TBR News December 2, 2015

Dec 02 2015

The Voice of the White House

Washingtn D.C, December 2, 2015:  “Steroid-filled turkeys have been digested, slowly, Black Friday (this has racist overtones and ought to be called Happy Friday or better, Green Friday instead), has come and gone and now the stores and other commercial ventures are dragging out decaying old trophies for the celebration of Christmas. This used to be a pagan holiday, in Rome, but early Christian propagandists took it over. The fir tree is a pagan German trophy, by the way.  Although propaganda-sensitive print media will encourage the public to buy useless trash as never before, sales will fall flat.   Not much money and no desire to spend it.  In the United States, religion is shrinking like the Mississippi River and soon, the only people attending garage sized churches will be the mindless and irrational evangelicals. Once they hoped to inherit the White House but soon all they will inherit are their dead grandmother’s oxygen tanks. If you want a good guide to disaster, read Malthus on population and food supplies and Calhoun’s study of overpopulation of rats. Just these two alone, spiced with Hoffer’s ‘True Believer’ will dampen your ardor when you contemplate the predictable future. Whenever a species over populates, various controls appear. Not sometime but always.
Either a disease, hitherto passive, erupts and wipes out half the overcrowded population or starvation, population eruptions, and raw anarchy stalks the land and with the same result.”

The Central Valley is sinking: drought forces farmers to ponder the abyss

As people dig ever deeper to find water, nearly 1,200 square miles of California is sinking 2 inches a month – destroying roads, bridges and farmland in the process

November 28, 2015

by Suzanne Goldenberg in Firebaugh, California

The Guardian

On a day when the skies were ashen from the smoke of distant wildfires, Chase Hurley kept his eyes trained on the slower-moving disaster at ground level: collapsing levees, buckling irrigation canals, water rising up over bridges and sloshing over roads.

This is the hidden disaster of California’s drought. So much water has been pumped out of the ground that vast areas of the Central Valley are sinking, destroying millions of dollars in infrastructure in the gradual collapse.

Four years of drought – and the last two years of record-smashing heat – have put water in extremely short supply.

Such climate-charged scenarios form the backdrop to the United Nations negotiations starting in Paris on 30 November, which are seeking to agree on collective action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

But the real-time evidence of climate change and the other effects of human interference in natural systems are already changing the contours of California’s landscape.

The strongest El Niño in 18 years is expected to bring some drought improvement to the Central Valley this winter, but the weather system won’t end it, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The Central Valley is the world’s largest patch of class one soil, considered to be the best for crops, and produces about 40% of the country’s fruits, nuts and vegetables.

In some parts of the valley, however, the land is sinking at a rate of 2in (5cm) a month. About 1,200 square miles, roughly bounded by interstate 5 and state route 99, is collapsing into what scientists describe as a “cone of depression”.

The land around here is sinking, and as it is sinking, the bridge is going with it,” said Hurley, manager of the San Luis Obispo water company, on a tour of sinking infrastructure near the town of Firebaugh.

The water company, which is owned by area farmers, had recently rebuilt the levee, he said. But “because the water is hitting the bridge, they are going to have to reconstruct the bridge”. Wellheads were being destroyed, because they could not maintain pressure. Dams were sinking. “I am having a hard time pushing water through my canal,” Hurley said.

The sinking is a consequence of farmers’ desperate efforts to stay in business after California began cutting off their access to rivers and reservoirs because of the drought.

The farmers began a literal race to the bottom, going underground, drilling new and deeper wells, and pumping so much water from the layers of sediment, sand and clay that it is causing the ground to collapse.

The sinking is worse in this part of the valley because it is rich in clay. Pumping pulls the water out of the clay pores, causing the clay layer to collapse. “The issue is the amount of deepwater pumping below the clay. That is what is causing the subsidence,” Hurley said. “The land is sinking as they extract the water below the clay; there is a pressure differential. It is pulling the water out of the clay layer, and when it does, the clay collapses. And as it collapses, it brings everything with it.”

On a mid-September day with temperatures reaching above 100F (38C), Steve Arthur took shelter in his air-conditioned truck in a prune orchard near the town of Merced, while overseeing a crew drilling a new well.

The harvest was over and the owner had left the trees to fend for themselves. The leaves were so dry they crackled. As the rig bore into the earth, wet clay slopped out, landing in a heap.

Arthur, whose family has been drilling water wells in the Central Valley since the 1950s, estimated he had drilled 10 new wells a month during the drought.

There was no way of keeping up with demand – even favoured customers were told they would wait months, if not years. In one week, he said, he installed more than 5,000ft of well casing.

The harvest was already over, and the farmer had no water to spare for the trees. But they must still be sustained, Arthur said. “If you can’t pump any water, everything will die. These crops cannot go a year without water. Everything you see for miles will be dead.”

Arthur recognises that farmers are trapped in this race to the bottom. The Central Valley is the second most pumped aquifer system in the country, according to the US Geological Survey.

