[ Ed. note – “All options are on the table.” It’s an annoyingly trite, overused expression, but of course contained within it is an explicit threat, so that’s why it has been so popular with US officials, who of course are fond of making threats despite the “Russian aggression” they love so to banter about.
And it does appear the war envelope is getting pushed closer and closer to the center of the figurative “table.” Who will be the one to finally open that envelope? Will it be Hillary Clinton, known widely today as “Killary,” or maybe Obama before he leaves office? Or possibly Donald Trump?
Maybe it will be Benjamin Netanyahu. Or could it end up being Avigdor Lieberman? I thought about posting an image of a nuclear explosion with Lieberman’s face Photoshopped into the center as a graphic to accompany this article. Maybe I’ll do that for a future one. As bad as Netanyahu has been, Lieberman, who has advocated beheading Palestinians, would be worse. And if his reign as defense minister is bloody enough, he quite possibly may succeed Netanyahu when the latter leaves office. That does seem to be the general trend in Israel these days. Imagine Lieberman with his finger on Israel’s nuclear trigger. An ominous thought, to be sure.
So what are we to make of the fact that the world’s only self-professed Jewish state has descended to such a level of depravity? Is it something inherent in the nature of Judaism? Or is it merely Zionism? Or does it all boil down to “Jewish identity politics” as thinkers like Gilad Atzmon have postulated? Perhaps the subject of a future article.
In any event, the winds of war are blowing, and certain people seem to be consciously trying to engineer a confrontation between NATO and Russia and China. Below are a number of recently-published articles I’ve gathered offer here humbly in an effort to bring this into perspective. ]
Beware What You Wish For: Russia is Ready for War
By Pepe Escobar
Global Robocop NATO predictably discussed Afghanistan (a war NATO ignominiously lost); Iraq (a war the Pentagon ignominiously lost); Libya (a nation NATO turned into a failed state devastated by militia hell); Syria (a nation NATO, via Turkey, would love to invade, and is already a militia hell).
Afghans must now rest assured that NATO’s Resolute Support mission – plus “financial support for Afghan forces” – will finally assure the success of Operation Enduring Freedom forever.
Libyans must be reassured, in the words of NATO figurehead secretary Jens Stoltenberg, that we “should stand ready to support the new Government of National Accord in Libya.”
And then there’s the icing on the NATO cake, described as “measures against Russia”.
Stoltenberg duly confirmed, “We have already decided to enhance our forward presence in the eastern part of our alliance. Our military planners have put forward proposals of several battalions in different countries in the region. No decision has been taken on the numbers and locations.”
These puny “several battalions” won’t cause any Russian planner to lose sleep. The real “measure” is the deployment of the Aegis Ashore system in Romania last week – plus a further one in Poland in 2018. This has been vehemently opposed by Moscow since the early 2000s. NATO’s argument that the Aegis represents protection against the“threat” of ballistic missiles from Iran does not even qualify as kindergarten play.
Every Russian military planner knows the Aegis is not defensive. This is a serious game-changer – as in de-localizing US nuclear capability to Eastern Europe. No wonder Russian President Vladimir Putin had to make it clear Russia would respond “adequately” to any threat to its security.
Predictably all Cold War 2.0 hell broke loose, all over again.
That worthless Patriot
A case can be made that the Beltway – neocons and neoliberalcons alike – do not want a hot war with Russia. What they want, apart from racking in more cash for the Pentagon, is to raise the ante to such a high level that Moscow will back down – based on a rational cost analysis. Yet oil prices will inevitably rise later in 2016 – and under this scenario Washington is a loser. So we may see a raise of interest rates by the Fed (with all the money continuing to go to Wall Street) trying to reverse the scenario.
Comparisons of the current NATO buildup to pre-WWII buildups, or to NATO when opposed to the Warsaw Pact, are amateurish. The THAAD and Patriot missiles are worthless – according to the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) themselves; that’s why they tried to improve them with Iron Dome.
Meanwhile, those new NATO army “battalions” are inconsequential. The basic thrust behind the Pentagon’s moves under neocon Ash Carter continues to be to draw Russia ever further into Syria and Ukraine (as if Moscow actually was involved in, or wanted, a Ukrainian quagmire); trap Russia in proxy wars; and economically bleed Russia to death while crippling the bulk of oil and natural gas income to the Russian state.
