OSLO — Lithuanian liquefied natural gas (LNG) importer Litgas has signed a preliminary agreement with a U.S. supplier, looking to lessen the Baltic nation’s dependence on Russia.
Litgas said Friday it had signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Delfin LNG, a developer of the United States’ first offshore gas liquefaction project.
U.S. LNG exporters are looking to the small Baltic states and Poland as hopes for a boom in Asian demand for cheap North American natural gas wane.
Delfin LNG LLC is developing an offshore liquefaction and export facility in Louisiana with a total export capacity of 13 million tons of LNG per year (about 18 billion cubic meters of natural gas).
Subject to regulatory approval, the project will be constructed in phases, and is expected to start in 2019.
The MOU is not binding in terms of selling or buying LNG, Litgas said.
Last year, Litgas signed a five-year contract to buy 0.54 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year from Norway’s Statoil, and received the first commercial LNG cargo at the end of December via a floating LNG import terminal opened last year.
Another LNG cargo is expected to arrive on Saturday, and a further three are planned before October.
Lithuania’s import terminal next to the Klaipeda port has a total import capacity of 4 bcm of natural gas (2.9 million tons of LNG) compared with annual consumption in the Baltic states of 4-5 bcm.
Poland plans to open a new 5 bcm per year LNG import terminal at the Baltic port of Swinoujscie later in 2015, and it is expected to import initially LNG from Qatar.
November 1998: Less than four months after Putin took over takes at the KGB, Galina Starovoitova, the most prominent pro-democracy Kremlin critic was murdered.
The politician, who was State Duma deputy at the time, was shot to death in the stairwell of her home in central St Petersburg in what appeared to be a ‘politically motivated’ attack.
March 2000: Putin was elected as leader and Russian ordered attacks in Chechnya. Opposition leaders, especially those who reported on the conflict in Chechnya were killed.
Reporters Igor Domnikov, Sergey Novikov, Iskandar Khatloni, Sergey Ivanov and Adam Tepsurgayev were all killed in 2000 alone.
April 2003: Sergei Yushenkov, co-chairman of the Liberal Russia political party was gunned down at the entrance of his Moscow apartment block.
Viktor Yushchenko (left), anti-Russian candidate for the presidency of the Ukraine, was poisoned by Dioxin in 2004 and Galina Starovoitova, the most prominent pro-democracy Kremlin critic, was shot in 1998
He had been serving as the vice chair of the group known as the ‘Kovalev Commission’ which was formed to investigate charges that Putin’s KGB had planted support for the war in Chechnya.
July 2003: Yuri Shchekochikhin, a vocal opposition journalist and member of the Russian Duma and the Kovalev Commission contracted a mysterious illness.
Witnesses said he complained about fatigue, and red blotches began to appear on his skin. They said: ‘His internal organs began collapsing one by one. Then he lost almost all his hair.’
June 2004: Nikolai Girenko, a prominent human rights defender, Professor of Ethnology and expert on racism and discrimination in the Russian Federation is shot dead in his home in St Petersburg.
July 2004: Paul Klebnikov, editor of the Russian edition Forbes magazine, was shot and killed in Moscow.
Forbes reported that at the time of his death, Paul was believed to have been investigating a complex web of money laundering involving a Chechen reconstruction fund and the Kremlin.
Former spy Alexander Litvinenko (pictured) was killed in 2006, leading to a clouding of relations between London and Moscow.
September 2004: Viktor Yushchenko, anti-Russian candidate for the presidency of the Ukraine, was poisoned by Dioxin.
September 2006: Andrei Kozlov, First Deputy Chairman of Russia’s Central Bank, who strove to stamp out money laundering was shot and killed in Moscow.
November 2006: Former spy Alexander Litvinenko was killed in 2006, leading to a clouding of relations between London and Moscow.
The 43-year-old had been an officer with the Federal Security Service (FSB), the successor to the KGB, but he fled to Britain where he became a fierce critic of the Kremlin.
