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DNA Evening Must Reads: PM Modi to go after benami properties, Russian military jet crash; and more

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>1. War on black money: After demonetization, PM Modi promises to go after ‘benami properties’Vowing to carry forward the war against corruption and black money post-demonetization, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the government will soon operationalise a strong law to effectively deal with ‘benami’ properties and this was just the beginning. Read more about Mann ki baat here.2. ISIS suspect Musa planned to attack Mother House in Kolkata to target US nationals: NIA chargesheetISIS suspect Mohammad Masiuddin alias Musa had planned to attack Mother House in Kolkata to target US nationals according to the chargesheet filed by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) on Friday at NIA special court. Read more here.3. Russian military jet crash: All 92 passengers onboard killed, Putin declares national mourningA Russian military plane carrying 92 people, including dozens of Red Army Choir singers, dancers and orchestra members, crashed into the Black Sea on its way to Syria on Sunday, killing everyone on board, Russian authorities said. Read more here.4. Cashless means less cash, Opposition ‘slow in understanding’: Jaitley at Digi-Dhan MelaAs the government kick-started the Lucky Grahak Yojana and Digi-Dhan Vyapar Yojana for consumers and merchants to push the digital drive, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said that it is in the interest of every country that it becomes a less-cash economy. Read more about his speech here.5. Restrictions on cash withdrawals may continue beyond December 30Restrictions on withdrawal of cash from banks and ATMs are likely to continue beyond December 30 as currency printing presses and RBI have not been able to keep pace with the demand of new currency notes. Read more here.

Next US secretary of state Rex Tillerson had advised India to explore for oil globally

Exxon Mobil chief executive Rex Tillerson flew into balmy Goa a little over a decade ago, his giant aircraft carrying loads of Evian mineral water his office had advised him to drink during his maiden India visit. But Tillerson — now US president-elect Donald Trump’s choice for the post of secretary of state — didn’t display the sort of stiff attitude expected from a person of his stature but politely asked a butler at the Taj Exotica hotel to remove stacks of Evian bottles from his table and walked across the dinning hall to pick up a Himalaya bottled water for “the perfect Indian feeling”.

Saudi Aramco chairman, Abdullah Jumah, sitting close, smiled, describing to a friend Tillerson’s choice of water as “a noble gesture” because Exxon Mobil chairmen rarely break company advice and protocol. Within seconds, he had earned the warmth of the staff of the hotel, with many appreciating his refrain of “Thank You” for the smallest of deliverances.

His keynote address at the World Oil and Gas Assembly (WOGA) — considered by many as one of the finest oil and gas conferences in Asia organised by a Norwegian media outfit — offered the best worldview for India’s beleaguered hydrocarbon sector that left many completely baffled in the ballroom, heads of Indian oil and gas companies describing Tillerson’s speech a virtual eye-opener. “He told Indian companies to boldly explore oil and gas across the world rather looking inwards,” says Narendra Taneja, a top energy expert and WOGA convenor.

File image of Secretary of State-designate Rex Tillerson. AP

File image of Secretary of State-designate Rex Tillerson. AP

Once the speech was over, those in the room were in awe of Tillerson, one of the organisers timed the standing ovation a little over three minutes. A speaker, who had had read in US journals that Tillerson’s expansive desk in the Exxon Mobil headquarters at Irving, Texas is called “God’s Own Pod” because of job’s importance, asked Tillerson if he lived in a palace like all rich Americans.

Tillerson, laughed, and said he lived with his family in a ranch outside Dallas in rural settings. “I stay in a log house, not palace, close to nature. That’s my style,” Tillerson replied.

By then, he had already told his staff how he was liking Goa and it’s beaches, the brick and mortar of the Taj hotel did not interest the world’s most powerful executive. But he made queries about the Taj Mahal in Agra and some destinations in Rajasthan, including the tiger jungles of Ranthambhore, and top tourist destinations like Jodhpur and Jaipur.

In his special meetings with Indian tycoons like Reliance Industries head Mukesh Ambani, the then petroleum secretary BK Chaturvedi (who later became the cabinet secretary in Dr Manmohan Singh’s regime) and the then ONGC chairman Subir Raha, Tillerson talked about the Indian economy, people and poverty. “He found India a fascinating country and told the richest Indian that all political parties must work together if this great nation has to make a global impact,” says Taneja, a spokesperson of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Tillerson, described by his friends and foes as “Mr Perfectionist”, was once disrupted when his assistant played out a slide even before the Exxon Mobil chairman had finished making his point. “A cursory glance at the technician (a member of Tillerson’s team) was enough to freeze him in his seat,” laughs Taneja.

And before the start of the conference, Tillerson’s staff — three advance teams had done background checks of the coastal state, its facilities and security arrangements — had told their boss that his maiden visit to India could be cut short because his aircraft had given jitters to the Indian Navy which had no space for the huge plane. Interestingly, the only available space taken up by India’s liquor baron Vijay Mallaya who refused to shift his plane. Eventually, the aircraft was sent to a parking bay at the Mumbai airport. It was a clear cut deviation because as per company rules, the Exxon Mobil boss cannot stay in a city in which his aircraft is not parked.

Before landing in Goa, Tillerson had a two hour stopover in the Indian Capital where he met the then petroleum minister Ram Naik — conversation details not revealed by the minister’s office, nor by the Exxon-Mobile communications team.

Tillerson, whose close ties with Moscow as Exxon’s main man in Russia, was also instrumental in pushing the state-owned ONGC-Videsh to strike a deal with Russian national oil company, Rosneft, to acquire a 20 percent participating interest in the Sakhalin-1 offshore project in north Pacific’s freezing waters. The deal, when signed was estimated at $1.7 billion, ONGC-Videsh’s largest ever overseas investment in 2001. Sakhalin-I has proven reserves of approximately 2.3 million barrels, its current output 250,000 barrels per day.

But the deal was not easy to sign. Many raised concerns about the project’s commercial viability and the Congress, then in opposition, called it dubious and economically disastrous. But the NDA government went ahead, defending the deal in Parliament in August 2001.

The criticisms fell silent when in 2006, New Delhi’s first share of Sakhalin-I crude docked at the Mangalore port in a Russian tanker berthed at New Mangalore port with VLCC (very large crude carrier). In a quick change of stance, the Congress hailed the project — virtually as its own — and pushed images of the then oil and gas minister Murli Deora receiving a bottled sample from the Russian ambassador in the Indian Capital.

Tillerson, true to his reputation, had the farsightedness needed by the Indian companies scouting for overseas acquisition.

First Published On : Dec 19, 2016 15:24 IST

Russia’s Taliban outreach alarms Delhi

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Russia’s open admission that it was maintaining “limited political” contacts with the Taliban has set alarm bells both in Kabul and New Delhi. Russian ambassador to Kabul Alexander Mantytskiy’s revelation comes just two days after the first-ever Pakistan-Russia consultations on regional issues.Reacting cautiously to the development, Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Vikas Swarup said, “We do not see any downward trend in our bilateral relationship. However, in so far as the Taliban is concerned, they have to respect the internationally agreed red lines, give up terrorism and violence, sever all ties with Al Qaeda, agree to follow democratic norms and not do anything which will erode the gains of the last 15 years. Ultimately, it is for the Government of Afghanistan to decide whom to talk to and how.”In Islamabad, Pakistan Foreign Office spokesperson Mohammed Nafees Zakaria welcomed the Russia move, saying Pakistan has repeatedly emphasised the need for a politically negotiated settlement between the Afghan Government and the Taliban.“Pakistan believes that Afghan conflict has to be resolved through peaceful and political means. The most apt way to move forward in this regard is serious talks between Afghan Government and the Taliban. For this, Afghan government needs to send positive signals to the Taliban inviting them to join the peace process along with necessary incentives. In our view, an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led process is the best way and not the military option,” he added.It appears that Russia and Iran of late have been seeking Taliban help to prevent Daesh or ISIS taking roots in the war torn country. Taliban control the south western part of Afghanistan, while the ISIS has shown its presence in the north eastern part of country. Earlier this month, Russian special envoy to Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov at the Heart of Asia (HoA) conference at Amritsar had taken a stand at variance from India and Afghanistan, by extending support to support to Pakistan.The most severe reaction to Russia’s Taliban move on Thursday came from Kabul, where the legislative lower house, or Wolasi Jirga, passed a resolution, urging President Ashraf Ghani’s national unity government not to allow neighbouring and regional countries to interfere in internal Afghan matters “on the pretext of supporting the Taliban to fight Islamic State.” Afghan foreign ministry also warned that maintaining “any kind of support or contacts” with groups destabilising Afghanistan would undermine regional stability as well.Russian officials allege the US military and its NATO allies have failed to achieve their security objectives in Afghanistan and contain IS activities there. He said the number of terrorist groups had increased in Afghanistan compared to the past. “We are concerned about Daesh but we don’t know who sponsor them, we want the Afghan intelligence to clear the issue,” Mantytskiy said.

Trump taps Exxon’s Tillerson as top U.S. diplomat, lawmakers worried | Reuters

By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON President-elect Donald Trump named the head of Exxon Mobil Corp, Rex Tillerson, as his choice for U.S. secretary of state on Tuesday and won backing from some Republican foreign policy figures for the oilman despite his ties to Russia.The Exxon CEO potentially faces a tough fight to be confirmed in the Republican-controlled Senate. Some lawmakers worry about his links to Moscow and opposition to U.S. sanctions on Russia, which awarded him a friendship medal in 2013. But several Republican establishment figures, including former secretaries of state James Baker and Condoleezza Rice, and former Defense Secretary Robert Gates vouched for Tillerson, 64, who has spent more than 40 years at the oil company. Rice and Gates, who have worked for Exxon as consultants, both issued statements of support on Tuesday. Their backing could be crucial for Tillerson getting approved by the Senate, where Republicans will have a slim majority when Trump takes office on Jan 20. “The fact that Condi Rice, James Baker and Bob Gates are recommending Tillerson carries considerable weight,” said Senator Jeff Flake, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.By choosing Tillerson, Trump adds another person to his Cabinet and circle of advisers who may favor a soft line toward Moscow, which is under U.S. sanctions for its 2014 annexation of Crimea and at the center of allegations that it launched cyber attacks to disrupt the U.S. presidential election. Republican foreign policy hawks in the Senate like John McCain and Lindsey Graham are likely to give Tillerson a rough time at a confirmation hearing in early January.”It’s very well known that he has a very close relationship with (Russian President) Vladimir Putin,” said McCain, the Republican party’s 2008 nominee for president. Republicans will have a majority of just 52-48 in the Senate, and only a few defections from their ranks would block Tillerson if every Democrat also opposed him.

Trump said in a statement that Tillerson will reverse policies that left America less safe. “He will be a forceful and clear-eyed advocate for America’s vital national interests,” Trump said.Tillerson has foreign experience from years of cutting deals with foreign countries for his company, the world’s largest energy firm, but like Trump he has never held public office.He has been chief executive of Exxon Mobil since 2006. He said in a statement that he shared the president-elect’s “vision for restoring the credibility of the United States.”Exxon Mobil’s board will meet soon regarding its transition, CNBC reported citing a company statement.

Trump was also poised to add another figure with close ties to the oil industry to his Cabinet.A source close to the transition said Trump had chosen former Texas Governor Rick Perry, whose state is a leading oil producer, as his nominee for energy secretary, with an announcement expected soon. Perry met Trump at Trump Tower in New York on Monday, part of a series of meetings that included Rapper Kanye West on Tuesday.In 2013, Putin bestowed a Russian state honor, the Order of Friendship, on Tillerson, citing his work “strengthening cooperation in the energy sector.”There also has been controversy over alleged Russian interference in the Nov. 8 presidential election, with the CIA concluding that Moscow had intervened to help Trump defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton.Tillerson’s “cozy ties to Vladimir Putin and Russia would represent an untenable conflict at the State Department,” Representative Eliot Engel, the ranking Democrat on the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, said in a statement.

Trump is confident Tillerson can get past questions about his ties to Russia, a transition official said.”His relationships with leaders all over the world are second to none,” Trump said.Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Trump and Tillerson were “pragmatic people” who could help America and Russia build a mutually beneficial relationship. There also are concerns among lawmakers about former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, who has been mentioned as a possible No. 2 in the State Department and who has voiced hawkish views on Iraq and Iran, as well as on China and Taiwan.Republicans and Democrats said they would ask Tillerson, who has met Putin several times, about his contacts with Russia. A Kremlin foreign policy aide said Tillerson has good relations with Putin and many other Russian officials.The U.S. business community welcomed Trump’s choice of Tillerson, with GE Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Immelt calling him “a great negotiator.””We are pleased that Rex will bring a business perspective to the State Department,” the National Association of Manufacturers added.Global Witness, an international group that focuses on natural-resource related conflict and corruption, urged the Senate to reject Tillerson, citing Exxon deals with governments in Nigeria and other countries, which the group said contributed to corruption. (Reporting by Steve Holland; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey, Patricia Zengerle and Phil Stewart in Washington and by Georgina Prodhan in Belgrade; Editing by Will Dunham and Alistair Bell)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

First Published On : Dec 13, 2016 22:51 IST

India to get Rafale fighter jets in 3-yr time: IAF chief Arup Raha

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>India will get the first tranche of Rafale fighter jets from France in the next three years, Indian Air Force chief Arup Raha said on Saturday. “Rafale contract caters for delivery time between 36 months to about 66 months if I am not wrong. So within three years time we will have the first few aircraft delivered to us and within five and a half years we will have two full squadron of aircraft in operation,” Raha said at a function in Kolkata.He said the fighter jets, capable of carrying nuclear weapons and equipped with latest missiles, will tremendously increase the force’s capability. When asked about the depleting strength of jets, he said besides Rafale, India is going to produce Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas in large numbers. “The effort is on to increase production lines. The more the number of aircraft we produce, the faster we ramp up the capacity to close the gap created by obsolete and old aircraft,” Raha said.IAF has put on display one such obsolete MiG-27 fighter aircraft in front of the Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport in Kolkata. The installation was inaugurated by the Air Chief Marshal. He also said the government is also thinking of procuring another fighter aircraft to fill up the gaps faster. On the Indo-Russian fifth generation fighter aircraft (FGFA), Raha said they are already working with Russia on research and development. “The project is already negotiated. Preliminary design on our part is over and if this R&D negotiations are over and we sign the contract then we should have these aircraft in another 5-6 years,” Raha said.

Russian doping conspiracy benefited over 1,000 competitors | Reuters

By Mitch Phillips

LONDON More than 1,000 Russian competitors across more than 30 sports were involved in an institutional conspiracy to conceal positive doping tests as Moscow ‘hijacked international sport’, an independent WADA report said on Friday. The second and final part of the report for the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) by Canadian sports lawyer Richard McLaren provided exhaustive evidence of an elaborate state-sponsored doping scheme operated by Russia’s Sports Ministry.It included switching and changing samples by opening “tamper-proof” bottles – using a method devised by the Russian secret service – and numerous other methods to bypass and cover up drugs tests.”We are now able to confirm a cover-up that dates back until at least 2011 that evolved from uncontrolled chaos to an institutionalised and disciplined medal-winning conspiracy,” McLaren told a news conference on Friday. “It was a cover-up of an unprecedented scale and this report shows the evidence that increases the number of athletes involved, as well as the scope of the conspiracy. “We have evidence revealing that more than 500 positive results were reported as negative, including well-known and elite-level athletes and medal winners, who had their positive results automatically falsified.”Over 1,000 athletes competing in Summer, Winter and Paralympic sport can be identified as being involved in or benefiting from manipulations to conceal positive tests.”WADA president Craig Reedie called the findings “alarming” and said the report would be of immediate value to sporting bodies responsible for punishing doping cases.But Russia showed no sign of accepting the report’s conclusions.The Sports Ministry said it would study the WADA report and cooperate fully with anti-doping bodies, but “denies that any government programmes exists to support doping in sport”.”UNFOUNDED ACCUSATIONS”

Athletics chief Dmitry Shlyakhtin declined to comment directly on the report because he said he had not seen it. He conceded that Russian athletics’ problems “did not start yesterday”, but said it had now fulfilled all the demands made of it.The International Olympic Committee (IOC) on Wednesday extended provisional sanctions against Russian sport over the scandal, and an international ban on its track and field athletes remains in force pending a reform of its anti-doping programme.Yelena Isinbayeva, double Olympic pole vault champion and newly-elected head of the Russian Anti-Doping Agency supervisory board, said shortly before the report was released: “It is well known to us that many foreign athletes have a history of doping but compete at an international level with no problems.”If we want to clean up world sport, let’s start … we don’t need to concentrate on just one country.”Dmitry Svishchev, a member of parliament and president of Russia’s Curling Federation, said: “We haven’t heard anything new. Unfounded accusations against us all. If you are Russian, they accuse you of all sins.”McLaren accepted that there could be widespread doping elsewhere, though not on the same level as in Russia, the sole focus of his investigation.

