A NATO F-16 fighter approached and was then warned away from a jet carrying Russia’s defense minister, Russian media reported Wednesday, the latest in a string of aerial incidents that have marked rising tensions between the West and Russia.
The incident occurred over the Baltic Sea in northeastern Europe, according to reporters traveling with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, in international airspace crowded with Russian and NATO jets testing one another’s nerve in sometimes dangerously close proximity.
But no incidents yet had involved aircraft with high-ranking Russian or U.S. government officials on board.
PG View: The provocations seem to be intensifying. One mistake or overreaction could lead to a major escalation.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said on Monday it would view as targets any flying objects over Syria in the areas of the country where its air forces operate, Russian news agencies reported.
The statement followed after a U.S. warplane shot down a Syrian army jet on Sunday in the southern Raqqa countryside, with Washington saying the jet had dropped bombs near U.S.-backed forces and Damascus saying the plane was downed while flying a mission against Islamic State militants. [nL8N1JF0YG]
The Defense Ministry also said that it was suspending its interaction with the United States on preventing air incidents over Syria from June 19, the agencies reported.
The United States shot down a pro-Syrian government drone that fired toward U.S.-led coalition forces in Syria on Thursday, a U.S. military spokesman said, in a major escalation of tensions between Washington and troops supporting Damascus.
The armed drone “hit dirt” and there were no injuries or damage done to the coalition patrol in southern Syria. But U.S. Army Colonel Ryan Dillon, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State, told reporters the drone meant to attack them and dismissed the possibility it had fired a warning shot.
“This clearly showed a threat even if it were a warning shot; it was something that showed a hostile intent, a hostile action and posed a threat to our forces because this drone still had munitions that were still on it,” Dillon said.
While the Dow Jones Industrial Average, S&P 500 Index and Nasdaq Composite index hit all-time highs (again) last week and with volatility hovering near a 24-year low, Secretary of Defense James Mattis gave an underreported speech that should cause investors to rethink their complacency.
In an address to a security conference in Singapore, the retired Marine Corps general who headed Central Command from 2010 to 2013 called North Korea’s burgeoning nuclear program a “clear and present danger” and an “urgent military threat.”
By my reading, that ratchets up the already sharp war of words between the Trump administration and North Korea’s ruler, Kim Jong-un. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had said failure to control North Korea’s accelerated testing of missiles and nuclear weapons could have “catastrophic consequences.” In April, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, the president’s national security adviser, said the problem of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal is “coming to a head” and that it poses a “grave threat” to the U.S. and its allies.
Reuters, via Jerusalem Post/06-08-17
A dispute between Qatar and some Arab states is threatening the stability of the entire region, Qatar’s foreign minister said on Thursday, adding diplomacy was still Doha’s preferred option and there would never be a military solution to the problem.
Sheik Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani told reporters that Qatar had never experienced this type of hostility, even from an enemy country. He said there had been no change to Qatar’s military deployment and no troops had been moved.
President Trump has promised the world that he will “solve” the North Korean nuclear crisis before the country’s leader, Kim Jong-un, can screw a nuclear weapon onto a missile that can reach San Francisco or Los Angeles, a grim feat that experts say he is on track to achieve during Mr. Trump’s first term. The president is right to point out that his predecessors succeeded only at kicking this problem down the road. But Mr. Trump hasn’t said how he plans to solve the problem.
…What we see unfolding now is a Cuban Missile Crisis in slow motion. In the most dangerous moment in recorded history, to prevent the Soviet Union from placing nuclear-tipped missiles in Cuba, John F. Kennedy was prepared to take what he confessed was a one-in-three chance of a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. What risk will Mr. Trump run to prevent North Korea acquiring the ability to strike the United States?
Reuters/Ju-min Park & Jack Kim/05-30-17
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un supervised the test of a new ballistic missile controlled by a precision guidance system and ordered the development of more powerful strategic weapons, the North’s official KCNA news agency reported on Tuesday.
The missile launched on Monday was equipped with an advanced automated pre-launch sequence compared with previous versions of the “Hwasong” rockets, North Korea’s name for its Scud-class missiles, KCNA said. That indicated the North had launched a modified Scud-class missile, as South Korea’s military has said.
The North’s test launch of a short-range ballistic missile landed in the sea off its east coast and was the latest in a fast-paced series of missile tests defying international pressure and threats of more sanctions.
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea conducted another missile test.
It comes just a week after the U.N. Security Council once again demanded Pyongyang halt its weapons programs.
…The latest launch followed the testing of a mid-to-long range missile just a week ago. The test indicated that Pyongyang had mastered the heat shields that could protect a nuclear weapon on re-entry.
US airstrikes targeting pro-Assad forces close to the Iraqi border have been branded “completely unacceptable” by Russia.
Coalition warplanes targeted a convoy of Syrian government forces and Iranian-backed militia close to the Iraq border on Thursday.
The action was to protect British and American special forces based in al Tanf, southeast Syria.
Reuters/Jack Kim & Ju-min Park/05-15-17
North Korea said on Monday it had successfully conducted a mid- to-long-range missile test and would continue such launches “any time, any place”, defying UN Security Council resolutions and warnings from the United States.