Russia does not want – and does not need – war. Yet the “Russian aggression” narrative never stops. Thus it’s always enlightening to come back to this
RAND corporation study, which examined what would happen if a war actually took place. RAND reached an“unambiguous” conclusion after a series of war games in 2015-2015; Russia could overrun NATO in a mere 60 hours – if not less – if it ever amounted to a hot war on European soil.
The Rand Corporation is essentially a CIA outpost – thus a propaganda machine. Yet it’s not propaganda to state the Baltic States and Ukraine would completely fall in less than three days before the Russian Army. However, the suggestion that additional NATO air power and heavily armored combat divisions would make a material difference is bogus.
The Aegis changes the game in the sense that it qualifies as a launch area for US missile defense. Think US missiles with minimum flying time – around 30 minutes – from Moscow; that’s a certified threat to the Russian nation. The Russian military has also been “unambiguous”; if it is ascertained that NATO – via the Pentagon – is about to try something funny, there are grounds for a preventive strike by Iskander-M systems out of Transnistria – as in the destruction of the US missiles by conveniently armed precision weapons.
Meanwhile, Moscow has pulled a stunning success – of course, it’s far from over – in Syria. So what’s left for the Pentagon – via NATO – is essentially to play the scare tactics card. They know Russia is prepared for war – certainly much better prepared than NATO. They know neither Putin nor the Russian military will back down because of kindergarten scaremongering. As for a too conciliatory tone by the Kremlin towards Washington, things may be about to change soon.
Say hello to my S-500
The Russian military are about to test the first prototypes of the S-500 Prometey air and missile defense system, also known as 55R6M Triumfator M – capable of destroying ICBMs, hypersonic cruise missiles and planes at over Mach 5 speeds; and capable of detecting and simultaneously attacking up to ten ballistic missile warheads at a range of 1300 km. This means the S-500 can smash ballistic missiles before their warheads re-enter the atmosphere.
So in the case of RAND-style NATO pussyfooting, the S-500 would totally eliminate all NATO air power over the Baltic States – while the advanced Kornet missile would destroy all NATO armored vehicles. And that’s not even consideringconventional weapon hell.
If push comes to nuclear shove, the S-400 and especially the S-500 anti-missile missiles would block all incoming US ICBMs, cruise missiles and stealth aircraft. Offensive drones would be blocked by drone defenses. The S-500 practically consigns to the dustbin stealth warplanes such as the F-22, F-35 and the B-2.
The bottom line is that Russia – in terms of hypersonic missile development – is about four generations ahead of the US, if we measure it by the development of the S-300, S-400 and S-500 systems. As a working hypothesis, we could describe the next system – already in the drawing boards – as the S-600. It would take the US military at least ten years to develop and roll out a new weapons system, which in military terms represents a generation. Every Pentagon planner worth his pension plan should know that.
Russian – and Chinese – missiles are already able to knock out the satellite guidance systems for US nuclear tipped ICBMs and cruise missiles. They could also knock out the early alert warnings that the satellite constellations would give. A Russian hypersonic ICBM flight time, launched for instance from a Russian nuclear sub all the way to the US East Coast, counts for less than 20 minutes. So an early warning system is absolutely critical. Don’t count on the worthless THAAD and Patriot to do their job. Once again, Russian hypersonic technology has already rendered the entire missile defense system in both the US and Europe totally obsolete.
So why is Moscow so worried by the Pentagon placing the Aegis system so close to Russia’s borders? A credible answer is that Moscow is always concerned that the US industrial military-complex might develop some really effective anti-missile missiles even though they are now about four generations behind.
At the same time, Pentagon planners have reasons to be very worried by what they know, or hint. At the same time the Russian military – in a very Asian way – never reveal their full hand. The key fact of the matter needs to be stressed over and over again; the S-500 is impenetrable – and allows Russia for the first time in history to launch a first strike nuclear attack, if it ever chooses to do so, and be immune to retaliation.
The rest is idle babbling. Still, expect the official Pentagon/NATO narrative to remain the same. After all, the industrial-military complex is a cash-devouring hydra, and a powerful enemy is a must (the phony Daesh “caliphate” does not count).
The Threat Narrative rules that Russia has to meekly accept being surrounded by NATO. Russia is not allowed any response; in any case, any response will be branded as “Russian aggression”. If Russia defends itself, this will be “exposed”as an unacceptable provocation. And may even furnish the pretext for a pre-emptive attack by NATO against Russia.
Now let those Pentagon/NATO planners duly go back to play in their lavish kindergarten.