McLaren pointed out that Russia had won 24 gold, 26 silver and 32 bronze medals at London 2012 and no Russian athlete had tested positive.”Yet the Russian team corrupted the London Games on an unprecedented scale, the extent of which will probably never be fully established,” he said.”For years, international sports competitions have unknowingly been hijacked by the Russians. Coaches and athletes have been playing on an uneven field.” Forensic investigations by his team detailed how a bank of clean urine samples was kept in a Moscow laboratory, where salt and coffee were added to try to fool officials testing “B samples” in supposedly tamper-proof bottles. DNA MISMATCHES

The report included evidence of DNA mismatches, where a tampered B sample did not match the DNA of previous specimens, and of samples that contained a mixture of male and female urine. It added that analysis of the samples from four Russians who won gold in Sochi had shown salt readings that were physiologically impossible, while there was evidence that the samples of 12 Russian Sochi medallists had been tampered with.More than 1,100 items of evidence contained in the report have now been made available to the public at the website here, including details and pictures of how microscopes were used to detect the tiny scratch marks made when opening the “tamper-proof” sample bottles.Friday’s report provided extensive evidence to support the original July report, which said Moscow had concealed hundreds of positive doping tests ahead of the Sochi Winter Games in 2014.The IOC declined to impose a blanket ban on Russia competing in the 2016 Rio Olympics, letting international sports federations decide which athletes should be allowed to compete. Only athletics and weightlifting banned the entire Russian teams.The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) did ban Russia completely from its Rio games, however, and said on Friday the full findings of the report were “unprecedented and astonishing” and “strike right at the heart of the integrity and ethics of sport”.McLaren accepted that Russian authorities had taken many steps since his first report, removing several officials who had been involved in the cover-up, setting up a new anti-doping commission and proposing a “gold standard” doping control regime.However, when asked about the comments of Svishchev and Isinbayeva, he said: “The findings are not challengeable … my impression is that there is a certain embedded cultural aspect to what has been going on, so there probably does need to be cultural change.”That doesn’t mean change won’t occur, but it might take longer than a few months or a year.” (Editing by Kevin Liffey)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

First Published On : Dec 9, 2016 21:05 IST

Embassies get assurance on cash

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>A high-level committee headed by an additional secretary in the Department of Economic Affairs is still grappling with the issue of shortage of cash experienced by the diplomatic missions, expatriate Indians, foreign tourists, and money changer associations abroad.Responding to the concerns raised by the Russian Embassy here that the cash crunch was affecting itsfuctioning, the government said the issues were at the advanced stage of being resolved.Earlier, the Dean of Diplomatic Corps stationed in Delhi had also raised the issue on behalf of all the missions.Earlier on Tuesday, in a letter, Russian Ambassador Alaxander Kadakin raised the issue of his diplomats not being able to withdraw enough money thus hampering the normal functioning of the mission. He sought intervention of the External Affairs Ministry so that the withdrawal restrictions for diplomatic staff are lifted. “We are awaiting a reply from the MEA and hope that this is resolved quickly. Otherwise, we will be forced to explore other options which may include raising the issue in Moscow with your Embassy by summoning Indian Minister Counsellor,” a senior Russian embassy official said here. He also warned that options may also include restriction on the cash withdrawals for Indian diplomats posted in Russia. There are approximately 200 staff members in the Russian mission here.After the demonetization process last month, MEA had said it approached the Department of Economic Affairs over three or four types of requests, including those related to maintaining sufficient flow of funds to diplomatic missions. Official spokesperson Vikas Swarup said a committee under an additional secretary that includes officials from finance and the MEA has been set up to look into the issues. The committee has met several times over the past few days to resolve the issue.It is also understood that some other countries such as Pakistan, Ukraine and Kazakhstan have also sent letters to the MEA. Pakistan High Commission had threatened a tit-for-tat action and starve the Indian mission in Islamabad of cash against the policies of a private Indian bank which had refused to release salaries of its employees.According to the Pakistani mission, the bank has imposed additional conditions for withdrawal of salaries. These conditions, which came into effect only last week, make it mandatory for Pakistan officials to fill up additional forms specifying their expenditures and also that they exchange their dollars with the same bank. The officials are upset because the exchange rate is much lower than that offered by the bank. Pakistan has told MEA that the bank in question had chosen to target its mission specifically and not imposed similar conditions on other missions. Sources said after the government’sintervention, the issue between the private bank and the Pakistani mission was resolved.The MEA has has received four types of different requests on the issue of demonetization, the first concern being the diplomats who are based in Delhi. “Some of them have told us that diplomatic missions require more funds and the existing limits are insufficient for them. They have requested thatthose limites should be increased for diplomatic missions,” said Swarup. The second set of issues involves NRIs having cash in Indian currency currently abroad. The committee is looking into the issue . The money changers’ associations abroad are also asking what they should do with the stacks of Indian currency they have or how to exchange them.

Demonetisation: Russia lodges protest on cash crunch faced by embassy, threatens ‘retaliatory action’

New Delhi: Demonetisation is taking a toll on Indian diplomacy, with Russia lodging a strong protest over cash shortage affecting the functioning of its embassy in Delhi and threatening retaliatory action.

Pressing the External Affairs Ministry to intervene to get restrictions on cash withdrawals by Russian diplomats lifted, its Ambassador Alexander Kadakin has written to it saying embassy’s normal functioning was getting impacted with the “inadequate” amount limit of Rs 50,000 per week.

Representational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

State Bank of India has informed the Embassy that the cash withdrawal limit available to the Embassy is now Rs 50,000 per week under the government of India directives with no exceptions unless otherwise advised by the RBI, his letter said.

“Such an amount is totally inadequate as regards the embassy’s salary and operational expenditure requirements,” the letter added.

“We are awaiting a reply from the MEA and hope that this is resolved quickly. Otherwise, we will be forced to explore other options which may include raising the issue in Moscow with your Embassy by summoning Indian Minister Counsellor,” a senior Russian embassy official said in Delhi.

Other retaliatory options may include restriction on the cash withdrawals for Indian diplomats posted in Russia, the official indicated.

Sources said MEA has “taken note” of the concerns raised by several diplomatic missions including Russia.

“The matter has once again been conveyed to Department of Economic Affairs and we are awaiting a direction from it,” a source said.

There are approximately 200 staffers in Russian diplomatic mission in the national capital.

Russia is not the first one to complain about the demonetisation-induced restrictions. Earlier, the Dean of Diplomatic Corps had also raised the issue with the External Affairs Ministry.

It is also understood that some other countries like Ukraine and Kazakhstan have also raised the issue with the ministry.

After the demonetisation last month, MEA had said it has approached Department of Economic Affairs over issues including those related to maintaining sufficient flow of funds to diplomatic missions following demonetisation and was awaiting a decision by the finance ministry regarding it.

First Published On : Dec 6, 2016 22:39 IST

Demonetization: Russia lodges protest, says cash shortage affecting working of its Mission

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Russia has strongly protested with India on cash shortage affecting the working of its Mission after demonetization, and wants a quick resolution of the issue, failing which it may explore other options including summoning Indian diplomat in Moscow.In a letter, Russian Ambassador Alaxander Kadakin has raised the issue of diplomats not being able to withdraw enough money hampering the normal functioning of the mission and sought intervention of the External Affairs Ministry so that the withdrawal restrictions for diplomatic staff are lifted.”We are awaiting a reply from the MEA and hope that this is resolved quickly. Otherwise, we will be forced to explore other options which may include raising the issue in Moscow with your Embassy by summoning Indian Minister Counsellor,” a senior Russian embassy official said here.Other options may also include restriction on the cash withdrawals for Indian diplomats posted in Russia, the official indicated.There are approximately 200 staffers in Russian mission here.There was no immediate reaction from the Indian side on the complaint.Earlier, the Dean of Diplomatic Corps had also raised the issue, complaining about the problems faced by the missions.It is also understood that some other countries like Ukraine and Kazakhstan have also protested to the ministry.After the demonetization last month, MEA had said it has approached Department of Economic Affairs over three or four types of requests including those related to maintaining sufficient flow of funds to diplomatic missions following the demonetization and was awaiting a decision from it.

Heart of Asia realignments: India-Afghanistan in open courtship as Russia falls by wayside

In diplomacy, the subtext is often as important as the text. As the sixth edition of the annual Heart of Asia Conference came to a close on Sunday, between the comments and declarations, the narrative and the counter-narrative, lay the contours of a new, deviatory foreign policy under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

A nation’s strategic affairs are usually the result of well-curated gradualism. Major shifts are rare unless there is a confluence of circumstances and a strong leadership willing to shake off hesitations of history. At the end of the two-day summit, it does appear that India is on the cusp of a bold revision. Two things are immediately clear.

One, India is no longer coy about its relationship with Afghanistan and sees the Central Asian nation as an important pivot. Two, it is fast recalibrating its historic ties with Russia. We are still a long way away from hearing the last word of an enduring strategic partnership but New Delhi is close to accepting (after staying in long denial) that the Cold War-era bonhomie with Moscow is over. Indo-Russian ties, too, have fallen prey to the sweeping currents of realignment triggered by the end of American exceptionalism and the simultaneous rise of China.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani. PTI

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani. PTI

Though major regional and global players met in Amritsar ostensibly to guide Afghanistan through its political and economic transition, in reality Heart of Asia platform was reduced to staging just another boxing bout between India, Pakistan and Afghanistan with Russia trying to play the referee and media in Islamabad and New Delhi in breathless anticipation for resumption of talks.

As if that would serve any purpose.

The way the pugilists threw their punches, it became abundantly clear that Kabul and New Delhi now see no point in downplaying the convergence of their strategic and commercial interests. In setting diplomatic niceties aside and blasting Pakistan’s complicity in sponsoring terror within its borders and inflicting an “undeclared war”, Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani reflected his growing frustration with a delinquent neighbour. The ferocity of his charge not only laid bare Pakistan’s duplicity but also ratified New Delhi’s line on cross-border terrorism.

This growing closeness stays true to a trajectory in bilateral relations that saw New Delhi supply Afghanistan with four attack helicopters, the first supply of lethal military hardware to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF). As a article points out, “The first three Mi-24 gunships were delivered in December 2015, before Modi visited Kabul to inaugurate the new Parliament, constructed through India’s assistance.”

These Russian-made choppers are expected to aid Afghan Air Force in their battle against the Taliban who still occupy 10 percent of territory and is in direct confrontation with Afghan forces for control over another 25 percent of land. Ghani accuses Pakistan of harbouring Taliban masterminds and reiterated before a full house of foreign delegates in Amritsar that were it not been for Islamabad’s duplicity, the Taliban wouldn’t last even a month.

Quoting a Taliban leader, the Afghanistan President said: “As Kakazada (Mullah Rahmatullah Kakazada), one of the key figures in the Taliban movement, recently said, if they did not have sanctuary in Pakistan, they would not last a month,” according to a report in The Indian Express. In words that leave no space for ambiguity, Ghani rejected Pakistan’s $500 million pledge to “rebuild Afghanistan” and asked its foreign affairs advisor Sartaj Aziz to instead use the money to “check extremism” on its soil.

Ghani didn’t stop there. According to the report, he accused Pakistan of selectively displacing terror networks in North Waziristan, betraying Afghanistan’s trust and inflicting on its soil a war that has grown in intensity during 2016 and has caused the highest number of civilian casualties and military-related deaths in the world.

In contrast, Ghani was effusive in his praise for India. News agency PTI quoted the Afghan President as saying that “India’s assistance is transparent and with no strings attached… there are no hidden deals between India and Afghanistan.” He also mentioned the “spontaneous celebrations” all over the country following the inauguration of Salma Dam by Modi during his Afghanistan visit and thanked India for further assistance of $1 billion apart from $2 billion.

Though Pakistan has long felt insecure about an India-Afghanistan axis that circumvents it and renders ineffective its geostrategic positioning, Islamabad’s obstructionist policies — refusing to let Afghanistan carry on trade with India through its territory — and subversive use of terror have ironically served to catalyse the very thing it dreads. There is now an even greater likelihood — with Modi and Ghani meeting on the sidelines and agreeing on a joint air corridor to bypass Pakistan and enhance bilateral trade — that the relationship will now be taken to the next level.

A commercial-strategic tie-up with Afghanistan — whose unique position as a central Asian country that provides connectivity to several Asian and even European nations — may offer India the chance to counter China’s strategic depth through the CPEC.

And in Ghani, Modi has a counterpart who’s willing to take India on board. While talking later to Suhasini Haidar of The Hindu during an interview, Ghani said, “India is converging with Afghanistan. There is nothing secret. It is a transparent state to state relationship. We are driven by common goals and opportunities.” He even quoted Tagore’s Kabuliwala to underline the historic bond between the nations.

But while one historic bond is being revived, another one fell by the wayside. In an extraordinary manouvre that reflected the depths of disparity in which Indo-Russian ties have fallen, Vladimir Putin’s envoy Zamir Kabulov rejected India and Afghainstan’s criticism of Pakistan and lectured on the need to “avoid scoring brownie points” on multilateral platforms such as these.

Pakistan media expectedly went to town with Kabulov’s statements but it became clear where the show pinches when a question was posed on the Russia-Pakistan military exercise. “India has close cooperation with the US, does Moscow complain? Then why complain about much lower level of cooperation with Pakistan,” he said.

Foreign affairs are based on narrow self-interests, not foggy sentimentality. It makes sense for Russia, whose relationship with the US is at an all-time low since the Cold War, to migrate to a more Sino-centric axis. That shouldn’t discourage India from pursuing its own self-interests. In coming out in the open over its relationship with Afghanistan, Modi has taken the right step.

First Published On : Dec 5, 2016 15:14 IST

New documents show Netaji died in air crash, says Grandnephew Ashish Ray

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s grandnephew and researcher Ashish Ray on Sunday claimed he has “irrefutable evidence” to prove that Bose died in an air crash in Taipei (Taiwan) on August 18, 1945.Demanding that the ashes in the Renkoji temple should be brought back to India, Ray said, “There are three reports which clearly state that Bose had died in the air crash in 1945 and did not have the opportunity to enter Soviet Union.” Two reports by the Japanese government have clearly stated that he died in the air crash and another report which is lying with the Russian state archives unambiguously says that Netaji didn’t have the opportunity to enter the erstwhile Soviet Union on 1945 or afterwards, Ray said.”He was never held as prisoner in USSR,” he said.Ray said Netaji, however, might have plans to move to Russia as he had always believed that Russia, a Communist state, would support his cause to liberate India from the British rule.”He felt Japan would not be able to protect him because it had surrendered. He felt although he might be detained in Soviet Union, he stood a better chance of convincing the Soviet authorities about his mission to liberate India,” Ray added.Coming to contrary views on the issue, Ray said though he understands the emotional attachment with Netaji but there is a need to confront the truth.”For how long can we be in denial, irrespective of so much evidence which points towards his death in plane crash.We have accounts of six or seven persons, including Habibur Rehman. I think if possible a DNA test of the ashes in Renkiji temple should be done and the ashes should be brought back to India,” Ray said.

Russian Minister tells new US administration to not repeat past mistakes

Moscow: Russia expects the new US administration not to repeat past mistakes of its predecessors who destroyed Russian-US relations, said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Thursday.

He expressed the hope that cooperation with incoming US President-elect Donald Trump will be constructive.

Representational image. APRepresentational image. AP

Representational image. AP

Russia is always open for an honest and pragmatic dialogue with the US on all global and bilateral issues on the basis of mutual respect, equality, consideration of each other’s interests and non-interference in domestic affairs, said Lavrov in an interview with Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.

“We believe that effective resolution of modern key problems and maintaining of strategic stability and security depends on our countries. Both sides will have to take serious efforts in order to overcome the destructive consequences of the anti-Russian policy of Barack Obama’s administration,” Lavrov said.

“But, according to President Vladimir Putin, we are ready to make our part of the way to stabilize the Russian-U.S. relations,” he said, Xinhua reported.

Lavrov noted that the development of bilateral cooperation in trade, investment, innovation, technology and culture is also possible.

“All in all, if we have mutual desire, we’ll have something to work on,” said Lavrov.

US-Russia relations had suffered a setback due to the Ukraine crisis. Washington and the European Union had imposed sanctions against Russia over Russia’s takeover of Crimea.

In response, Russia reduced imports of food commodities from countries which had imposed sanctions, including the United States, some EU members, Canada, Australia and Norway.

First Published On : Dec 1, 2016 15:24 IST


<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Aplace where powerful thumping bassline is accompanied by a cacophony of treble riffs, and the strange rhythmic beats that seduce your ears from underneath the apple trees is an ideal place for those seeking ‘inner peace’. This is a place which, as you go deeper into the forests, shows you the picture perfect range of snow-capped mountains in the background, and lush green flora-fauna in the surroundings. This is Himachal Pradesh—where the easy availability of the best quality charas has made it a favourite among revelers from around the world; a place chosen by some to get lost (and find themselves all over again).Not all who wander are lost“Follow the music! A brisk trek and maybe a few blocks down, you’ll start seeing these ravers—the party freaks—with their tents parked everywhere and their clothes off. They are easy to spot!”, said a local who grinned at me while conjuring the way to reach the rave haven.Many of the ‘adventure’ seekers come here to forget their worries, to get lost in nature. The North-Indian states, closely guarded by the Himalayas, provide a perfect landing spot for such escapades. Himachal Pradesh—a place bringing nature, music, drugs, and the revelers together—is slowly becoming one of the favorites. The current Indian generation is undergoing a social transitional phase. Locals in the area often join in and contribute by organizing parties that serve the psychedelic needs of the wandering souls. The cheap living standards and a favorable environment to grow and consume cannabis is an ideal location to stay and party for the adventure seekers.One such party was recently organised by a group of young locals and some members of a visiting Israeli group. Hallucinogens were easily available and the entire valley danced in a state of trance.We live in a strange world. The definition of freedom—the difference between what’s right and wrong is subtly dictated through age-old social conditioning. The wandering souls, seeking the unknown are often labeled as outsiders, rebels, mavericks or outcastes.What might be labeled as hedonistic drugs for some, many use it as mere mind expansion tools to seek the mystical; the unknown. Humans are psychologically wired to give meaning and derive explanations from the world around. The rave scenes offer a perfect setting for the mindful experiments. For many wanderers, getting lost in the labyrinths of their mind loops is the only possible way to unravel the treasured eternal truth.Imagine: three days and two nights of carefree-intense dancing to hypnotic-ground thumping music, the sun and the moon in beautiful alterations, the clouds overhead playing hide and seek, the beautiful hugs and the laughter, the surrounding pine trees, the occasional flow of rainfall and the ubiquitous drugs! The days are spent laughing at the previous night scenes, mingling with the new ‘like-headed’ friends and preparing for the next night. It is a common sight to find the party lovers at the local cafes rolling joints during the daytime. As night sets in, the entire valley ruptures into an ecstasy!Peace sells, but who’s selling?“The usage of charas—consumption and cultivation—is normal for the locals, mafias, and distributors. People want to compromise and thrive peacefully. But the police? The authorities? God! Live and let live!,” said one of the party visitor, distastefully summing up his insights about the ironical rave situations in the mountains.Some allege that organisers of such rave parties often seek permission from the district administration under the pretext of ‘cultural’ music and dance programs. The go-ahead comes with a warning to follow the Supreme Court’s guidelines on noise pollution, against collecting money and drug-use. But all the rules are openly flouted when the permission is granted. In many cases, the excessive indulgence comes at a cost of harming a peaceful and balanced ecosystem. A huge pile of scattered rubble, damaged flora and fauna, and erratic sound levels are some of the common remnants of such high-octane parties.However, it solely lies in the hands of the attendees to decide the fate of any party. A sensible or mature crowd rarely indulges in obscenity, rather, they take initiatives to unify with the surrounding and contribute towards a collective evolution. Our actions define the reactions we get.Many localities blame the outsiders for the evident changes in their surroundings. The Israelis are the most blamed lot. Maybe it is their practices that differ from the mainstream Indian culture or their omnipresence in several silent mountain valleys. Some parts of scenic Himachal Pradesh are virtually turning into Jewish settlements, with a large number of Israeli tourists coming in and settling here. Signboards in Hebrew are a common sight in these areas.The beliefs have, however, always been dual sided.For a major section of the local people, such events are one of the major sources of revenue. Lack of industries or companies makes tourism one of the most reliable source of income. Many bamboo-walled establishments can be seen housing popular Israeli cafes with mattresses on the ground, clean sheets and packaged and bottled goodies. Such appealing, hippie-looking cafes have become an attraction for many Indian tourists too. Collectively, these have helped sustain an entire generation of Himachali localities, who have learned to thrive on the mass tourism earnings of a few months. An empty cafe is rare during the peak season. One of the major reasons for the ongoing backlash by the government authorities is the involvement of drugs—the craze, the allure, the abuse, the bounty and the intricate business nuances. With the recent boom in social media, an irresistible imagery about the unknown, unheard-of mountain scenes has been etched in the minds of the people, drawing more crowd, who want to experience and answer the mountains’ call.Expensive proportionEven as the police deny thier existence, allegedly, the Russian and Israeli mafia have taken over cannabis cultivation here, because of the high-quality produce in these areas. The illegal durgs from Himachal Pradesh reach Goa, from where they are smuggled to other countries around the world.The foreigners have the option to rent a piece of land for as less as $100 (Rs 6,900 approximately) and cultivate high-grade charas (hash) in large volumes. This high-quality charas is then transported to different parts of the world. A tola (10 grams) of charas in India would cost around $30 (Rs 2,100 approximately) whereas, in Amsterdam—also a dry haven for Europe—the same quantity can easily earn up to $80 (Rs 5,500 approximately). Not only are the drugs cheap, but accommodation in remote villages of these Himalayan valleys is also easy on the pocket. A basement of a villager’s house can be rented at as little as Rs 500-Rs 1,000 a month. Since the foreigners prefer such kind of accommodation, it becomes difficult for the police to track them down. Hence, such towns become the ideal locations for rave parties.Records of Israeli, Russian, Italian, Japanese and Nigerian tourists show that many of them first reach Goa and then plan their trip to Delhi, Manali, and Dharamsala. Most of the foreigners staying in these towns often arrive on a multiple-entry tourist visa which allows them to stay in India for a certain time period at a strecth. Upon expiry of the stay, the tourists travel to the neighbouring countries (preferably Nepal), spend a week or two there and re-enter India with a renewed stay period. This network of drug peddlers has ensured stringent narcotic laws and task forces to fight the never-ending war on drugs.The lureWhat would be better than experiencing the charas induced trance in a lush green forest without having to deal with the dreaded Indian summer? The cheap and high-quality cannabis continues to hold an enduring appeal for foreigners.Some would argue about an invasion of personal space and right to experience and experiment with one’s mind. The current laws are going to prevail as long as a socio-economic factor is involved in this alluring business. Elaborate chains of drug smuggle are always going to sneak up right under the nose of narcotic authorities. People are always going to find an alternative for such elusive experiences. A vicious loop indeed.As an Israeli youth sitting outside one of these cafes summed up a conversation in his coarse voice. “After all, each of the outcomes, our future, the planet’s destiny—depends on the choices WE make—on the sides WE choose!” A dense cloud of smoke from his long chillum hit, slowly clear to reveal the words ‘RAVEHEART’ imprinted across the center of his T-shirt.