October 2006: Anna Politkovskaya, author of countless books exposing Russian human rights violations in Chechnya and articles attacking Vladimir Putin as a dictator was killed in Moscow.
She had written: ‘I have wondered a great deal why I have so got it in for Putin. What is it that makes me dislike him so much as to feel moved to write a book about him?’
January 2009: Stanislav Markelov, a human rights lawyer, was shot after leaving a news conference less than half a mile from the Kremlin in January 2009.
He was appealing the early release of Yuri Budanov, a Russian military officer convicted of killing a young Chechen woman.
July 2009: Leading Russian human rights journalist and activist Natalya Estemirova was abducted in front of her home in Grozny, Chechnya, taken across the border into Ingushetia where she was shot and dumped in a roadside gutter.
February 28, 18:32 UTC+3
The access to the website was restricted in line with the Prosecutor’s Office’s request starting from January
MOSCOW, February 28. /TASS/. Russia’s media watchdog Roskomnadzor has unblocked Alexey Navalny’s website, the watchdog’s press secretary Vadim Ampelonsky told TASS on Saturday.
The access to the website was restricted in line with the Prosecutor’s Office’s request starting from January. “We received a notification that all unlawful information was removed from the site,” Ampelonsky said.
27 February 2015 Last updated at 13:22 GMT
After two days without casualties had raised hopes that the truce might hold, the Ukrainian authorities have announced the loss of three servicemen in the east of the country.
Article by: Paul Goble
Having been slowed by Ukrainian resistance and hope to use the Minsk Accords to avoid new sanctions, Moscow is planning to spark uprisings in major Ukrainian cities in March and April before beginning a major military attack on the country in May, according to Yuri Lutsenko, head of the Poroshenko fraction in the Verkhovna Rada.
He says that the operations up to now were Plan A, the risings Moscow is seeking to organize in Ukrainian cities is Plan B, and a major new Russian aggression against Ukraine is Plan C, and he suggests that Plan B has a real chance because of the unhappiness of some in Ukraine with Kyiv’s policies.
Some may be inclined to dismiss this as nothing more than a reflection of Ukrainian fears and part of an effort to get the West to provide additional support, including defensive arms, but there are there important reasons why that would be a mistake.
First, as the “Novaya gazeta” document highlights, Moscow has been making plans about Ukraine for years, and consequently, it is almost certain that Russian officials or those like Malofeyev near the Kremlin have come up with plans like Lutsenko describes and that Ukrainians have learned about them.
Second, using urban revolts as a means of undermining the power of Kyiv and allowing Moscow to expand its influence in Ukraine is absolutely consistent not only with the ideas of hybrid war but reflects something else: taking any Ukrainian city, even Mariupol, would be extremely difficult by military means alone.
Such actions would likely require the use of massive artillery shelling or bombing, with the resulting massive loss of life that would have the effect of attracting the world’s attention to the brutality of the Russian advance and the heroism of Ukrainian defenders. Organizing a fifth column within cities is thus an attractive option for Russian military planners.
And third, and perhaps most compelling is the fact that the most horrific means Moscow has been willing to employ – such as state terrorism against the civilian population in Kharkiv – have been signaled well in advance to all who have paid even the most cursory attention to Russian news outlets.
As Kseniya Kirillova points out in NR2.com this week, “Putin’s supporters threatened terrorist actions in Ukraine already last fall.” Now, one can see that those were not idle threats however often many dismissed them.
The journalist reports that in September, pro-Moscow opponents of a Ukrainian-American march in Seattle in support of Ukraine, said that the West should not be supporting “terrorists” in Ukraine but that if it continued to do so, then “terrorist actions” will be directed against Ukraine.
Specifically, the pro-Moscow activist said: “If Luhansk and Donetsk aren’t enough for you, then we will also organize terrorist acts in Ukraine against you.”
Friday, 27 February 2015
For almost two weeks, news reports from the battlefields in Iraq have been noting tough times for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Preparations for the ground assault against the terrorist organization and the successes on quality targets by the U.S.-led airstrikes all seem to be marking an emerging decisiveness on ISIS in addition to prophesying a curb to the group’s expansion as the first step towards its elimination.