Risks of a US-China Conflagration in the Pacific Quite High
Commenting on growing US-Chinese tensions in the South China Sea region, and Beijing’s announcement that it would deploy nuclear-armed subs to the Pacific in response to US missile defenses in South Korea, University of Maryland professor John Short warned that the risks of a military confrontation between the two powers are ‘quite high’.
On Thursday, citing Chinese military sources, The Guardian reported that China “is poised to deploy submarines with nuclear missiles into the Pacific Ocean for the first time, [Beijing] arguing that new US weapons systems have so undermined [its] existing deterrent force that it has been left with no alternative.”
In March, the US unveiled plans to station its THAAD mobile anti-ballistic missile system in South Korea, supposedly in response to ongoing North Korean missile and nuclear weapons testing. But Beijing has complained that THAAD’s range extends across much of China as well, thus undermining its nuclear deterrent.
Speaking to Radio Sputnik about the escalating tensions over THAAD, University of Maryland public policy professor Dr. John Short suggested that Beijing does have reason to be concerned.
“They have some concern – they feel hemmed in; they feel that they are unable to push past the coastal defenses, so they do have some basis [for the nuclear submarine deployment].” At the same time, Short insisted that Beijing also realizes that the US systems are really geared against North Korea. In this regard, “it’s a useful debating point for them,” he said.
Asked whether Beijing’s decision could result in a new arms race, Short said that the possibility definitely exists. “The Chinese have been working for a couple of decades to get their submarine fleet armed with nuclear missiles; they’ve had some technical problems, but this has been in the works for a while.”
Ultimately, for the deterrent “to be effective, [the Chinese] need to get their submarines out into the Pacific. And to be effective against US anti-ballistic systems they need the [missiles] to have multiple warheads. That all causes concern in the Pentagon, who sees Chinese submarines in the Pacific with multiple warheads; it’s not a scenario that they’re happy with. They see it as a threat.”
According to the analyst, Beijing’s the decision could also open up a number of issues regarding control over nuclear weaponry. In the past, “China has kept very tight control over its nuclear arms; everything has to go through the political system…But once you have nuclear submarines in the middle of the ocean, it’s generally up to the naval commanders themselves, so you’re essentially pushing the responsibility away from the Politburo toward local commanders; that’s a much more dangerous scenario,” Short said.
Ultimately, the academic noted that even if China went ahead with deploying its weapons, the balance of power would remain in the US’s favor. “The US has major super-carriers; China does not have major aircraft carriers. The number of warheads the US has is 67,000…China only has 260; so there’s an asymmetry in their power.”
“China’s nuclear strategy is really a second strike capability; if they’re attacked by other nuclear powers, they want some ability to strike back, even if it’s limited. In that sense, the consequences are a sort of new arms race, because the Americans will see nuclear-powered submarines with nuclear missiles and multiple warheads in the Pacific as a direct threat.”
On a related note, Short warned that the South China Sea dispute between China, the US and Washington’s allies is now one of the major threats to global peace. “You have the possibility of all kinds of small-scale escalations building up. You have lots of fishing fleets, lots of commercial traffic moving through a sort of crowded zone. The opportunities for some small flash point to build up to a major conflagration is really quite high.”
“It’s a major geopolitical hotspot which has been allowed to fester and grow – really it’s one of the world’s hottest geopolitical areas, similar to India and Pakistan. It really is one of the most dangerous places for world peace I think,” the professor said.
Overall, Short indicated, “we have lots of small nations, coast guard, perhaps untrained military personnel right at the forefront – at border lines between fishing fleets and small patrol boats; all these conflicts can really build up very quickly.” Ultimately, he noted, “it’s developing into a very, very dangerous situation.”
Beijing Tells America to Leave South China Sea After Intercepting Spy Plane
Military tensions heightened between China and the United States as the Obama Administration looks to clamp down on Beijing’s influence along the Pacific Rim.
On Thursday, China’s defense ministry asserted that it acted within the rules of engagement after American officials criticized Beijing for a “provocative” and “unsafe” intercept of a US surveillance aircraft over the South China Sea last week.
A Pentagon spokesperson alleged that two Chinese fighter jets undertook an illegal intercept of an American spy plane during “a routine US patrol” over international airspace, heightening the risk of military miscalculation in the hotly contested region. The Chinese J-11 fighter jets flew within 50 feet (15 meters) of the US EP-3 aircraft, just east of Hainan Island.
Chinese defense ministry spokesman Yang Yujan took exception to the recounting of events, telling a monthly news briefing that the Chinese fighter pilots acted professionally and in line with international rules.