His family runs their own small almond orchard near his home in Fresno. Last year his own well ran dry, because the water table dropped so low.

Arthur goes on at length about the importance of agriculture to the Central Valley, to the country. He has no patience with the authorities’ decision to cut off farmers and protect the state’s rivers – seeing it as a misguided attempt to preserve fish.

But even Arthur recognises that there are costs to pumping out the water beneath during these years of drought. “Are we over-pumping? I am sure they are probably doing that now because they don’t have any choice,” Arthur said.

California records stretching back to the 1920s show the water table dropping during times of drought and recovering somewhat during years when there was heavy snowfall in the Sierra Nevada. The snowpack provides almost a third of California’s water supply.

The state has also experienced subsidence, with an emblematic picture of a stranded road sign exhibiting the drop.

But the deepening drought in 2015, along with a snowpack in the Sierra Nevada at a 500-year low, made the drop bigger and deeper.

Because of increased pumping, groundwater levels are reaching record lows – up to 100ft lower than previous records,” Mark Cowin, the director of California’s department of water resources, told reporters in August at the release of a subsidence report. “As extensive groundwater pumping continues, the land is sinking more rapidly and this puts nearby infrastructure at greater risk of costly damage.”

The California legislature last year voted to direct the state’s water agencies to come up with plans to guarantee supplies into the future.

Satellite data, analysed by University of California at Irvine scientists, suggest that the state has been losing about 4tn gallons of water a year from the Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins since the drought began in 2011.

The satellites use highly sensitive gravity measures to monitor changes in the amount of water stored underground in soil and rock.

According to Jay Famiglietti, a water scientist at Nasa’s jet propulsion lab in Pasadena and a professor at UC Irvine, two-thirds of the lost water has been sucked out of aquifers in the Central Valley, causing parts of the valley to sink.

In some parts of the valley, the land has been dropping by almost 2in a month, according to Nasa satellite measurements.

Land near the city of Corcoran sank 13in in just eight months. Parts of the California aqueduct sank 8in in just four months last year.

The subsidence has already damaged and destroyed bridges, pipelines and roads, and is threatening thousands of miles more.

It is twisting and crushing well casings, and could eventually reduce the underground aquifer’s water storage potential. “Without the water to support those holes, the clays align and you get compaction,” said David Cehrs, a water scientist and president of the Kings River conservation district around Fresno. The situation is far worse in geological formations with more clay than sand, such as on the western side of the San Joaquin valley.

With clay you get compaction up to 60%,” he said. “Sands also compact,” he went on. But he said: “If you dewater the sands you can put the water back into holes; if you dewater the clay you dewater the holes, and you can’t get the water back in it because you can’t refill the clay.”

That is, even if El Niño does bring heavy rains, there is no natural way to store the water. “We have lost that water storage capacity forever,” Cehrs said.


On the night before Thanksgiving in 2005, Carey Wilson, who lives in the small Central Valley community of Madera Rancho, started to wash the dishes piled up in her kitchen sink – to find there was only air sputtering out of the tap. She called a service company to lower her well, which was originally drilled at a depth of 258ft. A year later, when that well went dry, Wilson, a single mother and federal government worker, paid $12,000 to drill a new well to 389ft and install a more powerful pump.

But her neighbours, who were facing similar problems with their wells, also started drilling, going down deeper than her well. “They were pulling the plug out from underneath us,” she said. “It was homeowner against homeowner.”

Major farms in the area dug deeper still, often to depths in the thousands of feet. On days when she did laundry, Wilson began to notice the pump kicking on when she was in the shower.

By August 2014, the water table in her area had dropped 18ft. The land had dropped too, twisting and crushing the PVC pipe connected to the well, she said.

“I know the writing is on the wall,” Wilson said. “It doesn’t matter if it rains for 40 days and 40 nights, here the water table is never going to go up.”

Earth has lost a third of arable land in past 40 years, scientists say

Experts point to damage caused by erosion and pollution, raising major concerns about degraded soil amid surging global demand for food

December 2, 2015

by Oliver Milman

The Guardian

The world has lost a third of its arable land due to erosion or pollution in the past 40 years, with potentially disastrous consequences as global demand for food soars, scientists have warned.

New research has calculated that nearly 33% of the world’s adequate or high-quality food-producing land has been lost at a rate that far outstrips the pace of natural processes to replace diminished soil.

The University of Sheffield’s Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures, which undertook the study by analysing various pieces of research published over the past decade, said the loss was “catastrophic” and the trend close to being irretrievable without major changes to agricultural practices.

The continual ploughing of fields, combined with heavy use of fertilizers, has degraded soils across the world, the research found, with erosion occurring at a pace of up to 100 times greater than the rate of soil formation. It takes around 500 years for just 2.5cm of topsoil to be created amid unimpeded ecological changes.

You think of the dust bowl of the 1930s in North America and then you realise we are moving towards that situation if we don’t do something,” said Duncan Cameron, professor of plant and soil biology at the University of Sheffield.

