NATO reports more Russian flights, intercepts

NATO says that so far this year it has launched more than 100 intercepts of Russian aircraft, three times more than in all 2013.

“These sizeable Russian flights represent an unusual level of air activity over European airspace,” it said.

On Wednesday, NATO said it had tracked and intercepted four groups of Russian warplanes “conducting significant military manoeuvres” in European airspace the same day and on Tuesday.

“We are not in a Cold War situation but Russia has undermined a lot of trust,” he said against a backdrop of continued tensions over Ukraine. “We must keep NATO strong.”

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday that the US-led military alliance remained vigilant given the increase in such activity.

No violations of NATO airspace were detected, he added.

In one incident, two Russian TU-95 nuclear capable bombers flew west of Britain and down to Portugal, escorted by Norwegian, British and Portuguese fighter aircraft, Downie said.

The Russian flights, as previously, included “fighter jets, long-range bombers and tanker aircraft,” NATO military spokesman Colonel Martin Downie said.

Brussels (AFP) – NATO reported more Russian military flights and intercepts Friday over the Baltics, North Sea and Atlantic, just days after it picked up “an unusual level” of activity over European airspace.

Ukraine soldiers to government: we’re coming for you next

“We’ll just go straight there with weapons,” she said. “There’ll be a coup.”

Slutskovska’s eyes shone with anger in Right Sector’s dingy Dnipropetrosk office, when asked how she would react to failure of reforms.

“The people who were in the war won’t accept any sliding back,” Oliynyk says.

Which is why if the government doesn’t act quickly on those promises to rebuild Ukraine, today’s battle might move to the capital, where the revolution began.

But among the volunteer battalions there is almost equal hatred for the corrupt bureaucrats running their country and the military top brass responsible for bloody fiascos like the massacre of troops retreating from Ilovaisk in August.

“Putin is mad, a schizophrenic,” Bereza said. “If we don’t stop them here, Russian tanks will go all the way to Berlin.”

“It’s sadomasochism,” Svyatoslav Oliynyk, deputy to the Dnipropetrovsk governor Kolomoisky, said of Kremlin policy.

Amid Ukraine’s increasingly feverish patriotism, Putin is seen as bordering on the diabolical.

- BETRAYAL AND PAYBACK -

“Nationalists does not mean Nazis. We’re just normal people,” she said, adding with a laugh: “Well, maybe a bit more radical.”

Dasha Slutskovska, a 29-year-old volunteer from the battalion in Dnipropetrovsk, conceded that Right Sector has an image problem — they are relentlessly portrayed in Russia’s state-controlled media as fascists. But she insisted her comrades only want the Maidan goals of ending corruption and steering Ukraine into Europe.

Right Sector, an ultra-nationalist party, also has its own battalion of several hundred men on the frontlines, even if the government refuses to register or pay them.

One of the most controversial is the Azov Battalion, which uses the Wolfsangel insignia — an ancient design that was resurrected in Hitler’s Germany. The Azov has been linked to Oleg Lyashko, a politician accused of neo-Nazi sympathies.

Questions over the far right leanings of some volunteer groups and allegations of involvement in the murder of civilians cast a long shadow.

- DARK SIDE -

“Unofficially, it’s 7,000.”

Dnipro-1 has 700 men — “officially,” Bereza says with an enigmatic smile.

“It’s not so easy for Russia now,” said Bereza, who like most Ukrainians believes they are up against an undeclared Russian invasion, not just local separatists. “We were demoralised in the summer, but now we have a lot more experience.”

Dnipro-1 members have been in several of the biggest battles in the seven-month conflict, which has killed more than 3,700 people, including at the fierce, continuing standoff around Donetsk airport.

Although the army retains control over heavy weaponry, the motivated — and increasingly well equipped and skilled — volunteer groups remain crucial.

The interior ministry, which oversees the paramilitaries, was quoted saying in September that there are now 34 such groupings and Zgurets estimates that the country’s total of combat ready troops now tops 50,000 men.

The woman leaves happy.

When a young woman comes in to complain about difficulties in booking a theatre for a Dnipro-1 benefit concert, Bereza dials the theatre manager and yells for a full minute, before gently asking: “So, is there a problem? No. I didn’t think so.”

The commander repeatedly breaks off an interview with AFP to take calls, sign papers, or approve the purchase of a fleet of new pick-up trucks that will serve as machine-gun platforms.