The Chinese spokesman also said that future incidents could best be avoided if the US would restrain from surveillance flights near Chinese territorial waters. “That’s the real source of danger for Sino-US military safety at sea and in the air,” he said.
The encounter was triggered when a US Navy ship sailed close to a disputed reef, causing Beijing to scramble fighter jets to prevent an encroachment.
This is not the first time that Chinese jets have intercepted American spy planes. In 2014, a Chinese fighter pilot flew acrobatic rings around a US surveillance aircraft to usher it away from China’s waters.
Unlike the 2014 incident, last week’s intercept of an American plane comes during a critical breakdown in US-Chinese relations, with the Obama Administration attempting to contain the Chinese as well as facing an ongoing international dispute over the Spratly and Paracel archipelagos.
On Monday, US President Barack Obama began a weeklong Asian tour with a stop in Vietnam, confirming to President Tran Dai Quang the end of a five-decade arms embargo. The visit to Hanoi was followed by three days in Japan that will conclude Friday with the first visit by an American head of state to Hiroshima, the city that was destroyed by a US atomic bomb in 1945.
In addition to exploring a policy of China containment by strengthening Pacific Rim alliances, the Obama Administration seeks to dispatch anti-missile systems to South Korea under the guise of preventing a threat from North Korea, but with a consequence of rendering Beijing’s regional nuclear deterrent ineffective.
The moves to contain China’s regional influence come amid accusations by Washington that Beijing is militarizing the South China Sea by installing military aircraft hangars in the Spratly and Paracel Islands. China claims most of the South China Sea territorial waters, through which $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes annually, over competing claims by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Brunei.
China Warns George Soros: Don’t Go to War Against Our Currency
China’s official newspaper warned billionaire investor George Soros not to bet against the Yuan in a front-page opinion piece, as China tries to boost confidence in its home currency, also known as the renminbi, which has dropped 5 percent since August.
“Soros’s war on the renminbi and the Hong Kong dollar cannot possibly succeed – about this there can be no doubt,” said thearticle titled “Declaring war on China’s currency? Ha ha,” published by People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party.
The opinion piece is an attempt to convince investors that the renminbi is still a safe choice despite the currency’s 5.7 percent tumble since August. Meanwhile, China’s central bank has been dipping into its foreign exchange reserves and spending hundreds of billions of dollars trying to halt the currency’s slide.
China zeroed in on Soros after he told Bloomberg TV last week that he is betting against the S&P 500, Asian currencies, and resource-linked economies. Soros also said he is projecting a hard landing for China’s economy, highlighting it as one of the “root causes” of the risk-off market sentiment.
“The Chinese left it too long to address the changeover in the growth model that they have to adapt from – investment and export-led to domestic-led. So a hard landing is practically unavoidable,” he said on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “I’m not expecting it, I’m observing it.”
China’s economic growth has been slowing, hitting 6.8 percent in the fourth quarter of 2015, which led to an expansion of only 6.9 percent on an annual basis, the weakest results in 25 years.
Other Chinese publications also stepped up their criticism of speculation tactics on China’s currency.
“Some people believe that the Chinese capital market is experiencing a major crisis, of which they try to take advantage with speculative actions and even vicious shorting activities,” Xinhua said in a commentary published on Saturday.
China has been fighting against speculation, which could triggers chaos. “As a result, reckless speculation and vicious shorting will face higher trading costs and possibly severe legal consequences,” Xinhua added.
Multibillionaire Soros, who is now 85, has gained a reputation as a currency speculator. Back in 1992 he bet that the pound would lose value, pushing the UK government to withdraw its efforts to artificially buoy its currency in the European Exchange Rate Mechanism. Soros successfully made $1 billion on the bet.
He also speculated against the Thailand baht ahead of the Asian financial crisis in 1997. Some Asian leaders openly blamed massive currency trading, and Soros in particular, for the debacle, with Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad even branding him a “moron” after the Malaysian ringgit’s collapse.
[ Ed. note – Propaganda alert on next two articles ]
Russia Flight Tests Anti-Satellite Missile
Russia conducted a successful flight test of a developmental anti-satellite missile on Wednesday that is capable of destroying satellites in orbit, American defense officials said.
The Nudol direct ascent anti-satellite missile was launched from the Plesetsk test launch facility, located 500 miles north of Moscow, said officials familiar with the situation.