We are increasing the rate of loss and we are reducing soils to their bare mineral components,” he said. “We are creating soils that aren’t fit for anything except for holding a plant up. The soils are silting up river systems – if you look at the huge brown stain in the ocean where the Amazon deposits soil, you realise how much we are accelerating that process.

We aren’t quite at the tipping point yet, but we need to do something about it. We are up against it if we are to reverse this decline.”

The erosion of soil has largely occurred due to the loss of structure by continual disturbance for crop planting and harvesting. If soil is repeatedly turned over, it is exposed to oxygen and its carbon is released into the atmosphere, causing it to fail to bind as effectively. This loss of integrity impacts soil’s ability to store water, which neutralizes its role as a buffer to floods and a fruitful base for plants.

Degraded soils are also vulnerable to being washed away by weather events fueled by global warming. Deforestation, which removes trees that help knit landscapes together, is also detrimental to soil health.

Researchers are presenting the new research at climate talks in Paris.

The steep decline in soil has occurred at a time when the world’s demand for food is rapidly increasing. It’s estimated the world will need to grow 50% more food by 2050 to feed an anticipated population of 9 billion people. According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, the increase in food production will be most needed in developing countries.

The academics behind the University of Sheffield study propose a number of remedies to soil loss, including recycling nutrients from sewerage, using biotechnology to wean plants off their dependence upon fertilizers, and rotating crops with livestock areas to relieve pressure on arable land.

Around 30% of the world’s ice-free surfaces are used to keep chicken, cattle, pigs and other livestock, rather than to grow crops.

We need a radical solution, which is to re-engineer our agricultural system,” Cameron said. “We need to take land out of production for a long time to allow soil carbon to rebuild and become stable. We already have lots of land – it’s being used for pasture by the meat and dairy industries. Rather than keep it separated, we need to bring it into rotation, so that that there is more land in the system and less is being used at any one time.”

Cameron said he accepted this would involve direct government intervention, funding for farmers and “brave” policymaking.

We can’t blame the farmers in this. We need to provide the capitalisation to help them rather than say, ‘Here’s a new policy, go and do it,’” he said. “We have the technology. We just need the political will to give us a fighting chance of solving this problem.”

Beijing residents told to stay inside as smog levels soar

Air pollution in the Chinese capital has reached more than 15 times the safe level as smog engulfs large parts of the country

November 28, 2015

Staff and agencies

The Guardian

Beijing’s residents have been advised to stay indoors after air pollution in the Chinese capital reached hazardous levels.

The warning comes as the governments of more than 190 nations gather in Paris to discuss a possible new global agreement on climate change.

China, the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, is suffering from serious air pollution, largely attributed to smog from coal-fired power plants.

The onset of winter and the need for more heating of homes means the problem has intensified in the capital, which has an estimated population of 20 million.

At noon on Saturday, the US embassy in Beijing reported the level of the poisonous, tiny articles of PM2.5 at 391 micrograms per cubic metre.

The World Health Organisation considers the safe level to be 25 micrograms per cubic metre of the particulates.

Since Friday, the city had been shroud in grey smog, reducing visibilities to a few hundred metres.

The ministry of environmental protection has forecast severe pollution for the greater Beijing region, as well as the west part of Shandong and the northern part of Henan until Tuesday, when strong winds from the north are expected to blow away air pollutants.

The ministry has advised the public to stay indoors.

Authorities blame coal burning for winter heating as a major culprit for the air pollution. The ministry said it had sent teams to check on illegal emissions by factories in several northern Chinese cities.

In the past, authorities have shut down factories and pulled half of the vehicles off the roads to curb pollution. But such drastic measures are disruptive and only used when Beijing feels it needs to present a better image to the world, such as hosting major global leaders and events.

Earlier this month, air pollution reached almost 50 times above the recommended levels in Shenyang, in the country’s north-east.

On 9 November, levels of PM2.5 reached 1,157 micrograms per cubic metre in the city, reducing visibility to as little as 100 metres.

Officials said the dangerous smog was caused by a surge in coal-fired electricity use, as the region’s central heating systems kick into gear for winter.

No US airstrikes in Syria since Russia deployed S-400 systems

November 28, 2015


Both the American and Turkish air forces halted their strikes on Syrian territory around the time Russia deployed S-400 air defense complexes at the Khmeimim airbase, from which it stages its own incursions against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL).

A spokesperson of the Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR) told Sputnik on Friday that the absence of anti-IS coalition airstrikes “has nothing to do with the S400 deployment” in Syria.

The fluctuation or absence of strikes in Syria reflects the ebb and flow of battle,” the spokesperson said, adding that CJTF-OIR deliver airstrikes when and where it needs to, dedicating a lot of time to researching targets to ensure maximum effect and minimizing civilian casualties.

As CJTF-OIR reported on Friday, the US-led coalition had made no sorties against targets in Syria bsince Thursday, while airstrikes against Islamic State in Iraq continued, with the coalition making 18 strikes on terrorist positions.