It is as if the war on ISIS has really entered a new phase. The Iraqi forces, backed by the tribes, al-Hash al-Shaabi, the Kurds and the coalition’s air coverage, have been reported as regaining the upper hand on the battlefield. It was no doubt the tremendous impact of ISIS’ Hollywood-inspired videos, showing its unsurpassed brutality, that made many people around the world forget about the reality of the al-Qaeda-sprung militants. It was to my utmost shock that I once was told by an European professor: “ISIS seems [as though it is] going to control the world!” That was perhaps not the impression of my European friend but of many people who were watching with shock how ISIS is expanding and gaining ground very rapidly with no army to stop them. Such an impression is what ISIS’ propaganda machine has been trying to spread.
The image that wherever ISIS goes no one can stop it is no longer in place. ISIS is now being defeated, cornered and hurt
The world’s focus for a considerable period of time has been all placed on ISIS’ cluster-like expansion in Syria and Iraq. Little attention has been given to the news reports about ISIS’ defeats first in Iraq’s eastern province of Diyala, Anbar’s al-Baghdadi town and before that in the Syrian town of Kobane. The recapture of Kobane by Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, backed by the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the coalition’s air coverage, was the best proof of ISIS’ actual status: an armed militia – not a state or organized army – that can be defeated, cornered and curbed if elements of conventional war are in place. By this I mean, air coverage, ground troops, logistic and technical supports, military plans and, more importantly, the will.
Let’s not forget that ISIS is a self-proclaimed and self-styled entity. All the images about its strength have been constructed by the group itself through horrific videos and testimonies of citizens living in its strongholds. These witnesses may have been forced to say what they said about ISIS. Or they might be members of the group itself. Someone may disagree with me here citing ISIS’s capture of Iraq’s second largest city of Mosulin June last year. But there was actually no war in Mosul. The purely Sunni city was captured because the Iraqi army decided not to fight ISIS, full stop. The fall of Mosul was in brief not the result of ISIS’s strength but had to do with the socio-political situation of Iraq. Iraq’s ex-premier Nouri al-Maliki’s sectarian policies, the marginalization of the Iraqi Sunnis, the agony, wrath and “poverty” of the ex-officers of Saddam Hussein’s dismantled Baath army, coupled with the terrorism of the Shiite militias, were the major reasons behind Mosul’s fall.
The image that wherever ISIS goes no one can stop it is no longer in place. ISIS is now being defeated, cornered and hurt. If the Iraqi forces, now equipped with U.S.-manufactured weapons, continue their march on ISIS-held territories, the group will be forced to withdraw northward and westward to Syria to be faced with the FSA that Washington has recently pledged to train and equip. This withdrawal has already begun but still within Iraq, media outlets has reported recently, talking about the intensified coalition airstrikes obliging ISIS fighters to pull out to Iraq’s al-Qaem province on the border with Syria.
For some reason, watching a video the group has recently released, I had the feeling that ISIS is now trying to fix its tarnished and widely-abhorred image. In that video, there was an ISIS member, speaking “politely” and “quietly” with no black mask on or AK-47 assault gun on his side or shoulder. The man was justifying the terrorist organization’s burning alive of Jordanian Moaz al-Kasasbeh. Definitely under the shock of the angry response of Jordanians – all Jordanians – and also the world on the brutal and barbarian execution of Moaz, this bearded man was helplessly trying to fix the “no way-to-repair” harm to ISIS’ image caused by the pilot’s burning alive and other barbarian acts.
ISIS could have secured some reputation and, maybe acceptance, if it only fought Syria’s sectarian regime and showed mercy to the Sunni communities. ISIS, which calls itself the “Islamic State,” could also have secured a good image if it dealt with the prisoners it held either according to Islamic law or the international law which stipulates decent treatment of prisoners of war, let alone civilians. But violence, torture, brutality and horror are basic ingredients of ISIS’ deviant ideology. ISIS is now perceived worldwide and also in Islamic countries as a terrorist organization and that is not going to change.