North Korea, which regularly threatens to destroy the United States in a sea of flames, has accused Washington of pushing the Korean peninsula to the brink of nuclear war with recent military drills with South Korea and Japan.
…It also tested the North’s capability to carry a “large-size heavy nuclear warhead”, KCNA said.
…The test “represents a level of performance never before seen from a North Korean missile”, John Schilling, an aerospace expert, said in an analysis on the U.S.-based 38 North website.
SCMP/Shi Jiangtao & Catherine Wong/05-04-17
The war of words between North Korea and its main ally China has escalated, with the communist neighbours exchanging volleys through state media amid heightened tensions on the Korean peninsula.
The row, prompted by Beijing edging closer to Washington over possible tougher responses to Pyongyang’s mounting nuclear threat, coincided with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s pledge on Wednesday to mount a “pressure campaign” on the North by “leaning hard” on China.
South China Morning Post/05-02-17
China demanded on Tuesday an immediate halt to a controversial US missile shield hours after Washington announced that the defence system was now operational in South Korea.
Washington and Seoul agreed to the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) battery deployment in July in the wake of a string of North Korean missile tests.
But its deployment has infuriated China, which fears it will weaken its own ballistic missile capabilities and says it upsets the regional security balance.
Korea Times/Park Si-soo/05-02-17
A Chinese town near the border with North Korea is “urgently” recruiting Korean-Chinese interpreters, stirring speculation that China is bracing for an emergency situation involving its nuclear-armed neighbor.
…The document did not specify the reason behind the unusual, large-scale recruiting. But experts and local citizens said the move indicated that China was bracing for a possible military clash between the United States and North Korea.
The Trump administration is preparing to brief all 100 senators this week on the situation in North Korea, as President Donald Trump calls the country a “real threat to the world” and confers with the leaders of China, Japan and Germany.
The unusual full-Senate briefing is scheduled for Wednesday, according to reports, and comes after Trump criticized North Korea’s “continued belligerence” in a phone call with President Xi Jinping of China on Sunday. In a separate call with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday, Trump discussed “the urgent security challenge posed by North Korea,” the White House said.
The administration has expressed concern over Pyongyang’s missile tests and nuclear ambitions.
China and Russia have dispatched spy vessels to shadow a US aircraft carrier group heading to North Korean waters, Japanese media said, amid rising tensions over Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions.
Beijing sought Russian help in averting a crisis over North Korea last week, as concerns grow in China that Donald Trump is seeking to confront North Korea over its weapon’s program.
The US president sent a navy group led by the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson into the region, in what is being seen as a signal to Pyongyang.
US Vice-President Mike Pence has said his country’s “era of strategic patience” with North Korea is over.
Mr Pence first made the remarks at the demilitarised zone (DMZ), the area dividing the two Koreas, during a visit to South Korea to reaffirm ties.
His visit comes amid escalated tensions on the peninsula, with heated rhetoric from both North Korea and the US.
The United States is prepared to launch a pre-emptive strike on North Korea if it is certain that the communist nation is about to follow through with its sixth nuclear test, NBC News reported Thursday, citing multiple senior intelligence officials.
The unidentified officials were quoted as saying that the U.S. has positioned two destroyers capable of shooting Tomahawk cruise missiles in the region, one of them just 300 miles from the North Korean nuclear test site.
U.S. heavy bombers are also positioned in Guam to attack the North if necessary, and earlier this week, the Pentagon announced that the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier strike group was redirected to the area, the report said.
The U.S. strike could include missiles and bombs, cyber and special operations on the ground, it said.
Reuters/Sue-Lin Wong & David Brunnstrom/04-11-17
North Korean state media warned on Tuesday of a nuclear attack on the United States at any sign of American aggression, as a U.S. Navy strike group steamed toward the western Pacific – a force U.S. President Donald Trump described as an “armada”.
Trump, who has urged China to do more to rein in its impoverished ally and neighbor, said in a tweet that North Korea was “looking for trouble” and the United States would “solve the problem” with or without Beijing’s help.
…”We are sending an armada. Very powerful,” Trump told Fox Business Network. “We have submarines. Very powerful. Far more powerful than the aircraft carrier. That I can tell you.”
NavyTimes/David B. Larter/04-09-17
The head of all U.S. forces in the Pacific canceled a planned carrier exercises and port visits in Australia and redirected the Carl Vinson carrier strike group to the waters off the Korean Peninsula as the U.S. weighs a series of limited options for dealing with an increasingly unbalanced and dangerous North Korean regime.
In a release Saturday afternoon, U.S. Pacific Command announced the cancellation and redeployment of Vinson. Announcing carrier movements in advance is rare, and generally done to send a clear message.
With President Xi Jinping safely out of the United States and no longer President Trump’s guest, China’s state-run media on Saturday was free to denounce the missile strike on Syria, which the American president told Mr. Xi about while they were finishing dinner.
Xinhua, the state news agency, on Saturday called the strike the act of a weakened politician who needed to flex his muscles. In an analysis, Xinhua also said Mr. Trump had ordered the strike to distance himself from Syria’s backers in Moscow, to overcome accusations that he was “pro-Russia.”