The missile was monitored by U.S. intelligence satellites and the test appeared to be successful.
The launch marks another major milestone for Moscow’s efforts to develop weapons capable of destroying U.S. navigation, communications, and intelligence satellites, a key strategic advantage.
No additional details were available, and it could not be learned if the Nudol missile was fired against a satellite or was test launched in a suborbital trajectory without hitting a target.
It was the second successful test of the Nudol, following a Nov. 18 launch, and shows Russia is advancing its anti-satellite weaponry.
A Pentagon spokeswoman had no immediate comment.
Under Russian President Vladimir Putin, Moscow is modernizing its entire strategic arsenal and developing new weapons like anti-satellite missiles.
Air Force Lt. Gen. David J. Buck, commander of the Joint Functional Component Command for Space, told a House hearing in March that the Russians are developing space weapons, known as “counter-space capabilities.”
“Russia views U.S. dependency on space as an exploitable vulnerability, and they are taking deliberate actions to strengthen their counter-space capabilities,” Buck told the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee.
Gen. John Hyten, the commander of Air Force Space Command, also has said both Russia and China are building space weapons. “They are developing capabilities that concern us,” Hyten has said in press reports.
Russia’s Nudol program has been couched in secrecy, but it appears linked to Moscow’s missile defense systems. State-run press reports in the past have mentioned the Nudol experimental development project as a “a new Russian long-range missile defense and space defense intercept complex.”
Former Pentagon official Mark Schneider said senior U.S. military leaders have been warning about Russian anti-satellite threats for years and regard it as serious.
“GPS guidance has been widely adopted for many of our weapons because it was cheap, all weather, and works well in low and medium intensity conventional conflict,” he said. “The loss of GPS guidance due to [anti-satellite] attack would take out a substantial part of our precision weapons delivery capability and essentially all of our standoff capability.”
Geneva-based Russian military analyst Pavel Podvig speculated whether Russia may have conducted a simulated intercept in the latest test.
How the Nudol program fits within Russia’s military doctrine is difficult to assess, he said.
“My take is that it is not necessarily part of a well thought out strategic plan,” Podvig said.
Soviet-era and current Russian weapons developments were often developed without a clear idea on how they would be employed.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if the [Nudol] system is being developed just because it can be developed—they will think about its role later, assuming that it works,” he noted.
Podvig said the apparent missile manufacturer, Almaz-Antey, “is making an argument that an [anti-satellite] system might be useful to hold U.S. [low-earth orbit] assets at risk.”
“But if it gets to a real conflict scenario it is very difficult to see how this capability might be militarily useful,” he added.
A Defense Intelligence Agency report to Congress in February 2015 warned that, “Russia’s military doctrine emphasizes space defense as a vital component of its national defense. Russian leaders openly assert that the Russian armed forces have anti-satellite weapons and conduct anti-satellite research.”
Schneider said the threat to U.S. satellites is compounded by a lack of kinetic U.S. counter-space capabilities that could hold Russian Glonass satellites at risk.
China also is developing anti-satellite missiles and in 2007 conducted a test of a missile that destroyed a weather satellite, resulting in tens of thousands of pieces of dangerous orbiting debris.
The blog Planet4589.org, which monitors space launches, lists three earlier Nudol tests, including an April 22, 2015, test that failed. The two other tests were the successful launch on Nov. 18 and an Aug. 12, 2014 launch.
The blog identified the Russian designation for the Nudol missile as “14Ts033.”
Coincidentally, the Nudol test took place a day before the Air Force Space Command concluded a major annual war game involving a notional Russian adversary armed with both direct ascent anti-satellite missiles and orbiting anti-satellite robots, command officials told reporters.
Air Force Col. Mike Angle, Space Command’s chief of training, weapons, and tactics, said the exercise involved European allies and U.S. forces facing off against a “peer competitor” in 2026 that appeared to be Russia.
The annual exercise is called Schriever Wargame 2016 and was held this year at Maxwell Air Force Base, Montgomery, Ala.
The exercise included simulated activities by missiles, cyber attacks, and orbiting satellite-killing robots. Scenarios also included cyber attacks against GPS satellites that provided false data to military GPS receivers that are widely used for navigating precision-guided weapons.
“We’ve got to, and we feel we need to, prepare for a crisis or conflict that might extend in the space domain,” Angle said.
Jason Altchek, a Space Command official who directed the war game, would not say if the notional adversary was Russia. “I can tell you it was a global scenario that focused on the European Command,” he said, noting that the scenarios were split evenly among space and cyber crisis and conflict simulations and responses.