Inside, maps, aerial photos and a picture depicting Adolf Hitler as a father figure to a child-sized Russian President Vladimir Putin line the walls. Ammunition boxes lie in the corner. On Bereza’s desk: three mobile phones, a laptop, the Ukrainian flag, and an icon of the Virgin Mary.

Young men with Kalashnikovs and pistols and several well dressed women working on laptops fill the anteroom to Bereza’s office.

All the signs are of a flourishing military enterprise.

The arrangement is no accident: Kolomoisky, one of Ukraine’s most controversial billionaires, funds the paramilitary, which returns the favour in these troubled times by boosting the banking and industrial tycoon’s personal security and political clout.

Dnipro-1′s headquarters are on the ground floor of the Dnipropetrovsk administration building. Upstairs sits the regional governor, Igor Kolomoisky.

- GUNS AND MONEY -

“The volunteer battalions did their task,” Bereza, the Dnipro-1 commander, said. “They halted the aggressors. They stopped a second Crimea.”

Military analyst Sergiy Zgurets said the regular army had weapons, but low morale, while the volunteers “had high fighting spirit, but, temporarily, a lack of equipment.”

Deploying alongside Ukraine’s regular army, the sometimes barely trained, but enthusiastic volunteers helped stem the tide, forcing separatists into today’s stalemate.

Crimea, where entire bases of regular Ukrainian troops surrendered without a shot, was already lost, but a new crisis erupted in the industrial east, where separatists closely linked to Russia were taking over strings of towns.

That’s when thousands of civilians, in large part activists from the Maidan, began joining hastily thrown together battalions funded by everything from oligarchs to grassroots charities.

When Russian troops swarmed into Ukraine’s southern region Crimea in March, Ukrainians dizzy with the success of the latest street revolution in Kiev were caught flat-footed. Their country of 45 million people, it turned out, barely had an army — no more than 6,000 combat ready troops, according to the then defence minister.

- VOLUNTEERS TO THE RESCUE -

“A coup,” he said.

Asked what would happen should that deadline pass, another paramilitary member at headquarters, a tall man in civilian clothing with a pistol strapped to his side, didn’t hesitate.

“We’re going to give them half a year to show the country has somehow changed, that even if it’s hard, there’s light ahead,” Yuriy Bereza, Dnipro-1′s popular commander, told AFP.

It might be hard to imagine how Ukraine, nearly bankrupt and being steadily dismembered by Russian troops and heavily armed pro-Russian separatists, could get more chaotic. Angry veterans heading to Kiev would accomplish that.

“There won’t be a third Maidan if that happens,” Feshchenko, 38, said in the frenetic headquarters of the Dnipro-1 volunteer militia in Dnipropetrovsk, in eastern Ukraine, where he is deputy commander. “There’ll be a military takeover.”

A peaceful, pro-democracy protest in 2004 on Kiev’s Maidan Square toppled Russian-backed president Viktor Yanukovych, but led only to bitter disappointment and Yanukovych’s return. So this February, huge crowds once more braved the cold and riot police on Maidan to topple the government and demand reform — and now their greatest fear is being let down yet again.

And this is why.

The bearded fighter’s warning illustrates the lack of trust Ukraine’s young revolutionaries have in President Petro Poroshenko and other politicians promising to drag their country from a corrupt, post-Soviet past into a European future.

Dnipropetrovsk (Ukraine) (AFP) – Vitaliy Feshchenko, one of thousands of Ukrainian volunteers fighting pro-Russian rebels, has this message for government leaders back in the capital Kiev: his battle-hardened men might come for them next.

China and Russia Said to Block Creation of Antarctic Marine Reserves

Mark Epstein, a delegate from the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition, said it was clear from the meetings that the vast majority of delegates supported marine reserves. “That’s very positive,” he said. “There have been substantive conversations around how marine protected areas should function. But we need a game-change moment to get us through this impasse.”

“Krill is the lifeblood of the ocean,” Mr. Zuur added. “It supports the biodiversity in the Southern Ocean, from huge whales to tiny petrels to seals and penguins.”