Hackers target ATMs across Europe as cyber threat grows | Reuters

By Jim Finkle

Cyber criminals have remotely attacked cash machines in more than a dozen countries across Europe this year, using malicious software that forces machines to spit out cash, according to Russian cyber security firm Group IB. Diebold Nixdorf and NCR Corp, the world’s two largest ATM makers, said they were aware of the attacks and have been working with customers to mitigate the threat. The newly disclosed heists across Europe follow the hacking of ATMs in Taiwan and Thailand that were widely reported over the summer. Although cyber criminals have been attacking cash machines for at least five years, the early campaigns mostly involved small numbers of ATMs because hackers needed to have physical access to cash out machines. The recent heists in Europe and Asia were run from central, remote command centres, enabling criminals to target large numbers of machines in “smash and grab” operations that seek to drain large amounts of cash before banks uncover the hacks.“They are taking this to the next level in being able to attack a large number of machines at once,” said Nicholas Billett, Diebold Nixdorf’s senior director of core software and ATM Security. “They know they will be caught fairly quickly, so they stage it in such a way that they can get cash from as many ATMs as they can before they get shut down.”Group IB declined to name banks that were “jackpotted,” a term used to describe forcing ATMs to spit out cash, but said the victims were located in Armenia, Belarus, Bulgaria, Estonia, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Russia, Spain, Britain and Malaysia.Indeed, Dmitry Volkov, head of threat intelligence with Group IB, told Reuters he expects more heists on ATMs.MORE HEISTS EXPECTED
Hackers have moved from stealing payment card numbers and online banking credentials to more lucrative hacks on bank networks, giving them access not only to ATM machines, but also to electronic payment networks.

A February attack on servers at Bangladesh’s central bank that controlled access to the SWIFT messaging system yielded more than $81 million in one of the biggest digital heists on record. Russian banks lost over $28 million in a series of wire-fraud cases that were identified earlier this year.”What we are seeing demonstrated is the new model of organised crime,” said Shane Shook, an independent security consultant who helps banks and governments investigate cyber attacks and reviewed Group IB’s findings. Diebold Nixdorf and NCR both said they had provided banks with information on how to thwart the new types of attacks. “We have been working actively with customers, including those who have been impacted, as well as developing proactive security solutions and strategies to help prevent and minimize the impact of these attacks,” said Owen Wild, NCR’s global marketing director for enterprise fraud and security.Disclosure of the campaign follows two ATM hacks in July: $2.5 million was stolen from Taiwan’s First Bank and $350,000 from Thailand’s state-run Government Savings Bank.

Hackers remotely infected ATMs at both banks, forcing them to spit out cash that was collected by teams of “money mules,” who authorities say travelled to Asia from Eastern Europe. ONE CRIMINAL GROUP?
The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation earlier this month sent a private alert to American banks, warning them to be on the lookout for attacks on ATMs following the heists in Taiwan and Thailand, the Wall Street Journal reported on Monday. An FBI spokesman declined to comment on the attacks in Europe.

Group IB said it believed the attacks across Europe were conducted by a single criminal group, which it dubbed Cobalt. It named them after a security-testing tool known as Cobalt Strike, which the perpetrators used in the heists to help them move from computers in the bank network that were infected with tainted emails to specialised servers that control ATMs. Group IB believes that Cobalt is linked to a well-known cyber crime gang dubbed Buhtrap, which stole 1.8 billion rubles ($28 million) from Russian banks from August 2015 to January 2016, because the two groups use similar tools and techniques.Buhtrap stole money through fraudulent wire transfers, not ATM jackpotting.The ATM Security Association declined to comment on Group IB’s findings. Members of the group, which works to improve ATM security, include ATM maker Diebold Nixdorf (DBD.N) as well as banks ABN Amro (ABNd.AS), Bank of America Corp (BAC.N), Royal Bank of Scotland Group (RBS.L) and Wells Fargo & Co. (WFC.N).Representatives of Europol, which coordinates investigations of cyber crimes across Europe, had no immediate comment. (Reporting by Jim Finkle in Boston; Additional reporting by Anthony Deutsch in The Hague; Editing by Dan Grebler and Bernadette Baum)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

First Published On : Nov 22, 2016 00:38 IST

India plans to have 14.5 GWe of nuclear generating capacity online by 2024: Report

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The Indian government has put renewed vigour into nuclear power plans as part of its infrastructure development programme, with negotiations on to unlock long-standing agreements with French, Russian and US companies, said a report released in Singapore on Tuesday. “Its overall goal is to have 14.5 GWe (Gigawatt or one billion watts of electricity power) of nuclear generating capacity online by 2024, compared to 6,219 MWe now,” said the World Nuclear Performance Report 2016 released at the Singapore International Energy Week being held this week.The government gave in principle approval for new nuclear plants at 10 sites in nine states, according to the report by the World Nuclear Association. Those for indigenous pressurised heavy water reactor are at Gorakhpur in Haryana’s Fatehabad; Chutka and Bhimpur in Madhya Pradesh; Kaiga in Karnataka; and Mahi Banswara in Rajasthan.Those for plants with foreign cooperation are Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu; in Jaitapur in Maharashtra; Chhaya Mithi Virdhi in Gujarat; Kovvada in Andhra Pradesh and Haripur in West Bengal, though this location has been in doubt. In addition, two 600 MWe fast breeder reactors are proposed at Kalpakkam.Unit 2 of the Russian-built Kudankulam nuclear power plant in Tamil Nadu was completed in 2015, with the unit continuing in mid-2016. A prototype fast breeder reactor is nearing completion at Kalpakkam, according to the report.The report also noted performances of the nuclear power plants which were commissioned in Rajasthan in 1973. The unit has had a mixed history with lengthy outages from 1982 to 1987, and 1994 to 1997. It has been put out of service since 2005.The second unit of nuclear power plant in Rajasthan, which came into operation in 1981, performed more reliably, despite long outages between 1994 and 1998, and from 2007 to 2009. It achieved a lifetime capacity factor of 56%.Rajasthan 3, starting in 2003, has managed a cumulative capacity factor of 76.5%. Altogether, the country has commissioned 18 Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors, two small BMRs – boiling water reactors – (in 1969) and two PWRs – pressurised water reactors – (at Kudankulam in 2014 and 2016, respectively), according to the report.A dip in the average capacity factor in 2008 and 2009 resulted from contemporaneous outages at Rajasthan 2, Kakrapar 1 and Narora units 1 and 2, it said. The association noted challenges of providing electricity across the world’s rural regions where people lack electricity. It has set a higher target for nuclear power – 25% of electricity in 2050, which would require an estimated 1,000 GWe capacity.It said one possible pathway to this target would be to build 10 GWe a year between 2015 and 2020, step this up to 25 GWe per year to 2025, and then 33 GWe per year to 2050.

Brics Summit: After surgical strikes, Modi delivers another blow to Pakistan

Summits are not usually thrillers that produce surprise endings. They are more like romantic tales with happily-ever-after endings.

That’s because diplomats, who do most of the backroom grind at summits and iron out all differences —  officially and unofficially — leak most details to the media even before the red carpets are rolled out. They tell you the story, or most of it, and then the Presidents and Prime Ministers arrive to give you the headlines.

Even in the case of Brics 2016 in Goa, the script was known before the leaders disembarked their special aircraft. We knew that India would sign arms deals with Russia, and India would talk tough on terrorism.

But this summit was different on two counts. For one thing, the script was almost entirely written by India. Though the content was known, its style and delivery did produce surprise.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin during the joint statement ahead of Brics summit in Goa on Saturday. Image: PIB

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin during the joint statement ahead of Brics summit in Goa on Saturday. Image: PIB

At the end of it, Pakistan has probably lost an ally in Russia, has to speed up its shopping for fighter jets which it badly needs and has had the pain of being branded as a ‘mothership of terror’. All these put together constitute another severe jolt to Pakistan, the biggest since India’s 29 September surgical strikes, from which it has hardly recovered.

Whether such strikes happened in the past nor not, by publicising them, the Narendra Modi government threw Pakistan into unprecedented confusion and even an internal crisis. And Brics 20016 has only rubbed salt into Pakistan’s surgical wounds

More than the talk about terror, it was the arms deals that Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin signed — worth a whopping US $24 billion — on the sidelines of the summit that hijacked the agenda. For the Indians, it was a case of killing many birds with one stone.

The most important of these deals was India’s purchase of five S-400 Triumf anti-aircraft missile systems from Russia which alone amount to US $6 billion (nearly Rs 40,000 crore).

Of course, Russia is also selling six of these systems to China which are likely to be delivered in 2018. By positioning a Russian-made S-400 at the right place on the boundary with India, China can have New Delhi in its range. This means that in case of an India-China war, the two countries will end up destroying each other’s aircraft using the same Russian-made weapon systems. Besides, Saudi Arabia and Iran are among the countries in queue to buy the S-400s.

What’s the big deal?

The big deal is that India too will have them, probably by 2020, though Russia’s promises on delivery schedules should always be taken with a pinch of salt. And when these systems arrive, India can deploy them to spot and destroy Pakistani aircraft long before they enter Indian airspace.

More importantly, India hopes that Pakistan will no longer have Russia as a friend and ally. After India edged closer to the US, Russia lifted an embargo to sell armaments to Pakistan in 2014 and agreed to sell four Mi-35 attack-cum-transport helicopters to Pakistan.

The four-helicopter deal, by no means a threat to India, pales into insignificance compared with the omnibus agreements that Russia has signed in Goa.

Sergey Chemezov, the CEO of Russia’s armament maker ROSTEC Corp, who had proudly announced the lifting of his country’s embargo on Pakistan two years ago, waxed eloquent in Goa on Russia’s “long-standing relationship” with India. Considered to be the Russian government’s most important arms wheeler-dealer, Chemezov ruled out supplying any fighter jets to Pakistan “for the present”.

Russia was earlier ready to sell its fifth-generation Su-35 planes to Pakistan. Times are changing, and changing fast. Thanks to Modi and Putin, Pakistan has to resume its shopping for fighter jets once again.

The Goa deals have less to do with an Indian desire to resume romance with an estranged, old friend or with the rearrangement of post-Cold War friendships. They are driven by cold, brutal geopolitical realities of the sub-continent and compulsions of the fiercely competitive arms market.

So what? India can ask. All that matters to India for now is that Pakistan is once again a country practically with one friend — China.

Putin is happy: Russian is once again milking enough money from India.

Modi is happy: India gets the most advanced anti-aircraft missile systems; it takes care a part of its long-overdue plan to modernise its military; and it distances Russia from Pakistan, pushing the country further into isolation.

The Russia card that India played was clearly not an overnight brainwave. It was a long thought-out one. Apparently it included Modi bringing PS Raghavan, the Russian-speaking former Indian ambassador in Moscow, into his policy-making team well in time.

Finally came the Goa Declaration, and perhaps it was where India encountered a bit of failure. Media reports say that the Modi team failed to get a consensus on including “cross-border terrorism” in the declaration. But India is content with paragraph 59 of the declaration which came close it with the mention of “dismantling terrorist bases”.

As for China, nothing was expected and nothing was gained or lost. But characteristically, China may soon express its frustration with India through an editorial in one of its mouthpieces such as People’s Daily or Global Times. Or an academic in Xinjiang province or a bureaucrat in Shanghai may drop a pearl of wisdom against India. That’s China’s style.

But India needn’t worry. It has, once again, sent the right message to Pakistan. And Modi can be pardoned if he congratulates himself on what he has pulled off. This is Indian diplomacy at its best.

The author tweets @sprasadindia.

India-Russia summit strengthens the strategic partnership

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The 17th India-Russia annual summit in Goa lived up to its billing with the two countries concluding a raft of defence deals which indicates political intent on both sides to give more ballast than before to their strategic partnership.A total of 19 agreements were either signed or adopted on the occasion, including a joint venture for production of Ka-226T helicopters in India, the purchase and construction of four additional frigates and procurement of S-400 air defence system.India and Russia also agreed to organise a military industrial conference later in 2016 and create a bilateral science and technology committee. The joint statement issued after the delegation-level talks between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin says the Indo-Russian military industrial conference will address military equipment-related issues, including spares, repair, and maintenance of Russian-supplied equipment and co-production. Private players would be invited to participate under the Modi Government’s ‘Make in India’ initiative.The talks also dwelled on energy cooperation including a proposal for a gas pipeline from Russia to India, using the International North-South Corridor that runs via Iran and is potential for India’s cooperation with the Eurasian Economic Union.Prime Minister Modi noted that, “Russia’s clear stand on the need to combat terrorism mirrors our own.” He appreciated Russia’s understanding and support of India’s “actions to fight cross-border terrorism”, which can be interpreted as alluding to the September 29 surgical strikes conducted by Indian special forces along the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir.The joint statement amplified it by saying that the two countries “stressed the need to deny safe havens to terrorists and the importance of countering the spread of terrorist ideology as well as radicalisation leading to terrorism, stopping recruitment, preventing travel of terrorists and foreign terrorist fighters” in addition to strengthening border management.Modi and Putin witnessed the commencement of civil works for the construction of the third and fourth nuclear power reactors being built with Russian assistance at Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu.That India values its “special and privileged strategic partnership” with Russia can be had from Prime Minister Modi’s remark; he quoted a Russian proverb that means ‘an old friend is better than two new friends’.

Military exercise with Pakistan not targeted at India: Russia

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Seeking to allay India’s concern over Russia’s growing military ties with Pakistan, a top official and close friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday said there are no talks for sale of military equipment to Pakistan and that the recently held army exercise was directed at countering terrorism and not aimed at India.Sergei Chemezov, CEO of Rostech State Corporation, an umbrella organisation of 700 hi-tech civilian and military firms, asserted that the military exercise does not show a “significant” change in his country’s relations with Pakistan.”Our relationship with Pakistan has existed for a while. In some areas it has broadened but I will not call it as significant change,” Chemezov, who was the KGB station chief in Germany when Putin was a young operative there, told a select group of journalists.Asked about the recently held army exercise, Chemezov said it was directly connected with modern way of specialised fight against terrorists. Highlighting terrorism, he said that ISIS was not just an Arab danger but a global one.”ISIS is a global danger and it not just involves terrorism in the Arab world but does involve terrorists in Russia, India as well as Pakistan. We feel that joint military exercise in this area are vital for world peace. These exercises are not in any way targeted at anything to do with India or any other country,” Chemezov said.Asked about the sale of Mi 35 attack helicopters to Pakistan, Chemezov said that Russia has “not delivered any modern aircraft or any military aircraft to Pakistan”. “We have made deliveries of helicopters but those are specialised transport helicopters. Delivery has already been made. There is no contract negotiations for any military related equipment to be delivered to Pakistan,” he said.Chemezov said that Russia would be glad to cooperate with India on the issue of terrorism and would be happy to not just provide equipment and weapons but also share best practices of its special forces and increase cooperation.

Russia’s VTB head: Rosneft-Essar deal not subject to sanctions | Reuters

Russia’s VTB head: Rosneft-Essar deal not subject to sanctions | Reuters

Updated: Oct 15, 2016 21:08 IST


GOA, India A deal in which a group led by Russian oil major Rosneft will acquire India’s Essar Oil has been specially structured to avoid falling foul of Western sanctions, Andrey Kostin, head of Russian lender VTB, told Reuters on Saturday.India’s debt-laden Essar Group confirmed on Saturday it had agreed to sell a 98 percent interest in its Essar Oil unit to the consortium led by Rosneft, giving the Russian energy giant a gateway into the world’s fastest-growing fuel market. VTB acted as Essar’s adviser on the deal.Speaking to Reuters in an interview on the sidelines of talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Kostin said the purchase would not violate Western sanctions over Russia’s role in the Ukraine crisis because Rosneft will only acquire a 49 percent stake.”Rosneft will not get a controlling stake, partly because of these reasons (sanctions)”, he said.