Raed Omari is a Jordanian journalist, political analyst, parliamentary affairs expert, and commentator on local and regional political affairs. His writing focuses on the Arab Spring, press freedoms, Islamist groups, emerging economies, climate change, natural disasters, agriculture, the environment and social media. He is a writer for The Jordan Times, and contributes to Al Arabiya English. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @RaedAlOmari2
Now we shall see if Russian opposition will stand, after the assassination of Boris Nemtsov.
If the Russian population is fed up with Putin and his corrupt government and oligarchs, we may see a colored revolution, which is Putin’s biggest nightmare.
Putin’s government replaced a very corrupt government with an even more corrupt government. The corruption is overwhelming and seemingly overpowering. Putin recognizes he must firmly and harshly suppress any opposition that poses a credible threat to his way of governing. The well-being of his citizens does not matter to him. Even though estimates are that he has embezzled $800 billion into his personal accounts, he is still terrified. He may not live long enough to enjoy his ill-gotten gains.
by Kathrin Hille and Courtney Weaver
February 26, 2015 7:38 pm
There were still thick crusts of dirty snow piled up on the edges of the pavement outside Krasnopresnenskaya, a Metro station in central Moscow, on Tuesday. Beside this reminder of a long winter stood four young men and women holding bright green balloons. “Spring is coming!” said one of them, while handing out leaflets to passers-by.
The four, along with similar groups of activists elsewhere, are trying to mobilise their compatriots to come out in Moscow, and a handful of other Russian cities, on Sunday to protest against President Vladimir Putin in what they are calling an “anti-crisis march”.
“After years of siphoning off the oil revenues, the current regime has led the country to a standstill and into complete bankruptcy,” the leaflets say. “Putin and his government cannot lift the country out of crisis and must leave.”
A few passersby took the leaflets; most ignored them. Three years after 100,000 took part in opposition rallies across Russia, the movement is splintered: some leaders are jailed, others are in exile while several have switched sides.
With the economy heading into recession, conventional wisdom would suggest that Mr Putin — whose support ratings were catapulted to over 80 per cent by his annexation of Crimea a year ago and have stayed at record highs ever since — might face political trouble.
That was the thinking behind the sanctions with which the west has been trying to punish the Russian leader for his Crimea grab. The theory goes that if the oligarchs, whom Mr Putin has kept loyal, were threatened with financial losses, they would start leaning on him to change course. Equally if the public started feeling economic pain, it would also turn against the president.
But the Russian leader has overturned such assumptions. A constant drumbeat of propaganda has portrayed the crisis as a fight for Russia’s survival — and the vast majority of the population has rallied around Mr Putin.
The economic pain has very clearly set in, although only partly as a result of the sanctions. More significant has been the plummeting price of oil, which together with gas accounts for three-quarters of Russia’s exports and more than half of its budget revenues.
Following the collapse of the rouble by more than 40 per cent against the dollar over the past year, consumer prices are soaring, a problem made worse by the government’s decision in August to ban a wide range of food products from Polish apples to French cheese in retaliation against western sanctions.
The authorities are forcing everyone to tighten their belts, freezing public sector salaries and laying off doctors and nurses, while private companies are cutting production and workers.
The government has said inflation might peak around 15 per cent this summer, and the economy is likely to contract by about 5 per cent. “It’s the biggest crisis since the collapse of the Soviet Union,” says Vladimir Milov, a former deputy energy minister.
Opposition activists hope to tap into the anger they believe economic hardship will eventually trigger.
Boris Nemtsov, a veteran liberal opposition politician who briefly served as deputy prime minister under Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s, says stagnant wages and soaring inflation topped the agenda when he met with residents of Yaroslavl, a town northeast of Moscow, last week. “They believed that the embargo on imported foods is America’s fault, and they were surprised when I told them no, that was not Obama, it was Putin,” he says. “This is what we need to make people aware of: the crisis, that’s Putin.”