On November 24, a Turkish F-16 fighter jet shot down a Russian Su-24 bomber, which had been bombing IS positions. Moscow says the bomber was in Syrian airspace which the F-16 violated, while Turkey claims the Russian jet crossed the Turkish border and was repeatedly warned before the attack.

Both the pilot and the navigator of the Su-24 ejected. The pilot was killed by a militant group while parachuting to the ground, while the rescue operation for the Russian navigator was successful to a certain extent: a Marine died providing covering fire in the rescue team drop zone and a helicopter was lost after it was hit with an American-made anti-tank TOW missile the terrorists are armed with.

After the incident, Russia’s Joint Staff took the decision to enhance air defenses at the Khmeimim airbase south of the Syrian port of Latakia.

The following day, on November 25, Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu announced the immediate deployment of S-400 misslies to Syria.

S-400 Triumph system missile launchers were airlifted to Syria by Antonov An-124 Ruslan super-jumbo aircraft 24 hours after the decision was announced on Wednesday.

According to open sources, the S-400 is capable of shooting down any existing aircraft, helicopter or missile traveling at speeds of up to 4.8 kilometer per second (over 17,000 km/h) The only target the system would have problems with is a nuclear warhead of intercontinental ballistic missile, which flies at speeds of up to 6-7 kilometer per second.

The S-400 engages targets at distances as far as 400 kilometers and heights of up to 27 kilometers (or higher with newer missiles). This is enough to cover at least 75 percent of Syrian territory, along with the airspaces of Lebanon, Cyprus, half of Israel and a vast part of Turkey.

The S-400’s radar has a range of 600 kilometers and is capable of discriminating even objects moving on the ground, such as cars and military vehicles.

S-400 radar covers Syria, western regions of Iraq and Saudi Arabia, nearly all of Israel and Jordan, Egypt’s northern Sinai, a large part of the eastern Mediterranean and Turkish airspace as far as the capital Ankara.

Erdogan’s Mistake: Russia May Now Initiate Own ‘No-Fly Zone’ Over Syria

November 27, 2015


President Erdogan’s mistake in shooting down the Russian Su-24 bomber ‘has waived the green light’ for Russia to initiate a ‘no-fly zone’ by deploying additional fighter power and air defense systems in Syria, US columnist Jim W. Dean notes.

The US-led coalition’s recent provocation against the Russo-Syrian counter terrorism campaign has “put nothing but torpedoes into its own sinking international credibility,” according to US columnist and managing editor for Veterans Today Jim W. Dean.

Dean stresses that the destruction of the ISIL oil tanker fleet, which NATO had been “somehow” unable to detect for over a year, has predictably prompted outrage from those who have long been benefitting from the illicit oil trade.

“We suspected the tanker-crushing move would make the people who had been marketing ISIL’s oil, the Kurds and Turkey, unhappy enough to be provoked into a blunder themselves. We did not have to wait long, with the militarily-senseless shooting down of the Russian SU-24 bomber by the Turkish F-16s,” Dean narrates in his recent article for New Eastern Outlook.

The US columnist emphasizes that it is obvious that Turkey would never dare to carry out such a provocation “without clearing it with the US and NATO, as they would be dragged into anyway.”

Turkish reports that they knew nothing about the origin of the Su-24 bomber jet sound completely unconvincing.

“Did they expect us to believe that their radar was not working, nor the US-coalition drones or spy satellites that monitor the Syria-Iraqi battlefield 24/7?” Dean asks with a trace of irony.

However, NATO with Secretary General Stoltenberg has supported Turkey. Still, there were a number of NATO envoys who expressed their concerns regarding the matter. They pointed to the fact that Turkey did not make attempts to escort the Russian bomber out of its airspace.

The Turkish claim that the Russian plane had entered the country’s airspace has fallen apart at the seams since Russia presented the recording of their air combat radar plotting maps.

“They showed the Russian planes flying near the border, and the Turkish planes making their attack runs south, which actually took the Turks into Syria,” Dean underscores.

The whole incident looks very fishy: the Turkish provocation has triggered justified suspicions among  European lawmakers. Some of them have gone even so far as to blame Ankara for collaboration with ISIL, the US columnist notes.

Still, Turkey’s provocation has not worked: the Kremlin immediately disavowed any hints of a military response, Dean emphasizes.

Instead, Russia has deployed its advanced S-400 Triumf air defense system with the capability of hitting targets at ranges of up to 400 kilometers to Hmeymim air base in Syria. Furthermore, Russia’s Moskva 11,500-ton warship has reached the shores of Syria in order to ensure the security of Russian aircraft in the region.

Interestingly enough, the Turkish Hurriyet media outlet reported Friday that “the Turkish army has suspended flights over Syria as part of an ongoing joint military campaign with the United States against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) after it shot down a Russian jetfighter.”

“Turkey used its last ‘freebie’ by shooting the Russian plane down. There will be no Western coalition no-fly zone in northern Syria, for which some Senators and presidential candidate crazies were trying to get headlines advocating; at least not the kind they wanted,” Dean points out.

