed, TASS reported.

PM opens OSCE conference, warns about "Balkan powder keg"

Aleksandar Vucic said at the opening of the OSCE Ministerial Council that the Balkans remains "a powder keg that needs only a spark to explode again."
Source: B92
"I must express my concern for the stability in the Balkans. Serbia is a stable country, but several crisis situation in the region are enough - in Macedonia, Montenegro, Pristina - for the whole region be set on fire again," the Serbian prime minister on Thursday.
He noted that this message was "for those who do not understand how important stability in the Balkans is," and stressed that Belgrade considers relations in the region to be among its priorities.

"With the hotheads in Serbia, we will know how to deal," Vucic said in his speech at the beginning of the big OSCE summit in Belgrade.

The Serbian prime minister said that cooperation and understanding are important for the whole world.

"We learned how important it is. The slightest conflict may initiate a chain reaction," said Vucic.

The instability in Kosovo, he noted, was endangering the Brussels dialogue, but Serbia will, he confirmed, continue to conduct it, "because it is the only way to ensure security, its own and of the Albanians in Kosovo."

"Serbia chooses life and prosperity, rather than conflict," said Vucic, adding that the country and the region "are a part of Europe" and that Serbia continues on its European path, where it is grateful for the help from "American colleagues" and at the same time preserves its traditional friendship with Russia.

Vucic called on all "guests of Belgrade" to adopt joint conclusions and recommendations during the conference that would be aimed at solving many problems, a key among them being the migrant crisis

"For this problem we must have a common policy," Vucic said.

The migrant crisis, he pointed out, has shown all the weaknesses of internal organizations of states and systems, of international organizations - "but also reminded us that there is no cooperation and support without police and security cooperation."
"There is also the fear that foreign terrorist fighters might appear, those who joined the war in Syria and Iraq, and the fear grows and grows.... so does xenophobia," warned the Serbian prime minister, urging that the refugee problems be solved.

Vucic said that hundreds of thousands of migrants have so far passed through Serbia, "wanting to reclaim their right to a future", and pointed out that although Serbia is ready to participate in the solution, they will have to be brought through joint efforts primarily of those countries that are providing homes for refugees.

Vučić underlined "the big problem of extremism for the whole world" which, he said, "can be prevented by educating the youth." Also, he said that "human life is worth the same everywhere - from Paris to the aircraft over Sinai."

Vucic expressed his gratitude for the cooperation and support during the year of Serbia's OSCE presidency and wished the participants in the two-day Ministerial Council "productive work and a pleasant stay in Belgrade."

"Even the great Le Corbusier said that Belgrade is the best positioned city in Europe," recalled Vucic, adding, "that is why we love it and why we have been able to preserve it."

"Welcome to the land of proud and good people, welcome to Serbia," said Vucic.

The Ministerial Council of the OSCE in Belgrade started with a plenary session opened by OSCE Chairperson and Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic.

The two-day ministerial meeting of the OSCE, during which the Serbian capital will host more than 40 ministers of foreign affairs, will be attend, among others, by diplomacy chiefs of the U.S., Russia and the EU - John Kerry, Sergei Lavrov and Federica Mogherini, as well as Secretary General of the Council of Europe Thorbjorn Jagland.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Lavrov and Kerry "to meet over dinner in Belgrade"

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will meet this evening in the building of the old General Staff in Belgrade.
Source: Vecernje novosti, Tanjug
(Beta/AP, file)
(Beta/AP, file)
This has been reported by Vecernje Novosti daily. The report added that Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic and Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic would host a dinner in the War Hall of the edifice that will bring together foreign ministers of the OSCE member-states "in an informal atmosphere."
This will take place before tomorrow's official opening of the OSCE Ministerial Council conference in Belgrade, where "the most current European and global political and security issues will be discussed."

Kerry and Lavrov will arrive here late on Wednesday along with their large delegations - Kerry will be accompanied by around 260 people, while the Russian team will include almost 100.

Before the dinner at the General Staff building, the Serbian prime minister and Kerry will meet in Belgrade's Bokeljka villa for a private conversation.

The two-day Ministerial Council of the OSCE, currently chaired by Serbia, officially starts on Thursday morning with a plenary session that will be opened by Vucic and Dacic, in the presence of more than 40 foreign ministers. The arrival of nearly 1,500 officials from the 57 OSCE member states and 11 partner countries is expected.

The OSCE conference ends on Friday when member-states' joint conclusions will be presented, the newspaper reported.

"Serious player"

Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic has said that over the past year Serbia has demonstrated that it is a serious player capable of chairing a big and complex organization such as the OSCE, at the moment when it is facing the acute issues such as the Ukraine situation, migrant crisis and terrorism.