Rosneft’s partners Trafigura and Russian fund United Capital Partners (UCP) will acquire the remaining 49 percent. Rosneft will pay around $3.5 billion for its stake, the same amount as Trafigura and UCP.Kostin said neither Rosneft nor Trafigura had borrowed any money to finance the purchase.

“Trafigura and Rosneft are paying on their own, with no funds lent from VTB”, he said. “They (the buyers) will pay with cash, it is a cash deal”.In parallel with the deal, VTB has said it will lend Essar around $3.9 billion for debt reconstruction. Kostin said UCP and Rosneft could consider selling part of their stakes in the future.

“I think UCP, which is a portfolio fund, will … sell, maybe to firms from this region, from Asia,” he said. “(Rosneft)may also sell, but it is likely to hold on. It sees an opportunity to expand in the region.” (Reporting by Denis Pinchuk; Editing by Jack Stubbs and Hugh Lawson)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

Brics Summit: India, Russia rekindle old passion after brief strategic philandering

Their brief but an intense bit of adultery over, ancient partners India and Russia signaled on Saturday that they are ready to mend their philandering ways. In a tight embrace celebrated by three announcements and 16 agreements including three blockbuster defence deals, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin looked to have rekindled the flame that once defined Moscow’s close relationship with New Delhi.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the exchange of agreements ceremony after the 17th India-Russia annual summit meet in Benaulim, Goa on Saturday. PTIPrime Minister Narendra Modi with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the exchange of agreements ceremony after the 17th India-Russia annual summit meet in Benaulim, Goa on Saturday. PTI

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the exchange of agreements ceremony after the 17th India-Russia annual summit meet in Benaulim, Goa on Saturday. PTI

A part of this second honeymoon has been necessitated by realpolitik concerns, part by a genuine desire to stop the drift in a historic friendship, part by Russia’s clever manipulation of optics and part by New Delhi’s ambition to create a global order which isn’t necessarily anti-West but is catalytic to its ambition.

Fluidity and agility mark the ever-changing world of foreign policy. There are no permanent friends or enemies, only permanent strategic interests. Even so, the recent intricate interplay between US, Russia, China and India — two global powers and two emerging economies — have seen rapid recalibration of ties, realigning of interests and new angles in staid relationships.

Moscow and Beijing have noted with concern India’s recent tilt towards America even as they themselves grew closer to each other due to a common need to counter US influence. Washington, its power already on the wane from the heady heights of the 80s and unquestioned supremacy of 90s, has similarly grown closer to India even as it seeks a pivot in Asia to contain China’s meteoric rise. It has also found a huge market in New Delhi who relies exclusively on imports for defence needs.

While India’s growing strategic proximity to the US has caused irritation in Beijing, it was seen as a positively alarming signal in Moscow who was supplanted by Washington as India’s largest arms supplier. For a commodity-based economy struggling with low oil prices, this was a huge blow. Russia had traditionally enjoyed a prime share of India’s defence market.

For India, this interplay posed a different problem. Even as the Narendra Modi government warmed up to the US to balance the increasing assertiveness of China in the region, it crucially left drift the relationship with its all-weather friend Russia.

If this was the realpolitik backdrop amid which Modi and Putin met in a closed-door bilateral on the sidelines of Brics on Saturday, the deals that followed the meeting were to some extent influenced by post-Uri developments in which Russia played no mean part.

As KP Nayar writes in The Telegraph, Moscow cleverly manipulated the optics to roar back into New Delhi’s defence balance sheet. “…the Kremlin has virtually forced India into catapulting Russia once again as this country’s main arms supplier. This has been done with Putin’s repeated threats to sell weapons to Pakistan and by holding military exercises with Rawalpindi — the seat of its Army General Headquarters — during precisely the time when terrorists who attacked Uri prompted India to cross the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir.”

It would be unfair, however, to see Modi as the innocent victim of Russian manipulation. If he appears ready to be caught in Russian embrace, Modi would have ensured India’s strategic interests are respected by Moscow.

Towards that end, Saturday’ deals and joint statement are forged in a context that should please India. The terms of the deals will give a boost to his pet Make In India project and the joint statement carried enough indications to show that Russia has put its weight behind India when it comes to tackling cross-border terrorism.
The deals include five “game changing” surface-to-air missile defence systems which lies at the pinnacle of cutting-edge technology and military advancements. As a cost of $5 billion, the S-400 ‘Triumf’ air defence systems can apparently tackle incoming airborne targets — including drones, fighter aircraft, and even missiles at ranges of up to 400 km.

According to The Hindu, China became the first export customer of the S-400 last year when it signed a $3 billion deal for six systems. The newspaper also flags two other strategically important deals including four stealth frigates and a joint venture to manufacture at least 200 Kamov-226T helicopters in India.

And in a final sweetener to the new, rekindled bonhomie, New Delhi appears satisfied that Russia’s brief flirtation with Pakistan does not reflect any long-term strategic shift.

Modi’s opening remarks (delivered in halting Russian) after the bilateral that “one old friend is better two new ones and his subsequent statement that “Russia’s clear stand on the need to combat terrorism mirrors our own” gave enough indication that the laal topi once again adorns pride of place in India.

Brics summit in Goa: Modi, Putin begin bilateral talks as part of annual India-Russia meet

Benaulim: Prime Minister Narendra Modi and visiting Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday began a closed-door bilateral meeting ahead of Brics heads of states meet in Goa.

The two leaders are meeting as part of the annual India-Russia summit following which the two countries are expected to sign key defence, energy and agriculture-related business deals.

External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Vikas Swarup said Modi and Putin “will discuss on a range of issues including defence, counter-terrorism”.

File photo of Vladimir Putin and Narendra Modi. PTIFile photo of Vladimir Putin and Narendra Modi. PTI

File photo of Vladimir Putin and Narendra Modi. PTI

Earlier, Putin arrived at the Dabolim airport to a red carpet welcome after which Modi, on Twitter, greeted the Russian President saying: “India welcomes you, President Putin! Wishing you a fruitful visit.”

Top bureaucrats from the Russian defence, energy, trade and industries ministries are accompanying the President.

Modi and Putin via video conference will also participate in foundation-laying ceremony of the third and fourth power units at the Kundakulam nuclear power plant.

The two leaders are expected to hold discussions over lunch and issue a formal statement to the media following the summit.

Talks between India and Russia for setting up units 5 and 6 of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KNPP) are also expected to culminate into a general framework agreement.

This could be announced after talks Modi-Putin.

An official of the Russian atomic energy corporation Rosatom, the builders of KNPP, told IANS on Friday that negotiations for units 5 and 6 had been expedited so that an announcement could be made during the Brics leaders summit in Goa on 15-16 October.

Brics summit in Goa: Russian president Vladimir Putin’s arrival delayed due to fog

Panaji: Russian President Vladimir Putin’s arrival in Goa on Saturday to attend the Brics Summit was delayed due to poor visibility with thick fog making it difficult for his plane to land in the coastal state.

The Russian President was first scheduled to arrive at 1 am at INS Hansa base, which is adjacent to the Dabolim Airport, but his arrival was delayed due to thick fog in the region, sources in the naval base told PTI.

File photo of Russian President Vladimir Putin. APFile photo of Russian President Vladimir Putin. AP

File photo of Russian President Vladimir Putin. AP

Putin’s flight, which was supposed to land at 3 am, was rescheduled to 7 am but even at that time it could not arrive.

However, due to security reasons it was not stated as to where his plane has been diverted.

Heavy security was in place along the road connecting INS Hansa base to the summit’s venue hotel in Benaulim village.

Several Union and Goa government officials were also camping at the base since Friday night to welcome Putin.

“The arrival of President of Russia has been delayed. The exact rescheduled time of his arrival has not been given to us,” Deputy Superintendent of Police Suchita Desai said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in Goa last night and was welcomed at the INS Hansa base by Governor Mridula Sinha, Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar and Deputy Chief Minister Francis D’Souza.

The Prime Minister was later taken to the venue hotel by road in Benaulim where he was welcomed by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj.

Aleppo rebels outgunned but confident as siege bites | Reuters

By Tom Perry and Ellen Francis

BEIRUT A senior rebel commander said on Friday that Syrian government forces would never be able to capture Aleppo’s opposition-held east, more than three weeks into a ferocious offensive, but a military source said the operation was going as planned.Russian air strikes were proving of little help to government ground forces in urban warfare, the deputy commander of the Fastaqim rebel group in Aleppo said. While air strikes have pounded much of the city, they have avoided frontlines where the sides are fighting in close proximity, apparently out of fear they could hit the wrong side, he said. The rebels were well prepared for a siege imposed this summer, and preparations for a counter attack were under way, Melhem Akidi told Reuters.”Militarily there is no danger to the city of Aleppo,” he said, adding: “The more dangerous thing is the daily massacres by the regime that are targeting not just the people but the foundations of life in Aleppo.”However, the Syrian military source and a second pro-government military source in the field said the campaign was on course, reiterating denials that civilians were being targeted.”The accomplishments so far are moving according to the plan, and we are working according to gradual steps,” said the second source, a non-Syrian and part of a regional alliance fighting in support of President Bashar al-Assad. The assessments, on the eve of a meeting between U.S. and Russian foreign ministers in Switzerland to try to resume their failed efforts to find a diplomatic solution, point to a protracted battle for Aleppo. Syria’s biggest city before the war has been divided into areas controlled by the government and rebels for several years. The rebel-held east is the last major urban stronghold of the nationalist rebels fighting Assad, and recapturing it would be a major strategic prize. The Syrian army, supported by Iranian-backed militias and Russian air power, announced a major offensive to capture the rebel-held part of the city on Sept. 22, unleashing firepower not previously seen in the 5-1/2-year long war.The onslaught has killed several hundred people and flattened many buildings. Hospitals have also been hit, leading the United States and France to accuse Russia and the Syrian government of war crimes.Moscow and Damascus say they are only targeting militants.ONSLAUGHT THREATENS BREAD SUPPLY
A member of Aleppo’s opposition city council told Reuters fuel reserves used to operate bakeries could run out in a month if the siege persists. A mill was bombed on Wednesday, another threat to the city’s bread supply, he said.

The air strikes have been accompanied by ground assaults by government forces, including Shi’ite militias from Iraq and Lebanon. Their clearest advance so far is the capture of ground to the north of Aleppo, including the Handarat camp.The army has also reported gains in the city centre itself. The rebels have consistently said these have been repelled.The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based group monitoring the war, said the government advances so far did not match the intensity of the firepower unleashed.The bombardment was expected to bring “much greater results”, Observatory Director Rami Abdulrahman said. Syria’s civil war has killed 300,000 people and left millions homeless while dragging in regional and global powers and allowing for the expansion of jihadist groups including Islamic State, which controls wide areas of the east.As well as Russia and Iran, Assad is backed by an array of Shi’ite militias from Arab neighbours, while Sunni rebels seeking to oust him are backed by Turkey, the United States and Gulf monarchies. LITTLE HOPE FOR PEACE TALKS

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will meet his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Saturday, possibly joined by ministers from Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Iran.American officials have voiced little hope for success, however, and Lavrov said on Friday he had “no special expectations” for the talks. Kerry broke off talks with Lavrov last week over the Aleppo offensive. The resumption of negotiations, despite the fighting, was a sign of the lack of options facing Western nations over the Syria conflict, where they worry increased arms supplies for the rebels could end up in the hands of jihadist groups.The Syrian government and its allies have been steadily encircling the rebel-held east of Aleppo this year, first cutting the shortest route to nearby Turkey, before fully blockading the city this summer.Assad said this week capturing Aleppo would be a springboard for pushing militants to neighbouring Turkey, a major sponsor of the rebellion.He has offered the Aleppo rebels an amnesty if they lay down their arms, though they have dismissed it as a trick.

Akidi, speaking from Aleppo, said he was “certain that nobody would be able to storm” the east, which he said could not be compared to other less populous and less well-armed areas that have been captured from rebels by the government.”Everyone who stayed in Aleppo, which was under threat of siege for a long time, has prepared for steadfastness,” he said.He also noted the proximity of nearby insurgent strongholds west of Aleppo and in Idlib province, and what he described as the government’s “fragile” hold over an important access point on the city’s southern periphery. “I do not rule out that the revolutionaries will be able to break the siege soon,” he said.The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a report on Thursday that 406 people had been reported killed and 1,384 wounded in eastern Aleppo from Sept. 23 until Oct. 8. In government-held western Aleppo, which is frequently targeted by rebel shelling, 91 people including 18 children were killed over a similar period.Muhammad Sandeh, of the opposition city council, said a fuel reserve controlled by the council could dry up in eastern Aleppo in a month or less if the siege persists.”There are enough bakeries, but there isn’t enough flour or fuel,” Sandeh told Reuters from Aleppo. “The families get half of their bread needs,” he said. The air strike on a mill on Wednesday had severely reduced bread supply, he said.Water supplies have also been affected by the violence.OCHA said the situation had improved slightly after the parties reached an Oct. 10 agreement to protect water stations from the conflict.Ibrahim Abu al-Laith of the Civil Defence rescue service that operates in rebel-held areas said that even after pumping stations were repaired and the water returned, it couldn’t reach residents due to a lack of fuel.Fuel is the lifeline of the eastern districts, he said.”Ours is running out.” (Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Pravin Char)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

India, Russia finalise agreement for setting up units five and six at Kudankulam

New Delhi: Scaling up cooperation in the atomic energy sector, India and Russia have finalised a general framework agreement and credit protocol for setting up units five and six at the Kudankulam nuclear plant.

The formal announcement of the pact and the credit protocol is likely to be made after bilateral talks between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday in Goa on the sidelines of Brics Summit.

“Russia and India finalised ‘General Framework Agreement’ and a ‘Credit Protocol’ for Units 5 and 6 and are planning to announce it in Goa,” Russian sources said.

Vladimir Putin and Narendra Modi. PTIVladimir Putin and Narendra Modi. PTI

Vladimir Putin and Narendra Modi. PTI

They said the two countries are also planning a ceremony of “first pour” of concrete to the foundation of Unit 3 and 4 and a ceremony of inauguration of Unit 2 of the Kudankulam nuclear plant.

Both ceremonies will witness the participation of Putin and Modi as well as Kudankulam engineers in Tamil Nadu via video-conference, they added.

On 10 August, the first unit of the Kudankulam Nuclear was dedicated to the nation jointly by Modi and Putin who had participated at the ceremony from Moscow via video-conferencing.

The Kudankulam 1 has been jointly built by the Nuclear Power Corporation of India and Russia’s Rosatom and it had started generating electricity in 2013.

The agreement for the project was inked by former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and then Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev in 1988 but actual work on the ground started only in 1997.

The unit 1 and 2 of Kudankulam plant were built at a cost of Rs 20,962 crore. A major share of power generated in the plant goes to Tamil Nadu, followed by Karnataka, Kerala and Puducherry.

Each of the units has a capacity to generate 1,000 MW of power.

Brics Summit: India must note Russia is still its most important strategic partner

Russian President Vladimir Putin is commencing his four-day visit to India on Friday (14-17 October). His visit assumes significance since serious doubts have clouded, of late, on the nature of Indo-Russian relations, particularly in the wake of growing ties between Moscow and Islamabad.

Putin’s visit is two-pronged. He is attending the 8th Brics summit that is being held in Goa, from 15 to 16 October. But earlier on Saturday, at Goa, Putin will meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi in what is going to be the 17th India-Russia Annual Summit. Annual India-Russia summits are held alternatively in India and Russia, thanks to the declaration of “the India Russia Strategic Partnership”, signed in October 2000. It was the brainchild of none other than Putin, who sincerely tried to restore the traditional warmth and vibrancy to the bilateral relationship that was lost during Boris Yeltsin’s presidency after the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

PM Narendra Modi (left) with Russian President Vladimir Putin. PTI

PM Narendra Modi (left) with Russian President Vladimir Putin. PTI

Of course, it is unusual that the India-Russia annual summit, an important bilateral feature, is being formally held on the sidelines of an international summit. But then, we have witnessed some other unusual developments on the Indo-Russian front. The other day, India’s Ambassador to Russia Pankaj Saran had publicly aired his concerns over the adverse impact on the bilateral relations if Moscow continued to expand military relations with Islamabad. “We have conveyed our views to the Russian side that military cooperation with Pakistan, which is a state that sponsors and practices terrorism as a matter of state policy, is a wrong approach. It will only create further problems,” Saran told Ria Novosti, the Russian official news agency.

And it was another unusual event when Russia and Pakistan held their “first-ever” joint military exercises from 24 September to 10 October, in Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province. It was code-named “Druzhba-2016” (Friendship-2016). The Russian military contingent consisted of more than 70 servicemen of the 34th mountain motorised rifle brigade of its “Southern Military District”. Pakistan has gone to the town in projecting the military exercise as a “historic development”. Pakistani premier Nawaz Sharif’s special envoy on Kashmir Mushahid Hussain Syed has boasted at the Atlantic Council, one of the top American think-tanks, that as the United States was no longer a global power, Pakistan would be closer to China and Russia. “There has been slow and steady building of relationship between Moscow and Islamabad,” he said, referring to the joint military exercise between Pakistan and Russia, and then adding “the Russian government has for the first time agreed to sell arms to Pakistan.”

However, now is the time for a reality check. The “first-ever” description, used by Russian and Pakistani officials regarding these military exercises, is not correct in the strict sense of the term. Russia and Pakistan had already conducted two naval exercises — “Arabian Monsoon – 2014” and “Arabian Monsoon – 2015.” Though unlike “Druzhba-2016” (a proper military exercise), these two exercises focused on combating crime groups and blocking drug traffic, the fact remains that the navies of the two countries were involved. Secondly, notwithstanding all talks about Russia-Pakistan defence cooperation, there have not been major arms purchases as yet by Pakistan from Russia; the two have only “finished talks” on four transport helicopters that Russia will sell to Pakistan.

Thirdly, and this is the most important, when Russia was conducting joint military exercise with Pakistan, it was also carrying out a far more sophisticated joint military exercise with India. Called “INDRA-2016”, this exercise took place in the Ussiriysk district in Vladivostok from 23 September to 2 October. Over 500 servicemen, 50 units of equipment, a group of UAVs, and assault and army aviation took part in the drills. 250 soldiers of the Kumaon Regiment represented the Indian contingent. The Russian Armed Forces were represented by 250 soldiers from the 59th Motorised Infantry Brigade. Main focus of this joint exercise was on counter-terrorism operations in semi-mountainous and jungle terrains.

If this is the reality, then how does one explain the Russian policy at present towards Pakistan? Going by the Russian officials, there are two reasons behind Moscow’s behaviour. First, and here I am quoting Russia’s Ambassador to India, Alexander Kadakin, Russia’s military cooperation with Pakistan will teach the “Pakistani army not to use itself for terror attacks against India.” This will also help to fight “terrorism and drug traffic coming from Afghanistan” (as Anatoly Antonov, Russia’s Deputy Minister of Defence, had said in 2015). That the joint military exercise was not against India has been stressed by the Russians. They say that because of India’s sensitivities, Russia did not agree with Pakistan to conduct it in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), including Gilgit and Baltistan.