Now, Russia can create a “defensive bubble” over Syria. Moscow does not want to do this, he notes, but it has been forced to. Russia has repeatedly made attempts to form a real coalition with Western countries and their partners in order to smash ISIL, but the West turned a deaf ear to its proposal.

“Erdogan’s mistake in shooting the bomber down has waived the green flag for Putin to bring in enough fighter power for the Syrian coalition to initiate a no-fly zone on any uninvited airstrikes anywhere inside Syrian if attacks on Russian planes were to continue,” the US columnist emphasizes.

Comment: The Turks, and the Saudis, both putative allies of the US, are both Sunni branches of the Islamic religion. They hate the Shiites which include Iran, parts of Iraq, and Syria. The Saudis, with the aid of the CIA, created and financially supported ISIS. US attacks on Syrian anti-governenment rebels were never aimed at the Turkish-supported rebels and the massive ISIS business in stolen Syrian oil sent in huge columns of oil tankers to Turkish refineries was never attacked. Once the Russians struck at the Turkish armed and supported oil supplying rebels, it was inevitable that the Turks would strike at the Russians.

The Central Intelligence Agency: World Fact Book



Muslim 99.8% (mostly Sunni), other 0.2% (mostly Christians and Jews)

The Real Reason for Turkey’s Shoot-Down of the Russian Jet

The data supports Putin’s assertion that the shoot-down was prepared in advance due to Russian bombing of Turkey-linked rebels in Syria

December 1, 2015

by Gareth Porter


The United States and its NATO allies offered a ritual of NATO unity after Turkish officials presented their case that the shoot-down of a Russian jet occurred after two planes had penetrated Turkish airspace.

The Turkish representative reportedly played a recording of a series warning the Turkish F16 pilots had issued to the Russian jets without a Russian response, and US and other NATO member states endorsed Turkey’s right to defend its airspace.

US Defense Department spokesman Colonel Steve Warren supported the Turkish claim that 10 warnings had been issued over a period of five minutes. The Obama administration apparently expressed less concern about whether Russian planes had actually crossed into Turkish airspace. Col. Warren admitted that US officials have still yet to establish where the Russian aircraft was located when a Turkish missile hit the plane.

Although the Obama administration is not about to admit it, the data already available supports the Russian assertion that the Turkish shoot-down was, as Russian President Vladimir Putin asserted, an “ambush” that had been carefully prepared in advance.

The central Turkish claim that its F-16 pilots had warned the two Russian aircraft 10 times during a period of five minutes actually is the primary clue that Turkey was not telling the truth about the shoot-down.

The Russian Su-24 “Fencer” jet fighter, which is comparable to the US F111, is capable of a speed of 960 miles per hour at high altitude, but at low altitude its cruising speed is around 870 mph, or about 13 miles per minute. The navigator of the second plane confirmed after his rescue that the Su-24s were flying at cruising speed during the flight.

Close analysis of both the Turkish and Russian images of the radar path of the Russian jets indicates that the earliest point at which either of the Russian planes was on a path that might have been interpreted as taking it into Turkish airspace was roughly 16 miles from the Turkish border – meaning that it was only a minute and 20 seconds away from the border.

Furthermore according to both versions of the flight path, five minutes before the shoot-down the Russian planes would have been flying eastward – away from the Turkish border.

If the Turkish pilots actually began warning the Russian jets five minutes before the shoot-down, therefore, they were doing so long before the planes were even headed in the general direction of the small projection of the Turkish border in Northern Latakia province.

In order to carry out the strike, in fact, the Turkish pilots would have had to be in the air already and prepared to strike as soon as they knew the Russian aircraft were airborne.

The evidence from the Turkish authorities themselves thus leaves little room for doubt that the decision to shoot down the Russian jet was made before the Russian jets even began their flight.

The motive for the strike was directly related to the Turkish role in supporting the anti-Assad forces in the vicinity of the border. In fact the Erdogan government made no effort to hide its aim in the days before the strike. In a meeting with the Russian ambassador on 20 November, the foreign minister accused the Russians of “intensive bombing” of “civilian Turkmen villages” and said there might be “serious consequences” unless the Russians ended their operations immediately.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was even more explicit, declaring that Turkish security forces “have been instructed to retaliate against any development that would threaten Turkey’s border security”. Davutoglu further said: “If there is an attack that would lead to an intense influx of refugees to Turkey, required measures would be taken both inside Syria and Turkey.”

The Turkish threat to retaliate – not against Russian penetration of its airspace but in response to very broadly defined circumstances on the border – came amid the latest in a series of battles between the Syrian government and religious fighters. The area where the plane was shot down is populated by the Turkmen minority. They have been far less important than foreign fighters and other forces who have carried out a series of offensives in the area since mid-2013 aimed at threatening President Assad’s main Alawite redoubt on the coast in Latakia province.