“This is also illustrated by the fact that the Belgrade meeting will welcome foreign ministers from 44 OSCE participating countries,” Dacic told RTS on Tuesday evening.

However, he could not confirm that a meeting between the foreign ministers of Russia and Turkey would take place.

In relation to the Russian ambassador's expectation of the OSCE to condemn the recent downing of a Russian fighter jet as Turkey's aggression, Dacic said that the issue would certainly be discussed, among other topics, but noted that any decision required a consensus.

Speaking late on Tuesday in Belgrade, OSCE Secretary General Lamberto Zannier said Serbia was "a strong and constructive leader" during its chairmanship.

Montenegro invited to join NATO

NATO has invited Montenegro to become the 29th member state of the organization, said NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
Source: Beta
The decision to invite Montenegro was adopted unanimously, Beta is reporting on Wednesday.
Montenegro's state television directly broadcast the meeting of ministers of countries - members of NATO, at which the secretary general of the alliance announced the decision to invite Montenegro to join NATO.

Stoltenebreg asked Montenegrin Foreign Minister Igor Luksic and Minister of Defense Milica Pejanovic-Djurisic to join the meeting.

In addition, he stated that this was "a great day for NATO and Montenegro," but that the process of accession the country's accession to the alliance "did not end here, as there is still work to do."

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on Tuesday that NATO members reached a consensus that Montenegro should be invited to join.

The British daily Guardian wrote yesterday that NATO's "new big step" towards expanding would further heat up tensions with Russia.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Wednesday in Brussels that NATO's expansion was "not aimed against Russia."

Albania in tax dispute with Canada's Bankers Petroleum

Image result for Canadian-based Bankers Petroleum Ltd

TIRANA, Albania (AP) " A legal row over tax payments between the government of Albania and Canadian-based Bankers Petroleum Ltd. has escalated, with the oil company threatening to cut production.
Albania's tax department last month froze the company's bank account after alleging it had not properly paid its taxes. It says it should pay $75 million on its 2011 profit and also justify a $220 million expenditure in 2013.
Bankers Petroleum has in return filed two complaints with the International Court of Arbitration. On Wednesday, the company threatened "to curtail production" unless its account is unblocked.
The Albanian government insisted the oil fields "belong to all Albanians and cannot be misused or used as a threat to the country."
Bankers Petroleum said that "all of our costs were necessary expenses to support our ongoing oilfield operations." It adds that the account suspension makes it "unable to pay royalty taxes or pay our suppliers."
An output sharing contract allows Bankers Petroleum to recover its costs before paying tax but the Albanian government audits have found the company's expenses were already covered in 2011 and Bankers Petroleum had to pay a 50 percent profit tax in 2011.
Energy Minister Damian Gjiknuri has said that "the audits from specialized agencies have concluded there are swollen costs."
"Production is very important and we do not want any company to release such messages suggesting cuts or problems with oil production, as that would affect the Albanian economy," he said.
Bankers Petroleum has been operating in Albania's oil-rich Patos-Marinze area since 2004, raising its production from 40,000 tons per year to one million currently.
This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

Mystery Surrounds Funding of Albanian Jihadists

The source of the funds for the travel and living expenses of Albanian militants heading to the war in Syria remains unclear to investigators.
Aleksandra Bogdani, Flamur Vezaj BIRN Tirana
 The source of the funds for the travel and living expenses of Albanian militants heading to the war in Syria remains unclear. Photo:Wikimedia.
A man in his fifties was filmed in the hall of Mother Teresa Airport in Tirana, teaching three young men how to act on boarding their first ever flight.

That was back on January 2, 2014, when Albanian police stopped the young men from heading towards the battle fronts of Syria.

One of them carried a handwritten letter in his pocket, reading: “Tirana-Istanbul-Gaziantep-Kilis. $750 belong to Ebu Amar’s family.”

The note described the route that three young men needed to follow to reach the war in Syria. As for the money, that was a contribution from “Muslim brothers” in Tirana to the widow and orphans of Diamant Rasha, who still live in camps in Syria.

Rasha – who took the religious name of Ebu Amar – was a pizza delivery man in Tirana who died on December 28, 2013, fighting in Syria for ISIS, the so-called Islamic State.

Tracing the source of funding for Albanian jihadists fighting in Syria from 2012 to 2014 has proved a challenge for Albania’s office for the Prosecution of Serious Crimes, as it investigates a group of 13 suspected Islamists arrested in March.

Investigation papers that BIRN has obtained show that the source of the funding for the 90 Albanians who traveled to Syria over those two years remains unclear.

Payments identified by the investigation were made to cover plane tickets or repay debts that jihadist had run up before they departed to war.