Scientists have warned that sections of the Antarctic are warming more rapidly than other parts of the globe, resulting in ocean acidification and the degradation of sea ice. “Cold waters absorb more carbon dioxide,” said Bob Zuur, a delegate to the talks from WWF. “A lot of animals and plants, especially animals like krill, suffer as acidity levels rise.”

Evan Bloom of the United States State Department, who led the American delegation, said the ecosystem in the proposed Ross Sea reserve “deserves protection because it hosts large populations of penguins, seals, whales, fishes and other animals that are vulnerable to climate change, in a unique location.” The New Zealand delegation said the Ross Sea, one of the most pristine natural regions in the world, is home to almost a third of the world’s Adélie penguins and Antarctic petrels.

“But change is happening in China,” Mr. Chen said. “National policies are moving towards environmental protection. Good things are happening domestically so I hope we can, in future, contribute more to the conservation of the Antarctic.”

Jiliang Chen of the Chinese nongovernmental organization Greenovation Hub said that China’s official delegation was reluctant to make long-term decisions about large-scale marine reserves, particularly given ambitions to expand the country’s fishing fleet.

“The overall political situation, where Russia is in a political confrontation with other countries, mainly Western or NATO countries, overshadows negotiations” at international forums like the marine commission, said Grigory Tsidulko, a Russian member of the nongovernmental organization Antarctic Ocean Alliance, who attended the talks.

Any one of the commission’s member states can block a major proposal like the creation of a marine reserve. The commission does not make its deliberations public, but several nonvoting delegates from nongovernmental organizations said China and Russia were the only countries to speak against the two proposals, both of which have been presented before in various iterations.

But neither was approved at the annual meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, which ended Friday in the Australian city of Hobart after two weeks of talks among government officials, scientists and environmentalists from 24 countries and the European Union.

The United States and New Zealand had jointly proposed the creation of a 500,000-square-mile reserve in the Ross Sea, in the hopes of alleviating pressure on Antarctic species facing the effects of climate change and fishing. A second major proposal, from Australia, France and the European Union, would have set up a series of four reserves in the east Antarctic waters, covering about 386,000 square miles.

SYDNEY, Australia — International talks in Australia on establishing two marine reserve areas, each larger than Texas, in the waters around Antarctica ended in failure on Friday, with some delegates to the negotiations saying that China and Russia had resisted the proposals.

New Russian Boldness Revives a Cold War Tradition: Testing the Other Side

“This is no smash-and-grab, financially motivated Russian cybercriminal,” said Laura Galante, the threat intelligence manager who oversaw the research at FireEye. “This is Russia using their network operations to achieve their key political goals.”

Then this week, researchers at FireEye, a Silicon Valley firm, released their work detailing a similar campaign by Russian hackers that also targeted NATO, and a long list of victims that included the governments of Georgia, Poland, Hungary, Mexico, Eastern European governments and militaries, and journalists writing on issues of importance to the Russian government.

Early last month, security researchers uncovered a separate Russian cyberespionage campaign that used a zero-day vulnerability — a software bug that had never been reported in Microsoft’s Windows operating system — to launch cyberattacks on a long list of Russian adversaries. Among them: the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, European governments, the government of Ukraine, academics who focused on Ukraine, and visitors of the GlobSec conference, an annual national security gathering that took place last May in Slovakia and was largely dominated by the situation in Ukraine.

Since researchers uncovered the campaign last year, they say the attacks have become more aggressive and sophisticated.

Researchers have also found that the hackers were remarkably adept at covering their tracks, using encryption to cover their tools, but their digital crumbs left no doubt that they were Russian. Their tools were built and maintained during Moscow working hours, and snippets of Russian were found in the code. Though researchers were unable to tie the attacks directly to the state, they concluded that Russian government backing was likely, given their sophistication and resources.

Russian hackers — those working for the government and those engaged in “patriotic hacking” — are considered particularly stealthy. In several cases, security researchers have found evidence that hackers were probing the very core of victims’ machines, the part of the computer known as the BIOS, or basic input output system. Unlike software, which can be patched or updated, once the BIOS of a machine is infected with malware, it often renders the machine unusable.

But that posture is quite different for classified systems. He also said it could be to “prepare for more graduated attacks” against better protected networks, including SIPRnet, the classified system Chelsea Manning, formerly known as Bradley Manning, entered to turn over hundreds of thousands of documents to WikiLeaks in 2010.