Charles Lister, the British specialist who was visiting Latakia province frequently in 2013, noted in an August 2013 interview, “Latakia, right up to the very northern tip [i.e. in the Turkmen Mountain area], has been a stronghold for foreign fighter-based groups for almost a year now.” He also observed that, after Islamic State (IS) had emerged in the north, al-Nusra Front and its allies in the area had “reached out” to ISIL and that one of the groups fighting in Latakia had “become a front group” for ISIL.

In March 2014 the religious rebels launched a major offensive with heavy Turkish logistical support to capture the Armenian town of Kessab on the Mediterranean coast of Latakia very close to the Turkish border. An Istanbul newspaper, Bagcilar, quoted a member of the Turkish parliament’s foreign affairs committee as reporting testimony from villagers living near the border that thousands of fighters had streamed across five different border points in cars with Syrian plates to participate in the offensive.

During that offensive, moreover, a Syrian jet responding to the offensive against Kessab was shot down by the Turkish air force in a remarkable parallel to the downing of the Russian jet. Turkey claimed that the jet had violated its airspace but made no pretense about having given any prior warning. The purpose of trying to deter Syria from using its airpower in defense of the town was obvious.

Now the battle in Latakia province has shifted to the Bayirbucak area, where the Syrian air force and ground forces have been trying to cut the supply lines between villages controlled by Nusra Front and its allies and the Turkish border for several months. The key village in the Nusra Front area of control is Salma, which has been in jihadist hands ever since 2012. The intervention of the Russian Air Force in the battle has given a new advantage to the Syrian army.

The Turkish shoot-down was thus in essence an effort to dissuade the Russians from continuing their operations in the area against al-Nusra Front and its allies, using not one but two distinct pretexts: on one hand a very dubious charge of a Russian border penetration for NATO allies, and on the other, a charge of bombing Turkmen civilians for the Turkish domestic audience.

The Obama administration’s reluctance to address the specific issue of where the plane was shot down indicates that it is well aware of that fact. But the administration is far too committed to its policy of working with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar to force regime change to reveal the truth about the incident.

Obama’s response to the shoot-down blandly blamed the problem on the Russian military being in part of Syria. “They are operating very close to a Turkish border,” he declared, and if the Russians would only focus solely on Daesh, “some of these conflicts or potentials for mistakes or escalation are less likely to occur.”

Five ways Russian sanctions can hurt Turkey economy

November 30, 2015

by Fulya Ozerkan


Ankara (AFP) – Russia’s economic sanctions against Turkey over its downing of a Russian warplane could hurt the Turkish economy in several areas from fruit to tourism, even if the initial impact is likely to be limited.

Turkey and Russia have enjoyed burgeoning trade ties in recent years despite disagreements on a number of political issues from Moscow’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine to the more than four-year old civil war in Syria.

But ties hit a low when Turkish jets shot down last week a Russian warplane on the Syrian border which Ankara said had violated its air space.

Moscow put forward a raft of economic sanctions against Ankara while demanding an official apology from the Turkish leadership.

But Moscow is keeping some of its powder dry and the effect may be limited for now, with tourism and agriculture the most immediate casualties.

“The impact… will, in general, probably be limited,” said William Jackson Senior Emerging Markets Economist at Capital Economics in London, putting the maximum cost to the Turkish economy at 0.5 percent of GDP annually.

Here are five sectors of the Turkish economy that could be hurt by the Russian action:


Shortly after the crisis erupted, Russia swiftly called on its citizens to scrap any travel plans to Turkey, dealing an immediate blow to the Turkish tourism industry.

Russian tour firms promptly halted the sale of holidays to Turkey, in line with a directive from the federal tourism agency.

The move dealt a huge blow to tourism in Turkey, where every eighth tourist is Russian and Russians dominate resorts on the Mediterranean like Antalya and Alanya.

According to Turkish tourism ministry statistics, 3.5 million Russian tourists visited Turkey in 2015 from January to October, down from 4.1 million in 2013 and 4.3 million in 2014.

“Perhaps the most damaging impact to Turkey from the sanctions will come via tourism,” said Jackson.


Russian Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev did not rule out that the measures could hit two major projects with Turkey — the planned Turk Stream gas pipeline under the Black Sea and the Akkuyu nuclear power plant.

Meanwhile, energy-hungry Turkey relies on Russia for 55 percent of its natural gas and 30 percent of its oil as it searches for greater self-sufficiency.

However while the Turk Stream and Akkuyu projects may be at risk, no Russian energy official has seriously suggested cutting off energy supplies to Turkey, a move that would severely hurt Russian gas giant Gazprom.


Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin had ambitiously aimed at reaching a trade volume of $100 billion in 2023, up from from $32 billion in 2013.

According to the Russian state statistics office, in 2014 Russia exported $24.5 billion of goods, mainly natural gas, oil, steel and grain to Turkey, while imports from Turkey totalled at $6.7 billion.

The $100 billion target now looks like a pipe dream.