Secondly, the Russians argue that with the end of the Cold War in general and gradual withdrawal of the American troops from Afghanistan in particular, Pakistan should be viewed as a normal country with which Moscow can do normal business. And since it is normal interaction any sovereign country will do with another normal sovereign country, there is nothing anti-Indian about it. Russians dismiss the theory that by coming closer to Pakistan, they are reacting adversely to India’s growing proximity with the United States in recent years.

However, one may not agree with the Russians on this score. All told, the United States has replaced Russia as India’s largest military supplier, causing a lot of consternations to Moscow, whose substantial export items happen to be the military products (other than oil and gas). But, it will be an exaggeration to cite the Pakistan-factor in undermining the importance of the strategic dimensions in Indo-Russian relations in general and the military component in this relationship in particular.

Even today, Russia provides India around 70 percent of its defence needs. And importantly, the defence cooperation is not exactly restricted to a buyer-seller relationship; it includes now joint design, research and development, joint production, training, and service-to-service contacts. Russia is always prepared to share its most sensitive and newest developments in technology to India that the United States and other Western nations have been reticent to do. Brahmos missile system is a shining example of this type of collaboration. Presently, several similar joint development projects in areas of cutting edge and frontier technologies are being pursued, the most important being the joint development of a fifth generation fighter aircraft (FGFA).

In fact, when Modi and Putin meet on Saturday, they are expected to clinch the deal worth a billion dollar deal to manufacture 200 Kamov-226 T helicopters under the ‘Make in India’ programme. Besides, they will negotiate over the possibility of India acquiring five S-400 ‘Triumf’ long-range air defense missile systems and upgraded models of the Sukhoi 30-MKI elite fighter jet. These possible deals could fetch Russia at $6 billion. The S-400 missile system, it may be noted, is capable of destroying missiles, drones, and incoming fighter jets within a range of 250 miles (400 km).

Even otherwise, Russia will continue to remain India’s most valued ally for many more years to come. As strategic partners, India and Russia share the same global outlook that the existing architecture of global security, including its mechanisms based on international law, does not ensure the equal security of all nations. This has been emphasised by Russia’s “military doctrine” (February 2010) and “security strategy” (May 2009). The essential features of these two highlight clearly that Russia is not happy with the eastward expansion of Nato, proposed Europe-based missile defence systems, secessionist insurgencies in its territory supported by external elements, rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the neighbouring regions such as Central Asia and South Asia, and the spread of global terrorism fuelled by religion and drugs etc. Needless to point out that almost all these features are also matters of great concern when India plans its overall security within the framework of a multipolar world that shuns unilateralism.

Besides, the fact remains that though Russia may have lost its position as a superpower in Cold War equations, it is still a big power if one goes by any possible definition of the elements that constitute power. It is huge and possesses the largest landmass of the earth as a single country. It strategically abuts on Central Asia, China and Iran, an area of political, security and economic interests to India. Russia is endowed with enormous natural resources, technological capacities and trade potential. It still is the most important military power in the world after the United States. Most significantly, Russia, perhaps, gives a higher priority to India in its foreign policy and strategic calculations than the United States or other power centres of the world, their acknowledgment of India’s rising importance notwithstanding.

All told, Russia never hesitates to transfer its most sophisticated technology to India. It is Russia, which gives its nuclear submarines on lease to India. It is Russia, which has unhesitatingly cooperated with India in its march towards becoming a major space power. It is Russia, which has unhesitatingly established nuclear power stations in India, something that cannot be said of the United States even after the conclusion of civilian nuclear deal. And it is Russia, which has provided the most vocal support for India becoming a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.

India has invested heavily in Russia’s hydrocarbon sector. One of India’s most significant overseas investments (2.8 billion dollars) has been in Sakhalin—I (Siberia) for extracting oil. But this is not all. India has also invested more in that region through ONGC Videsh Limited—2.1 billion dollars was the investment for buying a British company called Imperial Energy in the Tomsk region in Siberia. India has been discussing with the Russian side on several more investments where ONGC Videsh Limited is willing to go along with Russian oil and gas majors like Gazprom and Rosneft to invest in different regions of Siberia and even North Russia. In Siberia the regions are Sakhalin-III and there is a region on Timan Pechora, as also there is an interest on the Indian side in the Yamal peninsula, which is a gas-rich area in Northern Russia.

Of course, in today’s world nothing is free and Russia has its own reasons to ensure that India remains its close ally as well. Russia, of late, might have increased its ties manifold with China, India’s principal strategic competitor. It might also open more for Pakistan in days to come. But then the fact remains that Russia needs India as much as it needs China. Likewise, India might have improved its equations with the United States, of late. But then the fact also remains that India needs Russia as much as it needs the United States. Modi-Putin summit on Saturday will reflect this reality.

Syria’s Assad says taking Aleppo from rebels key to pushing ‘terrorists’ back to Turkey | Reuters

By Jack Stubbs and Ellen Francis

MOSCOW/BEIRUT Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad said on Friday that the Syrian army’s capture of Aleppo, which has come under renewed bombardment in an effort to seize its rebel-held sector, would be “a very important springboard” to pushing “terrorists” back to Turkey.Rescue workers said that Syria’s military backed by Russian warplanes had killed more than 150 people in eastern Aleppo this week, in support of its offensive against the city.Rising casualties in Aleppo, where many buildings have been reduced to rubble or are lacking roofs or walls, have prompted an international outcry and a renewed diplomatic push, with talks between the United States and Russia planned for Saturday.”You have to keep cleaning this area and to push the terrorists to Turkey, to go back to where they come from or to kill them. There’s no other option,” Assad said in an interview with Russian tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda.”Aleppo is going to be a very important springboard to do this move,” added Assad.As the air strikes and shelling of the city’s east intensified after a brief period of relative calm, Syria’s government approved a United Nations plan to allow aid convoys into the most besieged areas of Syria, with the exception of Aleppo. Syria’s civil war, now in its sixth year, has killed 300,000 people and left millions homeless while dragging in regional and global powers as well as inspiring jihadist attacks abroad.Assad is backed by the Russian air force, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and an array of Shi’ite militias from Arab neighbours, while Sunni rebels seeking to oust him are backed by Turkey, the United States and Gulf monarchies.Assad also told the newspaper that the country’s civil war had become a conflict between Russia and the West.”What we’ve been seeing recently during the last few weeks, and maybe few months, is something like more than Cold War,” Assad said. “I don’t know what to call it, but it’s not something that has existed recently, because I don’t think that the West and especially the United States has stopped their Cold War, even after the collapse of the Soviet Union.”Assad added that Turkey’s actions in Syria constituted an “invasion, against international law, against the morals, against the sovereignty of Syria.” ‘MAY AMOUNT TO WAR CRIMES’

As air strikes killed 13 people on Thursday in the rebel-held Aleppo districts of al-Kalaseh, Bustan al-Qasr and al-Sakhour, according to a civil defence official, European Union foreign ministers drafted a statement accusing Syria and its allies of violence that “may amount to war crimes.””Since the beginning of the offensive by the (Syrian) regime and its allies, the intensity and scale of aerial bombardment of eastern Aleppo is clearly disproportionate,” a draft of their statement seen by Reuters said.Syrian and Russian governments say they target only militants.To the south, hundreds of insurgents and their families have left two rebel-held towns on the northern outskirts of Damascus, residents and fighters said, under a deal with the government which is pushing its opponents to rebel areas further from the capital.The evacuation happened after the army gave community leaders in Qudsiya and Al-Hama – which had enjoyed relative calm under local truces – an ultimatum to get several hundred fighters out of their towns or face a wide-scale assault.”They gave us little option: Leave or all hell breaks loose,” said Yousef al Hasnawi, a resident on the local rebel council.The Damascus government says such amnesties are a “workable model to bring security and peace,” but its opponents say forcing Sunni Muslim fighters and their families from their hometowns could create new demographic frontiers and worsen sectarian tensions.

U.S. President Barack Obama and his senior foreign policy advisers are expected to meet on Friday to consider military and other options in Syria, U.S. officials told Reuters.Some officials argue the United States must act more forcefully in Syria or risk losing what influence it still has over moderate rebels and its Arab, Kurdish and Turkish allies in the fight against Islamic State.U.S. officials said they considered it unlikely that Obama would order U.S. air strikes on Syrian government targets, and stressed that he may not make any decisions at the planned meeting of his National Security Council.U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are due to meet in Switzerland on Saturday to resume their effort to find a diplomatic solution along with counterparts from some Middle Eastern countries.

Moscow called on Thursday on states in the region not to supply portable anti-aircraft missiles to Syrian rebel groups, warning that any unfriendly actions against Russian forces would draw an appropriate response. ‘IT’S GOING ON NOW’
Air strikes against rebel-held areas of eastern Aleppo had tapered off over the weekend after the Syrian army announced it would reduce raids for what it described as humanitarian reasons, but they have intensified since Tuesday.”The bombing started at 2 a.m. and it’s going on until now,” Ibrahim Abu Laith, an official at the civil defence rescue organisation in Aleppo, told Reuters from the city.Rescue workers said 154 people had been killed in recent days. Reuters could not independently verify the death toll.Aleppo has been divided between government- and rebel-controlled areas for years. More than 250,000 people are believed to be trapped in eastern Aleppo – the anti-Assad rebels’ most important urban stronghold – facing shortages of food, fuel and medicine.In Geneva, the United Nations said Damascus had partially approved its aid plan for October, giving the green light for convoys to 25 of 29 besieged and hard-to-reach areas across Syria, which are also deprived of some vital supplies.But the Syrian government did not give approval for either eastern Aleppo or three districts near Damascus, Ramzy Ezzeldin Ramzy, the United Nations’ deputy special envoy to Syria, said on Thursday, describing the situation as “dire.” In a government-held area of western Aleppo, at least four children were killed and 10 wounded on Thursday when shells landed near a school, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported. Syrian state news agency SANA said the school in the al-Suleimaniya area had been targeted in what it described as a terrorist attack. (Additional reporting by Tom Perry in Beirut, Suleiman Al-Khalidi in Amman, Arshad Mohammed and Jonathan Landay in Washington, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Kylie MacLellan in London, Jack Stubbs in Moscow, Gabriela Baczynska in Luxembourg and Maha El Dahan in Abu Dhabi; writing by Angus McDowall in Beirut and Peter Cooney; editing by Peter Millership, David Stamp and G Crosse)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

India, Russia to sign Kamov 226T deal: All you need to know about multi-use helicopters

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian president Vladimir Putin are expected to sign the crucial agreement for the production of 200 Kamov 226T helicopters domestically on the sidelines of the Brics summit from 13 to 16 October in Goa.

Kamov 226T will replace the aging Cheetah and Chetak choppers. “The complex agreement to set up a joint production facility of Ka-226T helicopters is expected to be signed at the Brics forum,” said a statement by Rostec State Corporation, an umbrella organisation of about 700 Russian firms founded in 2007 to promote the development, production, and export of high-tech industrial products for civil and military purposes.

File image of Ka-226T.

File image of Ka-226T.

This agreement conforms to Modi’s ‘Make in India’ vision because it will promote indigenous defence manufacturing, according to a report in The Financial Express. The report also quotes Russian Helicopters, which makes Kamov, as saying that “the light multipurpose helicopter is designed for work in difficult conditions of high mountains, hot climate and on marine areas. It allows for reconnaissance, targeting and monitoring of transportation (up to 1500 kg)”.

The chopper can carry about seven paratroopers and has a maximum take-off weight of 3,600 kg. The agreement was signed by India and Russia during Modi’s visit to Moscow in December. The preliminary contract was signed by the head of Rostec Sergei Chemezov, CEO and Modi in December last year.

“The agreement on manufacture of Kamov 226 helicopter in India is the first project for a major defence platform under the ‘Make In India’ mission,” MEA spokesperson Vikas Swarup quoted Modi as saying, according to a report in The Economic TimesThe report also quotes sources as saying that Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) will be a primary partner for the choppers. Viktor Kladov, Head International Cooperation of Rostec told The Hindu that the first 40 helicopters will be assembled in Russia for faster deliveries and the rest will be done in India.

The Ka-226T underwent testing in India as part of the Reconnaissance and Surveillance Helicopter (RSH) acquisition programme, which was cancelled by the Indian authorities in 2014. The helicopter out-performed its Western counterparts during flights in India’s hot conditions and mountainous areas, according to

The heads of the state corporations will conduct a series of negotiations on development in the area of Russian helicopter export and after-sales servicing. Chemezov will head Rostec’s delegation to the 2016 Brics Summit.

“The contract for export and joint production of 200 Ka-226T helicopters is one of the key projects in the framework of trade and industrial relations between Russia and India. We plan to expand them in both military-technical and civilian areas,” Chemezov said.

Rostec is currently in negotiations with the Defence Ministry here for a long-term contract for after-sales servicing of Russian-made helicopters, which are widely used in India.

“We are expecting to set up an after-sales service in a profoundly new format. There is an array of other projects, where we see perspectives for mutually beneficial cooperation, which we plan to discuss at the Brics Summit,” Chemezov said.

Ka-226T specifications

The Ka-226T is a light, twin-engine multi-role helicopter for military and civilian purposes. The military version helps in hard-to-reach conditions, according to Russian Helicopters.

The Ka-226T copters are fitted with high-visibility nose and a new rotor system. Its rotors are made from composite materials. The low height of the rotor makes it necessary for the passengers to approach the chopper from the rear, when the rotors are turning.

The multi-role helicopter also boasts of incredibly precise hovering ability, excellent maneuverability and high safety standards.

An unusual feature of this helicopter is that it has an interchangeable mission module, attached to its bubble-shaped cockpit, instead of conventional cabin, according to

Fuselage of the Ka-226T has a length of 8.6 m, while its width is 3.2 m and it has a height of 4.1 m. The diameter of its main rotor is 13.2 m.

The cabin measures 2.35 metre long, 1.34 metre wide and 1.4 metre high. It offers a volume of 5.4 metrecube and is fitted with mooring equipment for securing cargo and folding seats for accommodating troops.

With inputs from PTI

Brics Summit: Vladimir Putin states grouping’s importance in face of ‘Western unilateralism’

Moscow: Brics reflects the member-countries’ commitment to uphold international law when some Western countries are trying to promote unilateral approaches, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday.

And cooperation within Brics — which clubs Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — was already yielding practical results, Putin told IANS and Sputnik news agencies in an interview ahead of his visit to Goa to attend the Brics Summit.

Putin described Brics as one of the key elements of the emerging multipolar world.

“The five (member) countries have consistently reaffirmed their commitment to the fundamental principles of international law and promote the central role of the UN,” he said in response to questions from IANS.

“Our countries reject the policy of coercive pressure and infringement upon the sovereignty of other states. We take similar stances on urgent international issues, including the Syrian crisis and the Middle East settlement.”

The Russian leader said the Brics summits’ final declarations reaffirm “our shared commitment to the fundamental principles of inter-state communication, particularly, to the observance of international law with the central coordinating role of the UN.

File photo of Russian President Vladimir Putin. AP

File photo of Russian President Vladimir Putin. AP

“With some Western countries attempting to promote their unilateral approaches, this position becomes even more relevant,” Putin said, adding that the Goa Summit would be no exception to this rule.

Traditionally, the declarations of Brics leaders outline fundamental consensus-based stances on a wide range of issues and identify short-term development goals for the five nations, he said.

This, he added, would serve as a target for follow-up steps aimed at strengthening strategic partnerships among the five countries in various spheres.

“As for rendering practical interaction among the five countries more substantive, I would like to stress that today, there exist more than 30 formats for inter-agency cooperation in the political, economic, humanitarian, security and law enforcement areas.”

Putin said the establishment of the New Development Bank (NDB) and the Brics Contingent Reserve Arrangement with a total capital of $200 billion was one concrete example of this cooperation.

“I am convinced that, as the bank gets stronger, its output will only increase, including by means of projects that promote integration among the Brics countries.

“The NDB started its work in 2016, having approved the first projects in all five countries.

“The priority at the current stage is renewable energy. In Russia, this implies the construction of small 50 MW hydropower plants in Karelia worth $100 million.”

Putin said the Brics countries actively cooperated within the Group of 20 and sought to systematically converge their stand at the WTO to improve the rules and spur multilateral negotiations within the organisation.

“This is why I think the cooperation within Brics has already begun to yield practical results. It is essential to continue work on consolidating these results and on identifying areas of common interest.

The Russian leader said the participants in the Brics Summit in Goa would look at the initial results of implementing the Strategy for Brics Economic Partnership adopted in Ufa and finalise the draft of Brics Roadmap for Trade, Economic and Investment Cooperation until 2020.

“We intend to establish new formats and mechanisms to cooperate with our partners, in which concerted measures aimed at developing our ties in various fields will be elaborated.

“At the same time we intend to focus on addressing issues related to strengthening international security and stability, enhancing the competitiveness of our economies and the promotion of international development.”

Putin said Russia supported the initiatives put forward by the Indian chairmanship in such fields as Brics collaboration in agriculture, railway transport, sports, tourism and building people-to-people contacts.

India conveys its opposition on Russia-Pakistan military exercise to Moscow

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Ahead of their annual bilateral Summit, India has conveyed its opposition to Russia over its joint exercise with Pakistan, a nation which “sponsors and practises terrorism as a matter of State policy”, saying it will create further problems.”We have conveyed our views to the Russian side that military cooperation with Pakistan which is a State that sponsors and practises terrorism as a matter of State policy is a wrong approach and it will only create further problems,” Indian Ambassador to Moscow Pankaj Saran said in an interview to Russian news agency Ria Novosti.Saran’s remarks come ahead of the bilateral meeting in Goa on Saturday between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin, who will be arriving in India on October 14. Apart from bilateral Summit, Putin will attend the Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa (BRICS) meet on October 16.India has been communicating its unhappiness to Russia over its joint military exercises with Pakistan. However, these concerns have been played down by the Russians who maintain that they hold similar military drills with other countries of the region as well.Saran also said, “There are some burning issues before the world today which the BRICS countries will certainly address and this includes the question of terrorism and the threat of terrorism faced by all the countries in the BRICS group. So this will be a major item of discussion during the Summit apart from the regional conflicts and the global situation.”On Indo-Russia ties, the envoy said as far as India’s relations with Russia are concerned, the two countries share a special and privileged strategic partnership.”We see no change in this. On the contrary, this has only strengthened in all areas, including in the field of military-technical cooperation. This partnership is an anchor of peace and stability in the region and the world.”We have a regular system of military exercises with Russia. We have been holding these exercises for the last few years with Russia and we will continue to do so. The plan for these exercises is drawn up between the relevant agencies of the two sides. This will continue even next year,” he said.Saran also talked about the cooperation in the field of civil nuclear sector, trade and investments.Russia had held first-ever joint military exercise with Pakistan in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa region in September.Saran said as far as nuclear cooperation was concerned, the ties were “historic”.”We have five other units for Kudankulam project. Unit-2 is in the process of achieving criticality and work on Units 3 and 4 is in the process of beginning. As far as Units 5 and 6 are concerned, we are working with the Russian side to finalise a General Framework Agreement and a Credit Protocol,” he said, hoping to conclude the negotiations to mutual benefit for the two countries.On commercial ties, he said the two sides were “actively” working to meet the bilateral trade target of USD 30 billion by 2025.