But nobody is under any illusions that grumbling over Russia’s economic woes will bring about swift political change.
“It hasn’t got to the point yet where economic hardship can have an impact on mass opinion,” says Dmitry Gudkov, an opposition member of parliament.
According to the independent Centre for Social and Labour Rights in Moscow, the number of protests over lay-offs and wages has risen sharply in the past year. But observers believe these will remain limited to towns overly dependent on single employers, and this local isolation will allow the government to deal with it. Economists in Moscow believe that only a further slide in the oil price below $50 and continued sanctions could plunge Russia into a catastrophic financial crisis next year which would significantly alter the situation.
Sunday’s rally is not seen as a test for how Mr Putin’s opponents can exploit the economic crisis, but rather a tiny first step for an opposition reduced to a shadow of its former self. In 2011 and 2012, members of the Moscow middle class mounted a real challenge to Mr Putin when they rallied around Alexei Navalny, the lawyer and anti-corruption blogger.
But the movement has since fallen apart. “It is a problem that many activists are abroad, in prison or under house arrest. It weakens the movement,” says Pavel Elizarov, an opposition leader who sought political asylum in Lisbon after the government crushed the 2012 protests. “But for sure it’s better to live abroad than to be in prison.”
Those left behind are trying to rebuild. “Three years ago, we were an opposition. Now we are no more than dissidents,” says Mr Nemtsov. “The task is to organise a real opposition again.”
Organisers say a turnout of 20,000 on Sunday — less than one-fifth of the crowds at the peak of the 2011 protests — would be a “very decent success”.
Nina Zavrieva, a 28-year-old tech entrepreneur, says she will attend, if only to reassure herself that there are still like-minded people in Moscow. “In a way it’s like group therapy,” she says.
The opposition is trying to create a platform for a long-term movement.
“The regime has generated a lot of fear. The usual pictures from protests in Russia have been dark ones, with police officers dressed like astronauts and beating people,” says Leonid Volkov, one of the rally organisers and a member of Mr Navalny’s Progress party. “We have to return peaceful rallies to politics as a regular tool.”
The odds are stacked against them. Mr Navalny himself was jailed for 15 days last week for handing out leaflets advertising Sunday’s protest. He will not be released until March 4, robbing the rally of its main draw.
Last month, police raided both the offices of Mr Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation and the homes of leading staff. “I think they are going to launch some criminal case against us, accusing us of having misused the donations because we paid our staff a salary,” says Roman Rubanov, one of Mr Navalny’s key associates at the foundation.
Even if the opposition can get back on its feet, it is faced with a huge challenge: to broaden its appeal beyond the Moscow middle class and find allies.
“The opposition movement has to understand why 85 per cent [of the people] are still in favour of the ruling party,” says Ms Zavrieva. “Once they understand the problems of the masses, and manage to work with a greater group of people — not just the 5-10 per cent — then something big is going to happen. At this point the opposition is a little bit in a world of its own.”
Mr Gudkov exemplifies this disconnect. He half dismisses the need to engage the wider population. “If, roughly speaking, 60 per cent of the population supports Putin, only 5 per cent are active supporters. The other 55 per cent are zombified TV watchers who will never decide any sort of politics,” he argues. “You show them a different picture [on the TV] tomorrow, and they’ll think differently.”
Making new allies
Not everyone is as cynical. Mr Navalny’s campaigners realise that while his focus on social media allowed him to build support despite being barred from state television, it also prevented him from reaching Russians over a certain age and outside the capital who do not use those media. To address that, Mr Rubanov and his colleagues are working on what they call Russia’s first political tabloid, an eight-page, monthly pamphlet to publish the dirt Mr Navalny’s anti-corruption campaign digs up about the men and women who run the country.
Mr Navalny has also started to co-operate with Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former oligarch who moved to Switzerland when Mr Putin released him from prison in late 2013 after 10 years behind bars, and who has since proposed himself as an alternative president.