Pressed on whether Russia was the adversary, Altchek said such details remain classified. “But I can tell you that the Schriever Wargame has gone from looking at a near-peer competitor, to a peer competitor,” he said.
The seven allied nations that took part in the war games were not immediately identified by the Air Force. However, Angle said one lesson was that “were not all on the same sheet of music” in dealing with space and cyber threats.
Past Air Force exercises had been limited to mainly launching and controlling satellites in a relatively peaceful space domain. “We had never trained to perform in the face of a thinking adversary,” Angle said.
In recent years and including the recent war game, the military has begun training to deal with space threats such as “what happens when you have a direct ascent [missile] launched against a satellite,” Angle said.
Missiles are easier to identify than unidentified, small maneuvering satellites that might either be a killer anti-satellite robot or a benign maintenance satellite.
The goal of the exercise was to simulate coalition warfare that extends into space and cyber space.
The scenarios took place in the European Command area and included “a full spectrum of threats across diverse operating environments to challenge civilian and military leaders, planners and space system operators, as well as the capabilities they employ.”
About 200 military personnel and civilians from 27 commands and agencies took part.
EU and US Threaten to Increase Russia Sanctions
Western leaders have threatened to increase sanctions on Russia on the eve of Vladimir Putin’s visit to Greece.
The leaders of France, Germany, Italy and the UK as well as Canada, the US and Japan said in a joint statement after the G7 summit in Japan on Thursday (26 May) that they “stand ready to take further restrictive measures in order to increase the cost on Russia should its actions so require”.
They noted that the duration of existing sanctions was linked to Russia’s fulfilment of the so called Minsk peace plan for Ukraine, which involves Russian troops leaving Ukraine and restoring control of the border to Kiev.
“Sanctions can be rolled back when Russia meets these commitments”, they said, adding that they “recognise the importance of maintaining dialogue with Russia” on the situation in Ukraine and on broader issues, such as Syria, Islamic State and nuclear non-proliferation.
“In the context of the ongoing crisis between the Russian Federation and Ukraine, we reiterate that energy should not be used as a means of political coercion or as a threat to security”, they also said.
German chancellor Angela Merkel said the situation in Ukraine was “discussed in great detail” and that she had some “hope” of progress.
UK prime minister David Cameron said on Twitter that: “On Russia, the #G7 has agreed on the vital importance of sanctions rollover in June”.
US president Barack Obama said “we’ve started to see some progress in negotiations, but we’re still seeing too much violence” in Ukraine, after shelling by pro-Russia forces in east Ukraine killed seven Ukrainian soldiers on Tuesday.
Donald Tusk, the head of the EU Council, who also attended the Japanese event, told media: “The test of our credibility at the G7 is our ability to defend the common values that we share”.
The G7 statement comes amid internal EU talks on whether to extend the duration of existing economic sanctions on Russia when they expire in July.
Previous EU options papers said if the sanctions were to be increased, that would likely involve greater curbs on international credit and on sales of high-end technology to Russian firms.
The G7 group of wealthy nations suspended Russia’s membership after it invaded Ukraine in 2014.
But the diplomatic freeze has not stopped Moscow from trying to cultivate closer ties with the most Russia-friendly EU states.
Russian leader Vladimir Putin will, on Friday and Saturday, visit Athens and the Orthodox Christian monastery at Mount Athos in northern Greece.
Putin said in an op-ed in the Kathimerini newspaper on Thursday: “Russia’s starting point is the need to build an equal and fair dialogue of partners with the European Union on a wide range of issues – from simplifying visa processes to building energy alliances”.
He dangled the prospect of building a new gas pipeline to the EU involving Greece despite having abandoned two previous plans to do so – one via the Black Sea and one via Turkey.
“The issue of our energy resources being carried through southern corridors to the countries of the European Union is still on the agenda,” he said. He said a new oil supply deal and investments in Greek railways are also on the cards.
His foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, was in Budapest on Thursday.
He repeated Russia’s widely-disproved claim that it has no troops in Ukraine.
“The European Union has linked this [sanctions] to Russia fulfilling the Minsk agreements … Such a connection is absurd, because our country, as is well known, is not party to the conflict in Ukraine”, he told Hungary’s Magyar Nemzet newspaper.
“It is clear that attempts to pressure Russia through unilateral sanctions will not force us to abandon our principled line or to sacrifice our national interests,” he said.