BRICS Summit 2016: PM Modi, Russian Prez Putin to discuss defence, trade

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Cooperation in key areas of security, defence and trade will be discussed when Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin hold talks on Saturday after which the two sides are expected to conclude “important bilateral agreements”.Announcing Putin’s four-day visit to Goa from October 14 to 17, External Affairs Ministry said besides attending BRICS Summit on Sunday, he would also hold 17th Indo-Russia Annual Summit where the leaders will review the entire gamut of bilateral ties including the progress made since their last Summit meeting in Moscow in December 2015.”Important bilateral agreements are expected to be concluded and a joint statement released at the end of the Summit,” the ministry said.The meeting between the two comes in the backdrop of the the first ever joint Russia-Pakistan military exercise recently. It also comes at a time when India is undertaking large-scale defence modernisation programme involving replacing old Russian equipment with modern ones from the country itself and from other nations.Besides discussions to boost cooperation in crucial areas of defence, security and trade, the two leaders will exchange views on regional and international issues.Some of the most important defence deals currently under discussion are purchase of 5 S-400 ‘Triumf’ long-range air defence missile systems, Kamov-28 helicopters and upgradation of the Sukhoi 30-MKIs. Another project under focus would be the long pending joint development of the fifth generation fighter aircraft (FGFA).India is also looking at leasing an Akula-class nuclear submarine from Russia. The ministry said given that the year 2017 marks the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries, a number of commemorative celebrations are planned.

PM Modi, Russia Prez Vladimir Putin to hold bilateral talks ahead of BRICS Summit

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Prime Minister Narendra Modi will hold detailed bilateral discussion with Russian President Vladimir Putin next week on a range of issues including cooperation in the areas of defence, security, trade and investment, a day ahead of the BRICS summit in Goa to be held on October 16. The meeting between the two comes in the backdrop of the the first ever joint Russia-Pakistan military exercise recently. It also comes at a time when India is undertaking large-scale defence modernisation programme involving replacing old Russian equipment with modern ones from the country itself and from other nations.Defence, security, regional issues, besides trade and investment cooperation will be discussed during the bilateral meeting, official sources said. Some of the most important defence deals currently under discussion are purchase of 5 S-400 ‘Triumf’ long-range air defence missile systems, Kamov-28 helicopters and upgradation of the Sukhoi 30-MKIs.Another project under focus would be the long pending joint development of the fifth generation fighter aircraft (FGFA). India is also looking at leasing an Akula-class nuclear submarine from Russia.

Headed for a war? The long term implications of India’s attack on Pakistan

What is the long-term implication of India’s attack on Pakistan?

One of them might be that there is another war between us, which would make it officially the third war, if it is long, or the fifth, if it is short. We fought first in 1947-48 when Jinnah sent a tribal army of Pathans to conquer Kashmir and seized what we call today PoK and Pakistanis call Azad Kashmir. Then Ayub Khan was instigated by his foreign minister Bhutto to send intruders into Kashmir again in 1965. Shastri responded by sending tanks across the international border towards Lahore. That war ended with a peace brokered by the Soviet Union at Tashkent (today in Uzbekistan). It also ended partly because both countries ran out of air force spare parts. Fighter planes are high-performance machines which use very expensive parts which are used up quickly. For this reason, poor nations cannot afford to fight modern wars beyond 10 days. Today, India is much more powerful and richer than Pakistan and so this situation has changed. But then we both have weapons of mass destruction now which we did not in Shastri’s time.

Representational image. PTIRepresentational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

Only six years after the Tashkent peace, we divided Pakistan in the 1971 war to create Bangladesh. In 1999, we cleared Pakistan’s Northern Light Infantry jawans at Kargil. Though about 1,000 soldiers died, 500 on each side, the Kargil conflict is not classified as a war because neither nation officially declared war.

This time, after Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered retaliation, the conflict seems to be contained. India used very cautious language when announcing the surgical strike. We also assured Pakistan and the world we were not planning further action. However, since we have already fought them so many times there is always a possibility that we will go to war again.

The problem with war is that populations get bored of it soon. I do not mean they get tired of war, in the sense that their sons are dying or that the economy is bleeding. I mean they actually get bored.

The first world war was fought in trenches. Long and unmoving lines that began in Belgium (a wretched nation that wanted no part of the fighting but became a battlefield because it was located between the combatants) and ended at Switzerland. These long and unmoving lines remained for years. Between 1914 and 1918, the Germans were facing off against the French and British they hated who were in trenches 150 metres apart.

What was going on behind them? Nothing. People were going to pubs and restaurants in the evening, to work in offices and factories and fields in the morning, children were going to school and families were going off on their annual vacations. All this time, and for four years, a couple of kilometres from thousands of French and Belgian towns and cities and villages, millions of men were shooting and bombing one another.

How many people were killed? More than one and a half crore. What was the result of the war? That is difficult to say. The national borders remained more or less the same, all the economies were gutted. Some regimes changed. The Russian empire died and the Communists took power. The Austro-Hungarian empire ended and so did the German empire. But all of these were changed from within. No country benefited from the all of the killings.

I wonder if our conflict with Pakistan will be different. Will this surgical strike of ours put an end to Pakistani terror?

And if not, what will we do when the next terror strike happens? Will there be another surgical strike or will we have to do something bigger? How big does it have to be to get Pakistan to totally stop? We cut their country in half but they still have not learned the lesson we want to teach them. Will they learn it if we cut them in half again? That will need a lot of killing and dying however. I wonder if even we will get bored.

Will we continue with our lives when after a while, there is nothing ‘new’ in the news and the latest killings are just the same as the ones of yesterday and the day before? Will we be going about our business, coming back home to watch the TV channels discuss the latest development in the Indrani case?

I think so because that is the nature of the human being and that is the nature of war.

Russia may extend food embargo against Western countries for five more years

Moscow: Russia may extend its food embargo against Western countries for another five years, Minister of Agriculture Alexander Tkachev said.

“We would like to extend it for another five years. But even if it is lifted, nothing serious will happen,” Tkachev said in an interview with the state television channel Rossiya 24 on Sunday, referring to the food embargo which is supposed to be lifted in late 2017.

Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (R) and Governor of the Krasnodar region Alexander Tkachev (L) shake hands at the opening of theRussia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (R) and Governor of the Krasnodar region Alexander Tkachev (L) shake hands at the opening of the

Russian Agriculture Minister Alexander Tkachev and President Vladimir Putin. Reuters

Lifting of the embargo at the end of 2017 will not have a negative impact on Russia’s agricultural market as its products are competitive with big support from the state, Tkachev said.

The average profitability of an agricultural company is about 20 percent with state support, and 10 per cent without it, he said.

On 6 August, 2014, Russia imposed a one-year embargo on food products from the European Union (EU) countries and others, in response to sanctions imposed against the country over its involvement in Ukraine.

Russia imposed restrictions on Ukraine on 1 January, 2016 after the latter established a free trade zone with the EU.

Russia has repeatedly extended the food embargo. On 29 June, 2014, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree extending the embargo to the end of 2017.

India seals the deal to buy 36 Rafale fighters for Rs 58,000 crore from France

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>It’s final. India and France on Friday signed the much-awaited Rafale fighter jet deal to buy 36 of them in fly-away condition at a cost of Rs58,000 crore. 15 percent of which will be paid in advance.The aircraft will be delivered to IAF within next 36 to 67 months.The deal for the twin-engine fighters signed in the presence of India’s defence minister Manohar Parrikar and his visiting French counterpart here Jean Yves LeDrian has come about after 17 months of intense price negotiations and the final price was agreed at 4.2 billion euros lesser than the original price quoted by France (12 Billion).India also managed to get the aircraft customised with 14 Indian Air Force (IAF) specifications including Beyond Visual Range (BVR) missile Meteor that Rafale jets will come fitted with. Besides, the weapons package also includes advanced precision guided air-to-ground long range weapons.As part of the offset obligations, France will invest a total of 50 per cent of the Rs58,000 crore. While 20 percent of it will go into local Rafale component production and the rest into the research for military aeronautics.The deal also entails advanced training of three IAF pilots, one engineer and six technicians by the French air force.In January, 2012 the Manmohan Singh government had decided to buy 18 such aircrafts in “fly-away” condition, and 108 were to be made operational by state owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) through the transfer of technology clause.However, Prime Minister Modi, during his France visit lin April, 2015, announced buying 36 of them in fly-away condition by scrapping that tender and invoking “Critical Operational Necessity” of the IAF.Other bidders who lost to Rafale in 2012 were the American F/A-18 and F-16, Russian MiG 35, European Eurofighter and Swedish Saab Gripen.Rafales will provide a much needed succour to IAF whose squadron strength is at 34 currently as against the sanctioned strength of 42. IAF’s front line fighters, the Russian Sukhoi 30’s serviceability is around 55 percent only and vice chief BS Dhanoa in March last said IAF is not ready for a two-front war with China and Pakistan together.Customised aircraftIndia managed to get the aircraft customised with 14 Indian Air Force (IAF) specifications including Beyond Visual Range (BVR) missile Meteor that Rafale jets will come fitted with. Besides, the weapons package also includes advanced precision guided air-to-ground long range weapons.As part of the offset obligations, France will invest a total of 50 per cent of the Rs58,000 crore. While 20 percent of it will go into local Rafale component production and the rest into the research for military aeronautics.

Uri attack aftermath: Why does India harp on about US support in its conflict with Pakistan?

There is a lot of frothy speculation in the Indian public about whether Washington took our side or the side of Pakistan after Uri and the media on both sides is bending over backwards to dredge for virtue and support.

Is it really that important for so many of us to seek US support or lack of it in this Big brother thank you kindly fashion? Hasn’t it become passe by now. Sure, world opinion counts but we hold too much store by Washington’s utterances. Old habits die hard.

Not cozy anymore? Image courtesy PIBNot cozy anymore? Image courtesy PIB

Not cozy anymore? Image courtesy PIB

The US foreign policy has always been a bit of a dog’s breakfast and largely motivated by self-interest (which is okay) rather than the fairness of things for other parties.

These guys went into Abbottabad and found Osama bin Laden. Secretary of State John Kerry might nod wisely and look grim but honestly, does the Obama administration truly need evidence that the assault in Pathankot and Uri on India by terrorists does not have benediction from Pakistan.

That India didn’t wake up to harsh reality after the Pathankot assault is a flaw. That it continued its slumber or state of indifference after Prime Minister Modi opened up the Baloch-Gilgit front and pushed Pakistan into a never before corner shows great shortsightedness. Retaliation by proxy was a no brainer. We ambled along enjoying the Modi gambit and not shoring up our forces.

Instead, we were scrapping about the 7th Pay Commission and the Chiefs of all three forces were pre-occupied with letters of intent to the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister.

Nor were we bringing to the front burner the shortage in War Wastage Materials and our lack of battle readiness knowing we had upped the ante?

But back to the point. America’s role is not central. There is no great comfort to be found in whether it supports India and lacerates Pakistan or vice versa.

The truth is Pakistan is integral to American foreign policy and the US, even when it makes the right sounds, will never let it disintegrate or be a total loser. Strategically, historically, geographically, it wants to exercise influence there.

Consequently, what India should be finding essential comfort in is the American track record currently and how her presence or absence makes little difference to the final outcome between India and her neighbour.

Look what is happening in Syria. This serves not only as a sterling example of ineptitude by the top two nations on the planet but also warns us not to allow them a tangible role in our fight.

Syria would be seen as an ongoing comedy of errors if it wasn’t so tragic. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the destruction of a Red Crescent aid convoy into Aleppo two days ago a savage and deliberate attack.

He should, Any which way it is so bloody ironic. Protected under the umbrella of the UN of which both Russia and the US are Security Council members with veto powers makes a mockery of the whole international edifice and the search for world peace.

Last week the Americans attacked Syrian troops. Then said, sorry, my bad.

This week Russian planes targeted the UN aid caravan. So the Americans say.

The Russians say their planes did not attack the 31 vehicles strong convoy and it was a ground attack by rebels.

Moscow claims the damage in inconsistent with the air strikes.

Washington says there were two Russian fighters in that area at that time.

Russia says so what, they did not fire.

The Syrian air force doesn’t have that capability.

Amid all this wrangling the fact is the aid blew up, 20 people died and the UN has stopped further transportation.

These two adversaries, at loggerheads over keeping Assad on as President or dumping him have managed to place the peace initiative started with a slim ceasefire last week on the edge of the cliff…and then kick it over.

Think of it. The two most powerful entities entrusted in keeping the shot dove of peace from keeling over are actually de-feathering it.

Do you really think they are capable (or even interested) in resolving the Kashmir issue or spearheading the fight against terror per se unless it directly concerns them?

If these were rebels who had attacked the aid carrying vehicles and ransacked them one could have demanded higher security. But when politics is a barrier and even the UN is placed at risk by its own members and hi-tech communications cannot identify and offer cover to 31 vehicles in a convoy marked with Red Crescent logos do we need them to solve our problems…they are often the problem.

India set to sign Rafale deal on Friday further cementing Indo-French strategic ties

The decade-long saga will bear “some” fruits when India ultimately signs tomorrow a deal with France for 36 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) Dassault Rafale fighter jets. Note the deliberate use of the word “some”, as the original intention was to procure 126 of such aircraft to begin with and possibly 63 additional aircraft at a later date.

The deal that is to be signed will cost India about Rs 58,000 crore or so (7.8 billion Euros) for 36 off-the-shelf Dassault Rafale twin-engine fourth generation multi-role fighter aircraft, 15 percent of which will be paid in advance. The MBDA Missile Systems of France will supply the weapons package, and that country’s Thales Group will be responsible for the fighter jet’s avionics. It is also understood that the first Rafale warplanes are slated to be delivered roughly within 18 months of the signing of the final contract, during which suggestions of the Indian Air Force (IAF) for any customised version of the aircraft, including modifications and reconfigurations, to allow the installation of Indian-made and commercial off-the-shelf systems and weapons will be taken into account.

Representational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

The deal also envisages the conclusion of an accompanying offset clause, according to which France will invest 30 percent of the 7.8 billion Euros in India’s military aeronautics-related research programmes and 20 percent into local production of Rafale components. Besides, French defence contractors will supply radar and thrust vectoring for missiles technologies.

In addition, the French are believed to be willing to invest one billion Euros to revive the Kaveri engine project, according to media reports. They are also ready to share engine technology keeping in mind Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Make in India’ mission. If true, this will help enormously our indigenous LCA (Light Combat Aircraft) Tejas project. Media reports also suggest that Dassault, the manufacturer of Rafale, has shown its willingness to partner with a private Indian company to manufacture structural parts for its Falcon executive jets.

The IAF has got every reason to be happy now. Given India’s geopolitical challenges, the IAF would love to have 45 squadrons (each squadron usually has 12 to 18 aircraft); at least 42 squadrons. Presently, the IAF has 35 squadrons (this is what Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha had told me not long ago), though, according to a latest Parliamentary Standing Committee news on defence, a tangible strength ( implying fighting conditions) might be down to 25 squadrons. As a result, the IAF has been heavily banking on the MMRCA deal, along with the indigenous production of Tejas – both Mark 1 and Mark 2 – in the Light Combat Category (LAC) and the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA), to be co-developed with Russia. The IAF, at the moment, is excessively dependent on Su-30 MKI (from Russia) for any exigencies.

It may be noted that the deal for 36 aircraft was initiated by Modi in France last year after the mega 126 MMRCA deal was scrapped, following complications in the negotiations between India and France over the tender and the procurement procedure.

The Rafale saga started in August 2007 when India floated its Request for Proposals (RFP) for the MMRCA. Over the next two years, six companies entered the race — the American Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and Lockheed Martin F-16IN Super Viper, the French Dassault Aviation Rafale, the Russian RSK MiGs MiG-35, the European Eurofighter Consortium’s Typhoon, and the Swedish Saab Gripen NG (Next Generation). In between 2009 and 2010, the IAF supervised trials and demonstrations in the home countries of these manufacturers as well as in Indian locations such as Bengaluru, Jaisalmer and Leh.

It is said that the IAF tested these aircraft on 660 technical benchmarks. It also took into account the RFP’s requirement that 60 percent of the aircraft’s technology be transferred to India in four phases. Of the 126 aircraft, the first 18 were to be delivered in a flyaway form by the original equipment manufacturer, with the remaining 108 to be assembled in India through a combination of kits supplied by the foreign seller and indigenous Indian production. The idea was to ensure that 50 percent of the foreign exchange component of the purchase costs was defrayed through direct of sets within the Indian aerospace sector.

On the basis of the IAF’s feedback, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) opted for Rafale in 2012 for about $10 billion, but the price subsequently was hiked by Dassult to $22 billion. Meanwhile, dirty campaigns were made by many, who had argued for other bidders that quality-wise Rafale was inferior to Eurofighter Typhoon, or for that matter to Boeing’s F-18 and Lockheed’s F-16. A Russian Ambassador to India claimed that Chinese Sukhoi Flankers (sold by Russia) “will swat the Rafale like mosquitoes”. A senior member of the ruling BJP has said that, but for the kickbacks received by senior functionaries of the then Congress-led government under Manmohan Singh, Typhoon, not Rafale, would have been the choice.

These charges against Rafale may not hold water. All told, the IAF was deeply impressed with it during the trials for the bid. The Rafale’s greatest strength, especially in the air combat arena, is its ability to acquire, process and fuse information from multiple sensors and present it to the pilot in a single tactical display. During its trials, the IAF pilots were said to be greatly impressed by the aircraft’s remarkable cockpit ergonomics and human-factors engineering as manifested in its sensors, controls, interfaces, and displays. In fact, Rafale performed, and this factor might have tilted the scale in its favour, much better than the Eurofighter during the Nato-operations in Libya and Afghanistan. The second great advantage that it had over its rival was that it could be very well mastered by the pilots of the French Mirage 2000, which India already has. A pilot of a Mirage can very easily be trained to fly a Rafale.