Of the 13 people prosecuted for recruiting Albanians to join the Syrian war, four face charges of funding would-be jihadists.

According to Prosecution Office, the promise of eternal rewards in the afterlife was the main incentive for the Albanian jihadists who joined al-Qaeda and ISIS.

Investigating the money network
Of the 13 people prosecuted for recruiting Albanians to join the Syrian war, four face charges of funding would-be jihadists. Photo: Flickr
In January 2014, Turkish police seized offices of Humanitarian Relief Foundation, IHH, in Istanbul, Gaziantep, Kilis and several other Turkish locations, suspecting that this organization helped funding foreign jihadist.

The Syrian authorities have accused the IHH of funding hundreds of Albanians to fight against Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

However, Prosecution Office probes in Albania have yet to uncover transfers that link this or other similar organizations to the funding network headed by two arrested Albanian imams, Genci Balla and Bujar Hysa.

Investigators have verified all the transactions in commercial banks in Albania and found that the two imams took large sums of money from Turkish individuals but not from organizations.

The influx of bank transactions was sizable until 2010, which is when the Prosecution Office dated several transfers of 3,000 to 5,000 euro into Balla’s and Hysa’s bank accounts.

The transfers were listed as donations for mosques, but the identity of these “philanthropic” individuals in Turkey remains unclear.

One source in the Prosecution Office told BIRN that most of the donations to Albanian jihadists were no higher than 200 or 300 euro. The two imams have declared that the money was destined to help the mosques they run in Tirana.

“We could not prove that the two imams profited financially from any Turkish organization or from an organization located in the Middle East,” the same source told BIRN.

Beside bank transfers, prosecutors have investigated the travels to Kosovo in 2012-2014 of the two imams, who are considered the heads of the recruitment network in Albania.

This period coincides with the rise in the number of Albanians joining the Al-Nusra front or ISIS.

There is suspicion that the money came illegally from Kosovo but it has been hard to prove

The investigation’s documents and wiretappings by Albanian authorities reveal a need for money for warriors in Syria. But Imam Hysa was also interested in sending money to the families of killed Albanians.

As in the case with Rasha, the money was sent in cash through new people heading towards the front.

In a wiretapped phone call on October 27, 2013, a jihadist newly arrived in Syria asked the imam how to divide up the money he gave him. “Give 200 to Ebu Enes and 100 to Hasan Korvafaj,” answered Hysa from Tirana.

Enes’s real name was Hamit Myslija - killed in Syria a few days before this conversation took place. Korvafaj was then still alive, but was killed in battle a few weeks later.

One-way ticket to war

Raqqa, in northern Syria, became the de facto capital of the Islamic State after the militants seized it in late 2013. Photo: Google Earth
Despite the low cost of living in Syria, Albanian jihadists still needed money to get there. Plane tickets, payments for guns or living costs for families totaled thousands of euros. The men arrested as recruiters could not have afforded the bills on their own.

According to BIRN’s interviews and the investigation documents, the imams and their followers divided up the financial burden, based on a belief that funding a fighter is the same as sacrificing yourself for jihad.

Many Albanian jihadists turned for funds to others, while buying plane tickets or paying “zekat” for the war. One of them, Shkelzen Dumani, who was killed in an assault on November 5, 2014, sold his house and used a share of the money to invest in jihad.

After paying for the plane tickets of two young Albanians traveling with him to Syria, Dumani left another sum of money to Hysa before he was killed.

 “Abdyl Aziz will bring you 500 euros. The money belongs to Nisi from Elbasan, if he already reserved his plane tickets. Otherwise, send the money where it is needed,” Dumani wrote in a wiretapped message.

Aside from plane tickets, another concern was costs of living in the frontline camps. The Albanians had guaranteed food and place to sleep, but they still needed extra money to live.

Those who decided to stay in Syria often asked for the quick sale of their properties in Albania, while others survived with what they had.

The offer of financial assistance was usually around $150 dollars monthly for the men and their families.

“We have everything here. They give the families $150 a month,” one jihadist’s wife wrote.

Unlike this woman, a jihadist who returned to Albania told BIRN that the conditions in Syria where harsh.