Lilit Gevorgyan, senior economist at IHS Global Insight, said the confrontation was “a major setback of more than a decade long efforts to build commercial and energy partnership between Russia and Turkey, despite their geopolitical and historic differences.”


Turkey was a major beneficiary of the Russian trade embargo on EU foodstuffs imposed as a retaliation measure with bilateral trade in agricultural goods rising 19 percent to $4 billion in 2014 due to imports of Turkish fruits, vegetables and nuts.

However Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich said Monday that Turkish fruit and vegetables would be banned, albeit after a certain lag to stop inflation.

Russian Agriculture Minister Alexander Tkachev warned Ankara that Turkey’s agricultural exports could be replaced by Russia within a week, with suppliers from countries ranging from Iran to South Africa.


Some 35 percent of Russian imported construction services were from Turkey in 2014, according to central bank data. Turkish companies had also benefited hugely from the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi that year.

But Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov said Monday that while contracts with Turkish companies signed before December 31 would be honoured any new deal would require government approval.

Shuvalov emphasised however that no measures were planned “for the moment” against Turkish industrial goods.

Russian government ratifies economic sanctions against Turkey

December 1, 2015


Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has signed a decree prohibiting the import of food from Turkey and banning charter flights between the two countries. This is in response to Turkey shooting down a Russian warplane in Syria a week ago.

The list of embargoed food products includes poultry, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, oranges, grapes, apples, peaches and other fruit and vegetables.

With the ban on charter flights the Russian government said it will control scheduled flights between Russia and Turkey.

“To ban air charters between Russia and Turkey, expect for special flights for the return of tourists remaining in the country, as well as to take additional measures aimed at ensuring transport (aviation) safety when conducting regular flights with the Turkish republic,” said a government statement.

Russian employers will be prohibited from hiring Turkish nationals starting next year unless they were already employed before December 31 this year.

Russia has also cancelled visa-free travel for Turkish citizens starting January 1, 2016.

The Kremlin also said it would suspend the work of the joint Russian-Turkish Intergovernmental Commission on Trade and Economic Cooperation.

As was expected, the sanctions do not include freezing the Turkish Stream natural gas pipeline project or the planned construction of the Akkuyu nuclear power station in Turkey.

Russia was Turkey’s third-largest trading partner in the second quarter of the year. Turkey is largely dependent on Russian tourists who make up 10 percent of all visitors coming to the country. In the first nine months of the year 3.3 million Russian holiday makers visited Turkey.

According to the Federation of Turkish hotel owners TUROFED, Ankara could lose as much as $4.5 billion this year from the loss of Russian tourism alone.

Deputies from Turkey’s Republican People’s Party said the country’s overall loss could reach $20 billion.

Last Tuesday, a Russian Su-24 bomber was shot down by Turkish F-16 jet near the Turkish-Syrian border. Ankara claims the plane violated its airspace and did not respond to warnings. Moscow insists no warnings were issued and the airplane was shot down and crashed in Syria.

Exclusive: Russia may freeze Turkish Stream gas project – Gazprom sources

December 1, 2015

by Denis Pinchuk and Olesya Astakhova


Moscow-Russia may freeze work on the Turkish Stream gas pipeline project for several years in retaliation against Ankara for the shooting down of a Russian air force jet, two sources at Russian gas giant Gazprom told Reuters.

The Kremlin has imposed trade sanctions on Turkey over last week’s jet incident although so far the measures have not affected the Russian energy exports to Turkey that are the core of their economic relationship.

Russian Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev said on Tuesday that no decisions had been made on the project and on a nuclear power station that Russia is building in Turkey.

Freezing work on the pipeline – intended to pump Russian gas, via Turkey, into southeastern Europe while bypassing Ukraine – would have a more symbolic than practical effect because the project is already beset by delays and doubts over its viability.Any freeze would also not affect another Russian project to boost gas exports to the north of Europe. Gazprom is going ahead with plans to expand the Nord Stream pipeline to Germany despite resistance from several ex-communist states in eastern Europe.Gazprom sources said no decision had been taken inside the company about changes to the Turkish Stream schedule in response to the row with Ankara, but added that they were awaiting instructions from President Vladimir Putin.

“We’re expecting that the head of state, in all likelihood, could declare a freezing of Turkish Stream, or at least some kind of timeout should be announced,” said one Gazprom source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

A second source in Gazprom, who also did not want to be identified, said: “We are still hoping that Turkish Stream will be pushed back by a few years, rather than completely canceled.”

Ulyukayev said last month that Turkish Stream could be among the projects affected by sanctions against Turkey, but he did not specify how. On Tuesday he left open the future of the pipeline and nuclear power station.

“There have been no decisions at this stage on suspending, freezing or ending financing for these projects,” he told reporters in Brussels. “We are working on the assumptions that they will be carried out as they were agreed.”


Gazprom is pursuing a strategy of diversifying the routes by which it supplies gas to Europe – its biggest export market – so that less passes through Ukraine.