Another factor in favour of the Rafale is that it could be the best platform for India in near future for delivering nuclear weapons against its enemies. Of course, our nuclear doctrine (if at all there is one) is based on the concept of a triad – delivering weapons from air (aircraft), ground (missiles such as Prthivi and Agni) and water (submarines such as Arihant). Arihant, however, is not fully functional as yet. Our land-based launchers still need much more rigorous testing regimens to be 100 percent reliable. Therefore, it is an open secret that at the moment the best delivery platform for nuclear weapons happens to be the French Mirages, which were modified by the Dassault (also manufacturer of Mirage) in the 1990s at India’s request by keeping nuclear weapons in mind.

It is in this context that while choosing Rafale over other five contenders, the Indian government had taken in to account not only the factors of technology transfer, prices and performance but also the importance of France as India’s strategic partner. It is true of every major country that geopolitical factor plays an important role in big-ticket purchases. As it is, the IAF was a satisfied user of the long standing French fighters, going back to the 1950s. It was also particularly appreciative of the performance of French Mirages during the 1999 Kargil campaign against Pakistan, and of the support it then obtained from France. It is important to note that during that time India obtained French clearance – and possibly more – to urgently adapt Israeli and Russian-supplied laser-guided bombs to the Mirages, which were thus able to successfully engage high-altitude targets that Indian MiG-23s and MiG-27s had been unable to reach.

It is noteworthy that France’s steadfastness as a military ally contrasts strongly with that of the United States, which has not a good reputation of being a reliable supplier of military items and technologies. It vetoed or slowed components for the LCA that India is developing. It had imposed otherwise arms embargo on India following its nuclear tests in 1998. Similar geopolitical reasons went against the Eurofighter, jointly made by Germany, Italy, Britain and Spain. Not only these countries had reservations on the technology transfer, the fact also remained that their reliability during a war was a suspect. After all, if there is a war, German laws prohibit delivery of weapons and spares. Italian and Spanish laws are not clear on the issue. France, on the other hand, is the only major Western nation (other than Russia) not to impose sanctions on India.

When the Rafale deal is concluded tomorrow, it will further cement the growing Indo-French strategic relations. All told, France has been the first Western power to have supported India’s claim for a permanent membership of the UN Security Council. France, unlike its other partners in the Western Alliance, did not impose any sanctions on India after the latter went nuclear in 1998; in fact, it did not even “condemn” the nuclear tests. Besides, France was the first country with which India conducted a joint naval exercise called ‘Varun’ after the 1998 nuclear tests; this exercise has become quite frequent over years. Similarly, the IAF’s first bilateral exercise in 2003 with a foreign counterpart—’the Garuda I’— was again with the French Air Force.

India’s choice of Rafale has come at the top of three existing defence projects with France — the Rs 50,000-crore for six Scorpene submarines, nearly Rs 15,000-crore upgrade for 51 Mirage-2000s and about Rs 10000-crore acquisition of 490 MICA missile systems. Additionally, France is all set to provide nuclear reactors for power generation. In short, the going is pretty good as far as the Indo-French friendship is concerned.

Sharapova appeals against two-year doping ban | Reuters

LONDON Five-times grand slam champion Maria Sharapova is seeking to have her two-year doping ban wiped out or reduced as she lodged an appeal with the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) on Tuesday.

The 29-year-old Russian was banned by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) earlier this month following a positive test for the banned drug meldonium during January’s Australian Open.

“In her appeal to the CAS, Ms Sharapova seeks the annulment of the Tribunal’s decision to sanction her with a two-year period of ineligibility further to an anti-doping rule violation,” sport’s highest tribunal said in a statement.

“Ms Sharapova submits that the period of ineligibility should be eliminated, or in the alternative, reduced.”

The statement added that her case had been expedited and a ruling would be made by July 18 at the latest, which means Sharapova still harbours hopes of competing at the Rio Olympics in August provided her ban is reduced to time already served.

The former world number one was named in Russia’s official entry list for the Olympics tennis tournament.

Sharapova had called the ITF’s ruling “unfairly harsh” as an independent tribunal had found that she had not intentionally violated anti-doping rules.

Meldonium was added to WADA’s list of banned substances at the start of the year after mounting evidence that it boosted blood flow and enhanced athletic performance.

About 180 athletes have tested positive for the drug, manufactured in Latvia and common throughout eastern Europe, since January.

Sharapova stunned the sporting world in March when she announced that she had tested positive for meldonium, a component of a product named Mildronate which she has taken since 2006 for health issues.

(Reporting by Pritha Sarkar, editing by Ken Ferris)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

India plans expanded missile export drive, with China on its mind

India has stepped up efforts to sell an advanced cruise missile system to Vietnam and has at least 15 more markets in its sights, a push experts say reflects concerns in New Delhi about China’s growing military assertiveness.Selling the supersonic BrahMos missile, made by an Indo-Russian joint venture, would mark a shift for the world’s biggest arms importer, as India seeks to send weapons the other way in order to shore up partners’ defences and boost revenues.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has ordered BrahMos Aerospace, which produces the missiles, to accelerate sales to a list of five countries topped by Vietnam, according to a government note viewed by Reuters and previously unreported.The others are Indonesia, South Africa, Chile and Brazil.The Philippines is at the top of a second list of 11 nations including Malaysia, Thailand and United Arab Emirates, countries which had “expressed interest but need further discussions and analysis”, the undated note added.A source familiar with the matter would only say the note was issued earlier this year.New Delhi had been sitting on a 2011 request from Hanoi for the BrahMos for fear of angering China, which sees the weapon, reputed to be the world’s fastest cruise missile with a top speed of up to three times the speed of sound, as destabilising.Indonesia and the Philippines had also asked for the BrahMos, which has a range of 290 km and can be fired from land, sea and submarine. An air-launched version is under testing.WARY EYE ON CHINAUnlike Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia, India is not a party to territorial disputes in the South China Sea, a vital global trade route which China claims most of.But India has an unsettled land border with China and in recent years has grown concerned over its powerful neighbour’s expanding maritime presence in the Indian Ocean.It has railed against China’s military assistance to arch-rival Pakistan and privately fumed over Chinese submarines docking in Sri Lanka, just off the toe of India.”Policymakers in Delhi were long constrained by the belief that advanced defence cooperation with Washington or Hanoi could provoke aggressive and undesirable responses from Beijing,” said Jeff M. Smith, Director of Asian Security Programs at the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington.”Prime Minister Modi and his team of advisers have essentially turned that thinking on its head, concluding that stronger defence relationships with the US, Japan, and Vietnam actually put India on stronger footing in its dealings with China.”India’s export push comes as it emerges from decades of isolation over its nuclear arms programme.It is poised to join the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) after talks between Modi and US President Barack Obama in Washington this week. BrahMos’ range means it falls short of the 300 km limit set by the voluntary organisation.India’s accession to the MTCR may also strengthen its case for joining another non-proliferation body, the Nuclear Suppliers Group, a move China has effectively blocked. Both groups would give India greater access to research and technology.BrahMos Aerospace, co-owned by the Indian and Russian governments, said discussions were underway with several countries on missile exports, but it was too early to be more specific.”Talks are going on, there will be a deal,” said spokesman Praveen Pathak.India is still a marginal player in global arms exports. The unit cost of the missile, fitted on Indian naval ships, is estimated at around $3 million.GETTING CLOSER TO VIETNAMIndia has been steadily building military ties with Vietnam and is supplying offshore patrol boats under a $100 million credit line, its biggest overseas military aid.This week Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar held talks with his Vietnamese counterpart General Ngo Xuan Lich in Hanoi and both sides agreed to exchange information on commercial shipping as well as expand hydrographic cooperation, the Indian defence ministry said in a statement on Monday.A source at the defence ministry said India was hoping to conclude negotiations on the supply of BrahMos to Vietnam by the end of the year.The Indian government is also considering a proposal to offer Vietnam a battleship armed with the BrahMos missiles instead of just the missile battery, the source said.”A frigate integrated with the BrahMos can play a decisive role, it can be a real deterrent in the South China Sea,” the source said, adding New Delhi would have to expand the line of credit to cover the cost of the ship.Indian warships are armed with configurations of eight or 16 BrahMos missiles each, while sets of two or four would go on smaller vessels.A Russian official said exports of BrahMos to third countries was part of the founding agreement of the India-Russia joint venture. Only now India had armed its own military with the BrahMos was there capacity to consider exporting, he added.

Are Russian tourists losing their taste for India? Dwindling numbers suggest so

The trajectory of the number of foreign tourist arrivals (FTA) in India every year generally follows an upward slope. However, the comparison list of top 15 source countries for the years 2014 and 2015, released by the Ministry of Tourism, reveals an interesting change. Russia has dropped from fifth place in 2014 to 12th in 2015. While the United States continues to contribute the maximum to India’s FTA, Bangladesh, UK and Sri Lanka have also retained their respective positions on the list.

Even in the FTA list 2013, Russia stood at number five. Here’s a quick look and some of the possible reasons for this drop-off in 2015.

Goa was scrapped off the list of safe travel destinations recommended for Russian tourists, according to a Times of India report in 2015. It was one of the most popular tourist destinations for Russians. However, the number of Russian tourists to Goa has since halved in number. India was not deemed to be a promising destination for Russian travellers, according to Russian News Agency INTERFAX.

The ugly experiences faced by some Russians in recent years has further led to the decline in the number of tourists. For instance, a Russian woman was attacked with acid in Varanasi in November 2015 and suffered over 40 percent burns. Another Russian tourist was beaten up after offending the locals in the village of Mandrem, according to a report by Daily Mail.

The General Elections in India in 2014 and the change of leadership may have also been responsible for Russia’s sudden fall in the list of top 15 countries for FTA in India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s warm relationship with US president Barack Obama and expanding bilateral ties could be a reason for concern for Russia. Although Modi still decribes Russia as a “strong and reliable friend”, India is leaning more towards the US.

President Vladimir Putin’s 2014 visit to India was curtailed from three days to a single day because of the Ukraine crisis and the imposition of stricter sanctions on Russia. Following this, Putin began looking at India and China to financially help the country. According to an article in The Diplomat, India’s defence ties with Russia were a major pillar of bilateral ties.

However, in recent times, some of these deals have gone to the US, Israel or other countries which has irked Russia and hurt its economy. It lost the Indian helicopter deals and MMRCA fighter jet deals to the US and France respectively. And in what could be seen as a retributive response, Russia turned to Pakistan and signed defence agreements with India’s neighbour.

Another possible reason for the depletion in numbers of travelling Russians could also be the fact that the Russian economy is in tatters following the sanctions imposed by the US and EU in the wake of the Ukraine crisis..

There’s probably a lot of reasons for this decline in the numbers of Russian tourists to India, however the attacks on Russian tourists, the Russian economy and stagnating India-Russia relations are likely some of the major reasons for this drop in numbers.

Russia says eight athletes positive in London 2012 re-tests | Reuters

MOSCOW Russia’s Olympic Committee (ROC) said on Saturday eight of its athletes from three different sports had tested positive for banned substances in a re-examination of samples taken during the 2012 London Olympics.

The news came a day after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced that 23 athletes in total had tested positive in re-tests of 265 samples from the London Olympics.

Russia’s track and field athletes have already been suspended since November due to suspicions of a systematic doping programme and the latest positive tests are a further blow to the country’s hopes of sending a full team to the Rio Olympics in August.

The ROC said it would not name the athletes until the results of their B-sample tests and following the start of official disciplinary proceedings. That is expected to be next month.

Earlier this week, the ROC said 14 of its athletes from the 2008 Beijing Olympics had tested positive for banned substances.

The IOC, which stores samples for a decade in order to re-test using newer methods or to look for new drugs, is re-testing samples from past Games in a bid to ban cheats from competing at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

Russia is under investigation following a report by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) that suggested a widespread doping programme involving not just track and field athletes.

In a bid to improve its chances of returning to competition in time for Rio, Russia’s athletics federation has said it will not include any athletes on its Olympic team who had been banned for doping in the past.

The IAAF, the world governing body of athletics, will decide on June 17 whether Moscow has done enough to clean up its act in order to be readmitted to competition though calls to ban Russian athletes from the Rio Games are growing.

The targeted re-testing of samples from past Games by the IOC has focused mainly on athletes who could potentially compete in Rio and anyone found to have been doping will be banned from those Games.

Several Russian medallists are reportedly among those positive Beijing 2008 Games re-tests, including high jumper Anna Chicherova who won a bronze medal in China and went on to claim gold in London.

(Reporting by Alexander Winning; Writing by Karolos Grohmann, Editing by David Evans, Helen Popper and Clare Fallon)

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Gujarat: Jama Masjid in Vadodara claims to have world’s biggest Quran

The Jama Masjid in Vadodara has added another feather to its cap with the claim of having the biggest Quran in the world.The mosque, which is famous because of its association with cricketers Irfan Pathan and Yusuf Pathan, has now claimed of having the biggest elaboration of the holy text.The length and breadth of this Quran is 75 inch and 41 inch respectively. The ink used in this Quran is made up of Kohl and peacock’s feather. The border of this Quran is elaborated with a gold coating.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>It is worthy to be noted that a Quran, kept at Russian city of Kazan’s Qolsharif mosque has been awarded a Guinness World Records certificate for being the world’s largest.Printed on Scotland paper, this Quran edition is 150×200 cm, has 632 pages and weighs 800 kg.The cover of the religious text was made of malachite and semi-precious stones and is encrusted with phyanite, jade, gold and silver leaf.

A ‘dream’ landing: World’s largest cargo aircraft AN-225 Mriya makes technical halt in Hyderabad

The world’s largest aircraft AN-225 Mriya landed for a technical halt at Hyderabad’s Rajiv Gandhi International airport on Friday en route to Australia from Europe.It is carrying a generator that weighs 116 tonnes. The six-engined aircraft Mriya, which means ‘dream’ in Russian, is the longest and heaviest airplane ever built, with a maximum takeoff weight of 640 tonnes.It was developed to transport the Soviet Braun space shuttle or other super-heavy jumbo sized cargo. According to estimates, the AN-225 can carry up to 250 tonnes of cargo in comparison to 157 tonnes capacity of double-deck Airbus A–380, the largest passenger aircraft in service. Mriya has 32 wheels spread across its oversized landing gear. The cargo compartment is pressurized that extends the aircraft transport capabilities, aircraft manufactures claim.According to the company website, this unique transport airlifter was designed and constructed during 1984-1988. The aircraft has the spacious cargo compartment with length of 43,32 metres, width of 6.4 metres and height of 4.4 metres. The aircraft has set 240 world records, including for transportation of the heaviest cargo with mass of 253 tonnes, the heaviest single peace of cargo with mass of 186,7 tonnes as well as the longest cargo having length of 42,1 metre.

Doping program behind Russian medals at Sochi Olympics: report | Reuters

Dozens of Russian athletes who competed at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, including at least 15 medal winners, were part of a state-run doping program, the New York Times reported on Thursday.

The report is broadly consistent with revelations by an independent World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) commission last November of widespread state-sponsored doping in Russia, which led to a ban on the country competing in international athletics competitions.

Unless that ban is lifted, Russian athletics competitors will miss the Rio Olympics in Brazil, set to run Aug. 5-21.

According to the New York Times report, which is based largely on evidence from Grigory Rodchenkov, the director of the country’s anti-doping laboratory during the Sochi Olympics, those involved included some of Russia’s biggest stars of the Games, including 14 members of its cross-country ski team and two veteran bobsledders who won two golds.

The newspaper said it could not independently verify Rodchenkov’s account of the doping operation. Reuters was not able to verify details of the New York Times report.

Russian anti-doping experts and members of the intelligence services secretly broke into tamper-proof bottles to replace urine samples tainted by performance-enhancing drugs with clean urine collected months earlier, the New York Times reported, citing Rodchenkov, who ran Russia’s drug testing lab.

By the end of the 2014 Olympics, as many as 100 dirty urine samples were expunged, Rodchenkov told the newspaper.

“We were fully equipped, knowledgeable, experienced and perfectly prepared for Sochi like never before,” Rodchenkov is quoted as saying in the report, which stated he received the prestigious Order of Friendship by Russian President Vladimir Putin after the Sochi Olympics. “It was working like a Swiss watch.”

Rodchenkov resigned from his position last November after the Moscow-based laboratory he oversaw stopped operating when its accreditation was suspended by WADA.

“These allegations are very detailed and very worrying and we ask the World Anti-Doping Agency to investigate immediately,” International Olympic Committee spokesman Mark Adams said in a statement. “Based on the findings of a WADA inquiry the IOC will not hesitate to act with its usual policy of zero tolerance for doping and defending the clean athletes.”

The report is the latest alleging widespread performance-enhancing drug use by the country’s athletes. In the past week, CBS News aired an interview with a whistleblower, saying that at least four of Russia’s gold medal winners at the Sochi Olympics were using steroids.


WADA President Craig Reedie, speaking after a two-day meeting in Montreal with the agency’s executive committee and foundation board, had not read the New York Times report when asked to comment.

“You are making the assumption I know what you know. I’ve been chairing a meeting all day,” said Reedie. “I think the pressure will be on WADA to respond and investigate and I gave a rather strong commitment to the athletes we would do just that.”

Former Olympian Beckie Scott, who is the chair of WADA’s athletes committee, told reporters on the sides of the WADA meeting that the New York Times article was “extremely disturbing but not surprising.”

Putin staked his reputation on the Sochi Games, which at around $50 billion was the most expensive in Olympic history. Russia led all countries with 13 gold medals and 33 overall at in Sochi.

Russia’s sports minister Vitaly Mutko dismissed the New York Times report as nonsense, according to the TASS news agency.

“I believe these guys, they are outstanding athletes, the charges are nonsense,” Mutko, who has previously said doping checks at Sochi were under the control of international experts, was quoted as saying. “The charges against them are groundless. We will study this article and see how to react.”

According to the New York Times report, Rodchenkov was given a list that named the athletes involved in the doping program and their competition schedule and was to substitute their samples if any went on to win a medal.

“This is as bad as we’ve seen assuming what Rodchenkov says is true, and he does have the knowledge of what was going on,” former WADA president Dick Pound, who headed the independent commission last year, told Reuters.

The head of Russia’s Cross-country Skiing Federation Elena Vyalbe told Russia’s R-Sport news agency that there was “no doping.”

Russian skeleton team head coach Willi Schneider told TASS the latest allegations had not been proven. “These are just rumors,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Steve Keating and Allison Lampert in Montreal; Writing by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Bill Rigby)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

Doping programme behind Russian medals at Sochi Olympics – report | Reuters

Dozens of Russian athletes who competed at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, including at least 15 medal winners, were part of a state-run doping programme, the New York Times reported on Thursday.

The report is broadly consistent with revelations by an independent World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) commission last November of widespread state-sponsored doping in Russia, which led to a ban on the country competing in international athletics competitions.