Armond Caglar, a cybersecurity expert for TSC Advantage, a consultancy in Washington that focuses on these kinds of attacks, said the motive could be “to test what the security culture is, or to get valuable information about the security posture at the White House.”

But there is evidence that the internal alarms at the White House were not set off — a sign of the sophistication of the attack. Instead, the United States was alerted by a “friendly ally,” one official said. That suggests the ally saw the results of the attack on a foreign network, perhaps picking up evidence of what data had been lifted.

In the case of the attack on the White House’s unclassified computer system, officials say no data was destroyed. “The activity of concern is not being used to enable a destructive attack,” Bernadette Meehan, the spokeswoman for the National Security Council, said Thursday. She would not say which country or hacking group was suspected of being behind the attack.

Last year, security researchers at several American cybersecurity companies uncovered a Russian cyberespionage campaign, in which Russian hackers were systematically hacking more than one thousand Western oil and gas computers, and energy investment firms. The first motive, given Moscow’s dependence on its oil and gas industry, was likely industrial espionage. But the manner in which hackers were choosing their targets also seemed intended to seize control of industrial control systems remotely, in much the same way the United States and Israel were able to take control of the Iranian nuclear facility at Natanz when it attacked its computer systems with malware through the summer of 2010, disabling a fifth of Iran’s centrifuges at the time.

But what’s new is the sophistication of Russia’s cyberespionage campaigns, which differ somewhat from China’s. The Chinese attacks — like those led by Unit 61398 of the People’s Liberation Army, whose members were indicted earlier this year by the Justice Department — are aimed chiefly at intellectual property theft. The Russians do a bit of that, too, but the attacks also suggest more disruptive motives.

“This is message-sending by Putin, and it’s dangerous,” one senior defense official said Wednesday, noting that in many cases, the Russian aircraft had turned off their transponders and did not reply to radio calls to identify themselves. In response, Germany, Portugal, Turkey and Denmark sent aircraft aloft, along with two non-NATO nations, Finland and Sweden. They were particularly struck by the use of the Tu-95 bombers, which Russia usually keeps clear of Europe.

The Russian aircraft exercises were part of a broader escalation: NATO has conducted more than 100 intercepts of Russian aircraft this year, its officials report, far more than last year, before Russia annexed Crimea and began its operations in Ukraine.

But in both, divining the motive of the probes and the advantage, if any, they created is far from easy.

In this case, the response was that the White House shut down use of some of its networks for lengthy periods — more an inconvenience than anything else, but a sign of the fragility of the system to sophisticated attacks.

Taken together, they represent the old and the updated techniques of Cold War signal-sending. In the Soviet era, both sides probed each other’s defenses, hoping to learn something from the reaction those tests of will created. In 2014, cyber is the new weapon, one that can be used with less restraint, and because its creators believe they cannot be traced and can create a bit of havoc without prompting a response.

They have no doubt, however, about what happened this week on the edges of NATO territory in Europe. More than two dozen Russian aircraft, including four Tu-95 strategic bombers, flew through the Baltic and Black Seas, along the coast of Norway and all the way to Portugal, staying over international waters but prompting NATO forces to send up intercepting aircraft.

WASHINGTON — When the White House discovered in recent weeks that its unclassified computer systems had been breached, intelligence officials examined the digital evidence and focused on a prime suspect: Russia, which they believe is using its highly sophisticated cyber capabilities to test American defenses. But its tracks were well covered, and officials say they may never know for sure.

Russia-Ukraine gas deal secures EU winter supply

All four “have welcomed the conclusion of negotiations” the European heads said in a joint statement.

Meanwhile, the French and German presidents said that they spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Petro Poroshenko on Thursday evening.

Mr Oettinger, who steps down as European energy commissioner on Friday, said: “We can say to the citizens of Europe that we can guarantee security of supply over the winter.”

Mr Novak insisted that Ukraine would still have to pay in advance for new deliveries.

A total of $1.45bn would be paid immediately, and another $1.65bn by the end of the year, he said.

Mr Yatseniuk said Kiev was ready to pay off debts for gas immediately after any deal was signed.

Ukraine will pay $378 per 1,000 cubic metres to the end of 2014, and $365 in the first quarter of 2015.

Ukraine’s Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk said that the EU had agreed to serve as guarantor for the gas price Kiev would pay to Russia.