In the past, rows between Moscow and Kiev have disrupted transit flows through Ukraine to the European Union. Russia’s annexation of Crimea last year and a rebellion by pro-Moscow separatists in eastern Ukraine have made the relations more fraught, and added urgency to the search for an alternative.

The project is to involve, initially, building a new gas pipeline under the Black Sea to Turkey, and in subsequent phases the construction of a further line from Turkey to Greece, and then overland into southeastern Europe.

Even before the row with Ankara, the project had been delayed and reduced in scale, leading some industry insiders to doubt if it would ever happen. In October, the completion date for the first phase was pushed back from 2016 to 2017.

Russia abandoned a previous attempt to build a new route to southern Europe after Bulgaria, where the pipeline was to have made landfall, pulled out under pressure from Brussels.


In September, a group of European companies signed an agreement with Gazprom to expand its Nord Stream pipeline so that it can deliver increased volumes directly from Russia to Germany, also without pumping them through Ukraine.

Gazprom, E.ON, BASF/Wintershall, OMV, ENGIE and Royal Dutch Shell form the new consortium for the project, which is called Nord Stream II and aims to double the route’s annual capacity to about 100 billion cubic meters of gas.

The new pipelines are due to start transporting gas by the end of 2019, according to the consortium.

The plan has met opposition from the U.S. government and some eastern European countries, which say it allows the Kremlin to squeeze Ukraine out from its role as a transit country.

The pro-Western government in Kiev, in power since street protests overthrew a Moscow-friendly president last year, earns significant revenues from transit fees.

Ten EU countries have written a letter to the European Commission saying that Nord Stream II runs counter to the bloc’s interests.

Polish Minister for Maritime Affairs Marek Grobarczyk told Reuters last week the project would harm energy security by deepening dependence on Russian gas.

“There is a broad agreement within EU countries … that building Nord Stream II stands against the idea of diversification and the idea of the internal market and would lead to an increase of energy supplies from one direction and one supplier,” Grobarczyk said.

Hungary, a country which backed the aborted South Stream project, has accused the EU of exercising double standards over which pipeline routes it supports and which it opposes.

“They complained about South Stream because it would have bypassed Ukraine. Does Nord Stream II traverse Ukraine?”, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said on Nov. 20. “Interestingly, South Stream was problematic, while Nord Stream is not.”

(Additional reporting by Pawel Sobczak and Anna Koper in WARSAW, Marton Dunai in BUDAPEST, Humeyra Pamuk in ISTANBUL; Writing by Christian Lowe and Jack Stubbs; Editing by Andrew Osborn and David Stamp)

Russia presents proof of Turkey’s role in ISIS oil trade

December 2, 2015


Turkey’s leadership, including President Erdogan and his family, is involved in illegal oil trade with Islamic State militants, says the Russian Defense Ministry, stressing that Turkey is the final destination for oil smuggled from Syria and Iraq.

The Russian Defense Ministry held a major briefing on new findings concerning IS funding in Moscow on Wednesday.

According to Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov, Russia is aware of three main oil smuggling routes to Turkey.

Today, we are presenting only some of the facts that confirm that a whole team of bandits and Turkish elites stealing oil from their neighbors is operating in the region,” Antonov said, adding that this oil “in large quantities” enters the territory of Turkey via “live oil pipelines,” consisting of thousands of oil trucks.

Antonov added that Turkey is the main buyer of smuggled oil coming from Iraq and Syria.

According to our data, the top political leadership of the country – President Erdogan and his family – is involved in this criminal business.”

However, since the start of Russia’s anti-terrorist operation in Syria on September 30, the income of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) militants from illegal oil smuggling has been significantly reduced, the ministry said.

The income of this terrorist organization was about $3 million per day. After two months of Russian airstrikes their income was about $1.5 million a day,” Lieutenant-General Sergey Rudskoy said.

At the briefing the ministry presented photos of oil trucks, videos of airstrikes on IS oil storage facilities and maps detailing the movement of smuggled oil. More evidence is to be published on the ministry’s website in the coming says, Rudskoy said.

For the past two months, Russia’s airstrikes hit 32 oil complexes, 11 refineries, 23 oil pumping stations, Rudskoy said, adding that the Russian military had also destroyed 1,080 trucks carrying oil products.

These [airstrikes] helped reduce the trade of the oil illegally extracted on the Syrian territory by almost 50 percent.”

Up to 2,000 fighters, 120 tons of ammunition and 250 vehicles have been delivered to Islamic State and Al-Nusra militants from Turkish territory, chief of National Centre for State Defense Control Lt.Gen. Mikhail Mizintsev said.

According to reliable intelligence reports, the Turkish side has been taking such actions for a long time and on a regular basis. And most importantly, it is not planning to stop them.”

One thing is clear. The role that Turkey is playing in this area is in many ways destructive and it’s affecting the European security, it’s affecting its neighbors. Ultimately it’s affecting its own society,” Uzi Arad, former head of research at Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency told RT.

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