 “There wasn’t enough food; we didn’t have any shower even for a month because it was too cold. We were united by belief, that’s why we were willing to share even the last bite of bread,” he said.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Four arrested in Italian-Kosovo terror operation

Italian and Kosovan police have arrested four Kosovars suspected of being part of a militant cell that spread extremist propaganda and made threats against Pope Francis, justice officials said on Tuesday.
The joint operation involves searches in Brescia, Vicenza and Perugia, according to the Corriere della Sera newspaper. They are accused of condoning terrorism and inciting racial hatred, Italian police say.
The authorities found weapons and electronic equipment while searching a Kosovo residence.
“They were threatening the pope, celebrating the recent attacks in Paris and threatening the former USA ambassador to Kosovo”, said a police chief in the northern Italian city of Brescia, where the investigation was based.
The quartet had also allegedly posted an on-line message saying “Remember that there will not be another pope after this one, this is the last”.
Three of the men were arrested in a series of raids in northern Italy, while the Kosovo police detained the alleged leader in the Balkan country. Investigators have discovered the contacts and organizational chart of a suspected terrorist organization, which, through social networks propagated jihadist ideology.
More than 200 fighters from Kosovo have reportedly joined the ranks of Islamic State and Al Nusra in Syria and Iraq.
The operation was conducted in cooperation with Kosovo Police and took place in several cities in Italy. In November 2014, 40 people were arrested in Kosovo on suspicion of having fought for extremist groups in Syria.

US, NATO allies concerned by Russia, but need its help

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, center, waits for the start of a round table meeting of Resolute Support at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and other NATO foreign ministers meet Tuesday to discuss Russia, beefing up the alliance's southern defenses and whether to expand NATO by adding Montenegro to the NATO Alliance. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

BRUSSELS (AP) — The United States and its NATO allies struggled Tuesday to come up with a clear message to send Russia at a time of conflicting concerns in Europe and the Middle East.
While the West remains alarmed by Moscow’s aggressive action in Ukraine and go-it-alone military efforts in Syria, they say they need Russian help in both places.
Meeting in Brussels, which just emerged from a virtual lockdown prompted by terror threats, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and other top diplomats discussed ways to intensify the campaign in Syria against Islamic State extremists and calm tensions between Turkey and Russia after Ankara shot down a Russian warplane that it believed crossed its border.
The meetings took place as Germany approved plans to commit up to 1,200 soldiers for non-combat roles in support of the anti-IS coalition and a day before a British vote on expanding airstrikes against the group. In Paris, U.S. President Barack Obama voiced optimism about Russia eventually dropping its support for Bashar Assad, Syria’s leader, and helping to end the war.
The 4½-year conflict has killed more than 300,000 people and sparked the worst refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.
But for all the hopes of greater cooperation, there were countless reminders of the tensions between NATO and Russia, the land it was originally created to counter. Russia wasn’t present for any of the talks at the alliance’s headquarters outside the Belgian capital.
Kerry and Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski discussed a recent uptick in violence in eastern Ukraine and stressed the need for the government, rebels and the Kremlin to fully implement a February ceasefire agreement. They also agreed that “international sanctions against Russia should stay in place,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said.
Russia annexed the Ukrainian province of Crimea in 2014 and has been supporting rebels fighting the government in the eastern half of the country.
In the wider meeting, NATO countries prepared to welcome Montenegro as the military alliance’s 29th member, despite Moscow’s warning of retaliation against the small Balkan nation, which is hundreds of miles away from Russia’s border.
Meanwhile, Turkey worked to build broader support for its Nov. 24 decision to shoot down a Russian warplane that Ankara and Washington say violated Turkish airspace, and NATO’s secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg, raised the possibility of reworking decades-old guidelines for coordination among rival militaries.
Nowhere are the stakes higher than in Syria, where Western countries are ambivalent about securing Moscow’s assistance in rooting out the Islamic State from its centers of operations.
France, where 130 people died last month in the Islamic State’s biggest Western attack to date, is among those pushing for closer military cooperation with Russia. The United States says that cannot happen while Russia is shoring up the Assad’s rule by targeting U.S.-backed and Arab-backed rebels more so than IS and other extremists.
But as in Ukraine, Washington is banking on Russia’s support in diplomatic efforts. The former Cold War foes have been working for months to get Syria’s government and moderate opposition forces into direct negotiations, which they hope to start in the next few weeks.
Obama said he believed a Russian “shift in calculation” was possible.
But, he added: “I don’t expect that you’re going to see a 180 turn on their strategy over the next several weeks. They have invested, for years now, in keeping Assad in power. Their presence there is predicated on propping him up, and so that’s going to take some time for them to change.”
At least one question regarding the relationship with Russia is expected to be clarified by the time the NATO foreign ministers’ meeting concludes on Wednesday, according to diplomats: Montenegro’s request to join NATO.
Its accession would likely be finalized at the alliance’s summit in Warsaw next year, making it the first NATO expansion since taking in Albania and Croatia in 2009.
Last week, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said starting the process with Montenegro would be “another serious blow” to international security and deemed it “confrontational.” Russian lawmakers have raised the possibility of trade and other penalties against the country in response.
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