“The autumn and winter period is safe (for Ukraine) and the supply to European consumers is also stable. We are convinced that our future relations will be constructive and that our agreements will be fulfilled,” he said.

“I want to reassure you that Russia has always been a reliable supplier of energy resources to Europe and other consumers. It has been, is and will be a reliable supplier.

Russia’s Energy Minister Alexander Novak told a news conference that the deal secures supplies for Ukraine and Europe.

Russia provides around a third of the European Union’s gas, about half of which is pumped via Ukraine.

Ukraine has relied on Russia for around 50% of its gas. Despite storage facilities Ukraine has a winter shortfall of around 3 billion to 4 billion cubic metres of gas, analysts say.

The agreement was also good news for European consumers, he told the BBC. However, he said it was too early to tell whether the deal might herald a breakthrough in Russian-Ukraine relations.

Alexander Motyl, professor at Rutgers University-Newark, said the deal was “good news for Ukraine because there was a distinct possibility that the population wouldn’t have enough heat for the winter.”

Although the impact of the gas ban has been relatively small, the onset of winter made the need for a deal more urgent.

I want to reassure you that Russia has always been a reliable supplier of energy resources to Europe and other consumers.”

However, the backdrop to the row is Russia’s conflict with Ukraine and Western sanctions on Moscow.

Gas supplies were halted over late payments when Russia scrapped subsidies given to Ukraine for importing gas, meaning the price paid by Ukraine rose sharply.

“Further work with the international financial institutions on financial assistance to Ukraine, also in relation to gas supplies, will still continue. But all three sides are reassured that Ukraine will have the necessary financial means.”

“Unprecedented levels of EU aid will be disbursed in a timely manner, and the International Monetary Fund has reassured Ukraine that it can use all financial means at its disposal to pay for gas,” the EC said in a statement.

The total package is worth $4.6bn (£2.87bn), with money coming from the International Monetary Fund as well as the EU. The total includes funds from existing accords with the EU and IMF.

The terms include the EU acting as guarantor for Ukraine’s gas purchases from Russia and helping to meet outstanding debts.

The deal follows months of talks between EU officials and the Russian and Ukrainian energy ministers.

“This is an important step for our shared energy security in the European continent,” Mr Barroso said.

We can say to the citizens of Europe that we can guarantee security of supply over the winter.”

He added that the agreement might be the “first glimmer” of hope in easing tensions between Russian and Ukraine.

European Union energy chief Guenther Oettinger said he was confident that Ukraine would be able to afford to pay for the gas it needed.

“There is now no reason for people in Europe to stay cold this winter,” said European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.

The deal will also ensure gas supplies to EU countries via Ukraine are secure.

Russia has agreed to resume gas supplies to Ukraine over the winter in a deal brokered by the European Union.

The deal will secure gas supplies to EU countries via Ukraine

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Nato jets ‘intercept Russian spy plane’ over Baltic

The flight was carried out “in strict adherence to the international regulations on the use of airspace”, a spokesman told Interfax news agency.

A Russian defence ministry spokesman said the military plane had taken off from Khrabrovo airfield in Kaliningrad and flown “over neutral waters of the Baltic Sea”.

Intercepted by Swedish planes, the Ilyushin entered Estonian airspace for less than a minute and was escorted out by Portuguese F16s, the alliance said.

Nato said the Ilyushin plane had taken off from the Russian Baltic coast enclave of Kaliningrad on Tuesday and was “first intercepted by Danish F-16 jets when it approached Denmark”, before flying north towards Sweden.

Last month, Estonia accused Russia of abducting one of its security officials on the border.

In the past week, non-Nato member Sweden has been searching for a submarine reportedly sighted in its waters in the southern Stockholm archipelago some 48km (30 miles) from the capital. The suspected submarine is widely assumed to be Russian.

The conflict in eastern Ukraine, which the West says Russia has stoked by supporting the rebels, has prompted sanctions against senior figures in Moscow and bans on EU goods in response.

Russia has been accused of several recent border violations in the region.

But Russia said the plane had been on a training flight and had not violated Estonian airspace.

Estonia summoned Russia’s ambassador on Wednesday after its military said the Ilyushin-20 plane had entered its airspace for about a minute.

A Russian spy plane has been intercepted by Nato jets over the Baltic Sea, the alliance says, amid heightened tensions in the region.