The opposition will eventually face the question of how a change of power can be brought about. Opposition politicians reject the possibility of a revolution, but some opponents of Mr Putin hope for a palace coup, while others ponder about how the president could be persuaded to step down.
Mr Gudkov suggests that Alexei Kudrin, a widely respected former economic adviser to Mr Putin, could discuss with officials in western governments the idea that the Russian leader and some members of his closest circle be offered retirement abroad with a promise to be left alone — an arrangement dismissed as impossible by western diplomats in Moscow.
Other politicians are discussing the matter in more realistic terms. “Putin’s rating will not stay at above 80 per cent forever. It will start coming down, very gradually,” says Mr Nemtsov. “And once it does, the fear will diminish, too, and at some point some big business will start supporting and financing us.”
Such scenarios are long in the future. They anticipate Mr Putin serving another six-year term after the present one ends in 2018. At that point the constitution, which allows no more than two consecutive presidential terms, would force him to step aside. Says Mr Nemtsov: “We are talking about 2024.”
This article has been corrected to make it clear that Dmitry Gudkov said Alexei Kudrin should hold discussions with western officials about offering the Russian leadership retirement abroad, not that such discussions had taken place.
New wave: The faces of the Russian opposition
Young, square-jawed and chiselled, Dmitry Gudkov rose to prominence on the back of the 2011-12 Bolotnaya Square protests and the reputation of his father, Gennady Gudkov, a well-respected and long-serving Duma deputy who was kicked out of parliament in 2012 after leading the Moscow street demonstrations.
The younger Mr Gudkov, now 35, is a graduate of Moscow State University’s journalism department. He honed his political skills in his twenties, working for political youth groups and on his father’s campaigns.
He was elected as a Duma deputy in 2011 and is now one of the lone opposition voices left in the 450-seat parliament after his colleague, Ilya Ponomarev, was forced to flee under pressure from Russian prosecutors last year.
While her brother, billionaire Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov, was the one to challenge Vladimir Putin in the 2012 presidential campaign, it was Irina Prokhorova who emerged as the election’s breakout star. On the eve of the vote, Ms Prokhorova dismantled her opponent, the pro-Kremlin film director Nikita Mikhalkov, in a television debate, raising calls that she, and not her brother, should be the anointed challenger to Mr Putin.
Since then, Ms Prokhorova, 58, has become a more visible face of the opposition. She now hosts her own radio and television programmes and has been one of the loudest critics of Russia’s actions in Ukraine, stepping down as chairwoman of her brother’s party, Civil Platform, after coming out against the annexation of Crimea.
The former editor of Lenta.ru, Russia’s most widely read independent news site, Galina Timchenko has now become one of the leading Russian opposition voices abroad. Ms Timchenko, 52, had been in charge of Lenta’s editorial content since the site was founded in 1999, and under her direction the portal flourished into one of the most popular and profitable independent news sites with 20m readers at the end of 2013. In early 2014, the site’s billionaire owner Alexander Mamut suddenly announced that Ms Timchenko had been fired, giving no reason for the dismissal.
It was the latest example of a new and more intensified crackdown on Russian media. But last autumn Ms Timchenko gathered some of Lenta’s former writers and launched a new Latvia-based internet portal called Meduza.
One of the main leaders of the 2011-12 Bolotnaya Square protests, Sergei Udaltsov was put under house arrest in February 2013 on claims that he incited a riot between protesters and police in May 2012. While human rights organisations have decried the case as politically motivated, a court handed Mr Udaltsov and a fellow opposition protester four-and-a-half year prison sentences for “inciting public disorder” last July. He is now in a Moscow holding cell waiting to appeal against his conviction.
The grandson of a Bolshevik and an avowed leftist, Mr Udaltsov, 38, is one of several members of the anti-Putin opposition who supported Russia’s annexation of Crimea. In a blog post last year, Mr Udaltsov wrote: “As a patriot, I believe that the destruction of the USSR was a great mistake and crime, and thus see the annexation of Crimea as a small but important step towards the revival of the Soviet Union.”