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Friday condemned the U.S. missile strike in Syria, saying it puts Moscow and Washington “on the verge of a military clash.”
“This military action is a clear indication of the US President’s extreme dependency on the opinion of the Washington establishment, the one that the new president strongly criticized in his inauguration speech,” he wrote on Facebook.
Medvedev said the missile strike is “really sad for our now completely ruined relations” with the U.S. and “good news for terrorists.”
While the world watches mounting military tensions in the South China Sea, another, more ominous situation is brewing in the East China Sea that could be the trigger point for a major war between the superpowers. At the heart of tensions are eight uninhabited islands controlled by Japan that are close to important shipping lanes, rich fishing grounds and potential oil and gas reserves. China contests Japan’s claims and is escalating its military activity in Japan airspace. In response, Japan has been doubling its F-15 jet intercepts.
The situation increases the risk of an accidental confrontation — and could draw other countries, like the United States, into a conflict. It’s a topic President Trump will likely bring up with Chinese President Xi Jinping at his Mar-a-Lago estate this week.
FT/George Parker, Jim Brunsden and Ian Mount/04-02-17
Theresa May would go to war with Spain to defend Gibraltar, a former Conservative leader claimed on Sunday, as tensions escalated between London and Madrid over the future of Britain’s overseas territory.
Just days after the prime minister launched Brexit negotiations offering a spirit of “constructive, respectful and sincere co-operation”, senior Tories are furious at Madrid’s attempt to use exit talks to try to extend its influence over the Rock.
Meanwhile Madrid dealt a second blow to Mrs May in as many days after stating it would not veto an application by an independent Scotland to join the EU, despite its previously expressed concerns that a break-up of the UK might fuel Catalan separatism.
Donald Trump has issued China with an ultimatum that if it fails to put pressure on North Korea to disable its nuclear programme, then the US is prepared to take action against Pyongyang on its own.
“Well, if China is not going to solve North Korea, we will,” the president said in an interview with the Financial Times that has alarmed experts on the region.
Britain’s departure from the European Union is an “historic moment from which there can be no turning back”, Theresa May has told MPs.
The prime minister said it was a “unique opportunity” to “shape a brighter future” for the UK.
She was speaking after Britain’s EU ambassador formally triggered the two year countdown to the UK’s exit by handing over a letter in Brussels.
Adversaries of Marine Le Pen expressed relief on Thursday after her ally Geert Wilders won fewer seats than expected in a Dutch election, but analysts warned against reading too much into the result ahead of France’s tight presidential race.
They said far-right leader Le Pen’s campaign in France is better planned and targeted than that of Wilders’ party, while a standoff between the Dutch and Turkish governments had given a “one-off” boost to incumbent Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte.
Centre-right Rutte’s decisive victory over anti-immigrant, eurosceptic Wilders delighted European Union leaders and others concerned about rising populism across the bloc in the wake of last year’s shock Brexit vote.
Just because Geert Wilders’ Party of Freedom failed to win as many votes as predicted in the Dutch elections, it doesn’t mean wider discontent in both the Netherlands and across Europe has disappeared.
We shouldn’t forget that during his campaign, Wilders didn’t even try to moderate himself — unlike Marine Le Pen, leader of the French National Front, for example. In February, Wilders called Moroccan immigrants “scum,” despite only two months earlier having been convicted of inciting discrimination against the very same group.
His style may have lost him the votes of people who thought he was too extreme. But it is possible that this was part of a deliberate strategy by Wilders to influence the policy discourse of the opposition. To a certain extent, he’s been successful at that.
Reuters/Tim Kelly & Nobuhiro Kubo/03-13-17Watch movie online The Transporter Refueled (2015)
Japan plans to dispatch its largest warship on a three-month tour through the South China Sea beginning in May, three sources said, in its biggest show of naval force in the region since World War Two.
China claims almost all the disputed waters and its growing military presence has fueled concern in Japan and the West, with the United States holding regular air and naval patrols to ensure freedom of navigation.
The Guardian/Jon Henley/03-13-17
As many as 40% of voters are still undecided; as many as 15% will not make up their mind until voting day. But even if the PVV does finish top, Wilders is unlikely to enter government: no other major party will work with him.
The deeper story in the Netherlands is one of voters abandoning en masse the mainstream parties of centre right and centre left that have governed the country for the past half-century, and turning instead to an astonishing array of smaller, newer, anti-politics-as-usual parties from across the political spectrum.
Angela Merkel has described the idea that she is now the de facto leader of the western world as “grotesque” and “absurd”. The German chancellor’s angst is understandable. Modern Germany has no desire to lead the west and is not powerful enough to bear that burden.
But unrealistic expectations are not the only reason for German anxiety. If Ms Merkel looks out from the glass box of the chancellor’s office in Berlin there is trouble on every horizon. To the east are the ever more authoritarian and Germanophobic governments of Poland and Hungary. And further east a hostile Russia. To the west, is the US of Donald Trump; to the north the UK of Brexit. And to the south lie Italy and Greece, two troubled countries that increasingly blame Germany for their economic woes.