Unless that ban is lifted, Russian athletics competitors will miss the Rio Olympics in Brazil, set to run Aug. 5-21.

According to the New York Times report, which is based largely on evidence from Grigory Rodchenkov, the director of the country’s anti-doping laboratory during the Sochi Olympics, those involved included some of Russia’s biggest stars of the Games, including 14 members of its cross-country ski team and two veteran bobsledders who won two golds.

The newspaper said it could not independently verify Rodchenkov’s account of the doping operation. Reuters was not able to verify details of the New York Times report.

Russian anti-doping experts and members of the intelligence services secretly broke into tamper-proof bottles to replace urine samples tainted by performance-enhancing drugs with clean urine collected months earlier, the New York Times reported, citing Rodchenkov, who ran Russia’s drug testing lab.

By the end of the 2014 Olympics, as many as 100 dirty urine samples were expunged, Rodchenkov told the newspaper.

“We were fully equipped, knowledgeable, experienced and perfectly prepared for Sochi like never before,” Rodchenkov is quoted as saying in the report, which stated he received the prestigious Order of Friendship by Russian President Vladimir Putin after the Sochi Olympics. “It was working like a Swiss watch.”

Rodchenkov resigned from his position last November after the Moscow-based laboratory he oversaw stopped operating when its accreditation was suspended by WADA.

“These allegations are very detailed and very worrying and we ask the World Anti-Doping Agency to investigate immediately,” International Olympic Committee spokesman Mark Adams said in a statement. “Based on the findings of a WADA inquiry the IOC will not hesitate to act with its usual policy of zero tolerance for doping and defending the clean athletes.”

The report is the latest alleging widespread performance-enhancing drug use by the country’s athletes. In the past week, CBS News aired an interview with a whistleblower, saying that at least four of Russia’s gold medal winners at the Sochi Olympics were using steroids.

Putin staked his reputation on the Sochi Games, which at around $50 billion was the most expensive in Olympic history. Russia led all countries with 13 gold medals and 33 overall at in Sochi.

Russia’s sports minister Vitaly Mutko dismissed the New York Times report as nonsense, according to the TASS news agency.

“I believe these guys, they are outstanding athletes, the charges are nonsense,” Mutko, who has previously said doping checks at Sochi were under the control of international experts, was quoted as saying. “The charges against them are groundless. We will study this article and see how to react.”

According to the New York Times report, Rodchenkov was given a list that named the athletes involved in the doping programme and their competition schedule and was to substitute their samples if any went on to win a medal.

“This is as bad as we’ve seen assuming what Rodchenkov says is true, and he does have the knowledge of what was going on,” former WADA president Dick Pound, who headed the independent commission last year, told Reuters. “There’s no reason ever to think that track and field was the only sport affected by the Russian system.”

The head of Russia’s Cross-country Skiing Federation Elena Vyalbe told Russia’s R-Sport news agency that there was “no doping.”

Russian skeleton team head coach Willi Schneider told TASS the latest allegations had not been proven. “These are just rumors,” he said.

(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Bill Rigby)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

ED’s Agusta charge sheet mum on Modi govt claims

A slew of technical shortcomings with Agusta (AW-101) VVIP choppers are now popping up in official government statements, even as the Rs 3,726 crore deal is caught in controversy. It now unfolds that corruption via kickbacks were encouraged, so that, these major shortcomings – which have now become the basis of political furore between BJP and Congress inside and outside Parliament – will be overlooked.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Questionably, though the Enforcement Directorate (ED) chargesheet filed in the case in November, 2014, gives a miss to some of the glaring technical lacunae in AW-101 choppers, which, according to latest revelations by government, were tried to be covered up by those involved in giving and taking the kickbacks. Notably, the ED registered the case under the prevention of money laundering Act (PMLA) on July 3, 2014, more than a month after the current Modi government came to power on May 26. However, it is further notable that ED premised its complaint on the basis of an FIR registered by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on March 12, 2013, when the Congress-led UPA was in power.On Friday, referring to facts that emerged from the field test of the AW-101 choppers, defence minister Manohar Parrikar pointed out in Lok Sabha that serious questions were raised about chopper’s capacity. The helicopters failed test at 5,400 feet in Srinagar and it was clearly flagged to be unsuitable for flying in Gulmarg and Pahalgam. In an elaborate statement, quoting from what he claimed were official files, Parrikar said of Agusta trials that, “effective pay load capacity at MSL in OGE configuration is nil above 30 degree centigrade…meaning that if the temperature is above 30 degree C then it would not be able to lift any load. With day time temperature usually above 10 degree in most of the plains of North India, pay load capacity in OGE configuration is limited to 300 kg, reducing with every degree rise in temperature above 10 degree. Effective pay load capacity at 3,500 feet, AMSL in OGE configuration is nil above minus five degree.” Parrikar also pointed to a “mysterious”fire at the ministry of defence (MoD) on June 3, 2014, that burnt Agusta files and said he will get CBI to investigate it. None of these find a mention in the chargesheet.Former Indian Air Force (IAF) chief SP Tyagi along with 13 others including his cousins and European middlemen are named in the case. According to Parrikar, Tyagi and others, who are accused of reducing flying ceiling of the helicopter from 6,000m to 4,500m (15,000ft), which put AgustaWestland helicopters in the race for the deal, are small fries and it were the Congress-led government of that time that was involved in the larger game of Agusta corruption. If not for change in the ceiling, Agusta choppers couldn’t have qualified for even submission of bids.While the change in ceiling forms part of “facts and circumstances of the case leading to the filing of the (ED) case”, curiously, the CBI complaint that led ED to register a case, reads that the then PMO during UPA rule acted to reduce the ceiling on inputs/suggestions by the Indian Air Force (IAF) only. The facts of the case with the CBI and ED tends to tilt against Tyagi more rather than the government of the day. “It was during the tenure of ACM (retd) SP Tyagi as the chief of air staff and with his approval that air force conceded to reduce the service ceiling to 4,500 metres as mandatory or to which it (IAF) was opposing vehemently on the grounds of security constraints and other related reasons,” the ED chargesheet reads.Sukhois too flew in with allegationsMulayam Singh Yadav, as defence minister in 1996 Deve Gowda-led United Front government, signed a $1.8 billion contract to buy up to 50 Russian Sukhoi Su-30 MK – currently India’s frontline fighter jets – even as the IAF was not very keen to get it. According to then reports, IAF then was doing well with the induction of Mirage-2000 and Mig-29 into its fold.On Sukhois, former IAF chief Surinder Kumar Mehra was famously quoted as saying, “It’s a very good machine, but we are not interested”.The chopper now used for VVIPsThe Russian Mi-17 V5s have replaced Mi-8s for VVIP travel in India. The former has been upgraded and specially configured for VVIPs.What the chargesheet doesn’t mention clearly, but Modi govt claimsThe AW (101) failed field trials in Srinagar, Pahalgam and GulmargThat field trials were conducted in UKThat a fire at the ministry of defence burnt sensitive Agusta filesThat it was UPA government and not former IAF chief SP Tyagi who designed Agusta corruptionThose facing the heatFormer IAF chief SP Tyagi Sanjeev aka Julie TyagiDocsa TyagiSandeep TyagiGautam Khaitan (associated with Aeromatrix) Praveen BakshiGiuseppe Orsi (former CEO, Italian defence major Finmeccanica)Bruno Spagnolini, CEO, AgustaWestland (Britain-based subsidiary of Finmeccanica)Guido Ralph Haschke (middleman)Carlo Gerosa (middleman)Christian Michel (middleman)Firms named: FinmeccanicaAgustaWestlandIDS Infotech Ltd (India)Aeromatrix Info Solutions Pvt Ltd (India)

Watch: MP Home Minister Babulal Gaur caught inappropriately touching a woman

Former Madhya Pradesh CM and current Home Minister Babulal Gaur was allegedly caught on camera inappropriately touching a woman during an event in Bhopal. The incident seemed to happen when the woman was boarding a bus.The BJP minister has often been in the eye of the storm for controversial statements. He had once said: “Alcohol does not increase crime. People lose their consciousness after consuming alcohol and that’s how it causes crime. The person who drinks within control does not cause crime. One should not overdrink. It is one’s fundamental right. Drinking is a social status symbol these days”.He has also said once on his visit to Chennai: “Women in Tamil Nadu wear full clothes and hence the crime rate is lower there as compared to other states.”<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Before that he recited an event in which he told the wife of a Russian leader how to untie a dhoti. “I tol her I can’t teach you how to wear it, but I can certainly teach you how to remove it, but that too later, not now,” Gaur had said in remarks that angered women right activists. The Minister had also described rape as a social crime, saying “sometimes it’s right, sometimes it’s wrong”.With inputs from agencies

dna Morning Must Reads: From row over Ishrat Jehan case to Dipa Karmakar clinching gold at Rio event

Sushma Swaraj impresses Iranian leadership; convinces Russia, Chinese on Indo-US logistics dealExternal affairs minister Sushma Swaraj’s visit to Iran and then Moscow to interact with her Russian and Chinese counterparts has proved a fine act of balance. Read more here<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Sabarimala temple row: SC says gender equality is constitutional message; imposing ban not part of temple body’s rightGender equality is a “constitutional message” and the ban on entry of women of a particular age group in the historic Sabarimala temple cannot be claimed as a right to manage religious affairs by its management, the Supreme Court has said. Read more hereBJP again rakes up Ishrat Jehan case, accuses Congress of underplaying ‘terror plot’ against ModiThe BJP again raked up the 2004 Ishrat Jehan case on Monday accusing the Congress party of having underplayed “a terror plot” against the then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi because it was “mortified” of fighting him politically. Read more hereAfter historic Olympics qualification, Dipa Karmakar wins gold in vaultsHours after creating history by becoming the first Indian gymnast to qualify for the Olympics, Dipa Karmakar clinched the gold in vaults finals at the test event of the Rio Games on Monday. Read More hereIs Shahid Kapoor’s Tommy Singh based on Honey Singh?In ‘Udta Punjab’, Shahid is cast as a Punjabi musician in Birmingham, who is brought by his Tauji to Punjab to become a rock star. Read more here

Sushma Swaraj meets Russian acid attack victim’s mother

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Monday met mother of a 23-year-old Russian woman who was attacked with acid in Varanasi in November last year and assured her of severe punishment to the guilty. Swaraj told Antonina Prokina, the mother of the victim, that trial in the case has begun and that she was in touch with Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Akhilesh Yadav in connection with the case so that the man behind the attack does not escape strong punishment. The 23-year-old Russian national had suffered 46% burn injuries after a local youth threw acid on her on November 13 in Nand Nagar area of Varanasi. “He (the accused) had applied for bail but a court has rejected it. The trial in the case has already begun. I am in touch with Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh and told him that he must get harshest of the punishment,” Swaraj told Antonina.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The mother of the girl met Swaraj – who arrived here yesterday on a two-day visit – at the hotel where the Minister is staying. Antonina, accompanied by her elder daughter Yana, explained to Swaraj the trauma the family was undergoing following the incident. The family stays at the Moscow region.Earlier, in her meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Swaraj expressed sadness and regret over the acid attack on the girl and apprised him about the investigation into the case.The victim was first shifted to a Delhi hospital after initial treatment in Varanasi. On November 16, she came to Moscow. The Indian Embassy here has been helping the family in treatment of the girl.The accused, identified as Siddharth Srivastava, had fled to Allahabad after the incident and was arrested later. Swaraj had sought a report from the Uttar Pradesh government following the attack on the girl and promised all possible help to her and the family.

After Iran, Sushma Swaraj heads to Moscow

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Sunday headed for Russian capital Moscow for the second leg of her two-nation visit, during which she will attend the annual Foreign Ministers’ meeting of Russia, India and China. “Khuda Hafez Tehran! EAM @SushmaSwaraj departs Iran for Moscow for the 2nd leg of her tour,” Ministry of External Affairs Spokesperson Vikas Swarup tweeted.Swaraj’s visit to Moscow will see her attend the annual Foreign Ministers’ meeting of RIC (Russia, India and China). Besides attending the RIC meeting, she is also expected to have a bilateral meet with her Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in Moscow.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>On the sidelines of RIC, Swaraj is expected to meet her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi during which she is likely to raise the issue of China blocking India’s bid at the UN to ban Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) chief Masood Azhar.In Iran, she had a wide rage of engagements with several top Iranian leaders, including President Hassan Rouhani. Rouhani has assured Swaraj that Iran can be a “reliable partner” for India’s energy needs. Enhancing energy cooperation was the centerpiece of her visit to the powerful Persian Gulf nation.

Dominant Rosberg extends win streak in China | Reuters

SHANGHAI Nico Rosberg claimed a dominant win in an action-packed Formula One Chinese Grand Prix on Sunday to extend his championship lead over Mercedes team mate Lewis Hamilton, who battled up toseventh with some feisty driving after starting last.

Rosberg crossed the line a mammoth 37.7 seconds ahead of German compatriot Sebastian Vettel, who recovered after colliding with his Ferrari team mate Kimi Raikkonen at the first corner, to claim his third win from three races this season.

The German now leads Hamilton by 36 points in the standings and is firmly in control of the championship with 18 rounds of a record 21-race season remaining.

He certainly has history on his side with the winner of the first three races of the season having gone on to win the title each time.

“Well, it’s too early to make any summaries,” Rosberg told reporters.

“It’s three races now and they’ve gone really well for me but it’s the longest season in F1 history with 21 races.

“Of course I’m happy with the way it’s gone and I’m feeling good and the car’s there but I don’t want to say more than that.”

Sunday’s win was the 17th of Rosberg’s career and extended his streak of race victories to six, dating back to last November’s Mexican Grand Prix.

Only three other drivers have ever put together a run of six or more wins in a row. Vettel managed nine with Red Bull in 2013 and Michael Schumacher seven with Ferrari in 2004. The other was Italian Alberto Ascari in the 1950s.


Daniil Kvyat finished third to score Red Bull their first podium finish since September’s Singapore Grand Prix but the Russian had to defend himself after the race when an angry Vettel blamed him for the collision between the Ferraris.

Hamilton, who had started from dead last after failing to set a time in Saturday’s qualifying session due to an engine problem, finished seventh, running into further trouble at the start when he lost his front wing in a first-corner collision.

The Briton used some good-old fashioned racing nous to work his way up to third at one stage. But his challenge faded later in the race as he attempted to battle through with a damaged car that he likened to a “four-poster bed”.

Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo finished fourth. The Australian rocketed off the line from second on the grid and shot past Rosberg into an early lead.

But an early puncture and subsequent safety car cost him any chance of a podium place.

“As soon as I got on the straight, basically I could feel the car start to wobble and then I looked in the mirror and the tyre went,” Ricciardo said.

“With the safety car, that put us even further back so that was like a double whammy which felt like getting punched in the stomach by a heavyweight.”

Raikkonen, who came off worse in the first-corner collision with Vettel, was sixth ahead of Felipe Massa of Williams.

Max Verstappen was eighth ahead of Toro Rosso team mate Carlos Sainz while Valtteri Bottas rounded out the top 10 for Williams.

The early safety car led to a chopping and changing of the order with some drivers choosing to pit even as others stayed out. That put a mix of tyre strategies into play, producing a close battle for position behind the leader with plenty of exciting racing through the field.

(Editing by Ed Osmond)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

US defence secretary Ashton Carter arrives on high-profile visit to India today

US defence secretary Ashton Carter and India’s defence minister Manohar Parrikar are scheduled to make a joint statement at South Block in New Delhi on April 12, following the culmination of former’s three-day visit to India.A senior functionary at the Indian Ministry of Defence (MoD) told dna that “the two will have something substantial to announce and which is why the joint statement in front of the Indian media and the US journalists traveling with Carter”.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Carter’s visit coinciding with India’s lookout for a technologically new set of fighter jetsCarter’s visit beginning April 10 coincides with India’s lookout for a technologically new set of fighter jets for its air force and two US companies, Boeing and Lockheed Martin pitching hard for it even as the government to government deal on the French Rafale jets is still stuck in negotiations. As dna, quoting sources reported earlier, the two US firms and the Swedish firm Saab have strongly presented their cases before the MoD which is looking beyond Rafale to cater to the Indian Air Force’s (IAF) pressing requirement in the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) category. Pressing because the current strength of fighter squadrons in IAF is 33, instead of the desired 42 and serviceability of India’s front line fighters, the Russian Sukhoi 30s is around 55 per cent only and the ageing MiG 21 and MiG 27 fleets need replacement in near future.Besides this, India told another functionary at South block, is bargaining hard to get what is called a ‘pre-bid guarantee’ from the US government on transfer of technology (TOT), if any US firm is allowed to enter into manufacturing fighters under ‘Make in India’.The US, on the other hand, is pressing for three ‘foundational agreements’ – Communications and Information Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA), Logistics Support Agreement (LSA) and Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) whereas India, so far has had its own doubts on them.”There have been critical engagements among officials and defence industry representatives of both countries the past week in the run up to Carter’s visit”, said the functionary quoted above even as he kept short of confirming if India had made up its mind, at least on LSA, where it has shown interest of concurring with the US, albeit with some changes.Carter departed from Washington on a two-week travel to Asia-Pacific region and then to the Middle East (West Asia in Indian context). His first stop will be Goa on Sunday where Parrikar will first show him around the famous Mangeshi temple. While he plans to visit a few churches too, on Monday, he will be hosted over lunch by Parrikar in the Admiral’s dining cabin on board the Indian Navy’s aircraft carrier, the Russia made INS Vikramaditya off Karwar.Following this, both the leaders will go to US 7th fleet ship USS Blue Ridge, which is also off Goa. “Both the INS Vikramaditya and USS Blue Ridge meetings will be part of hardcore official engagements ,” said an MoD official.According to the US Department of Defence (DoD), Carter, on the eve of his India visit, told the Council on Foreign Relations at New York, he will meet prime minister Narendra Modi and Parrikar “to discuss a number of initiatives, including progress in aircraft carrier, jet fighter, and jet engine collaboration”.He further said “he will talk about “exciting new projects” as well. “There is so much potential with India, he said, that the United States is “seizing every opportunity we can.”.

Prosecutors open probes as world’s wealthy deny ‘Panama Papers’ links | Reuters

LONDON/PANAMA CITY Governments across the world began investigating possible financial wrongdoing by the rich and powerful on Monday after a leak of four decades of documents from a Panamanian law firm that specialised in setting up offshore companies.

The “Panama Papers” revealed financial arrangements of global politicians and public figures including friends of Russian President Vladimir Putin, relatives of the prime ministers of Britain, Iceland and Pakistan, and the president of Ukraine.

While holding money in offshore companies is not illegal, journalists who received the leaked documents said they could provide evidence of wealth hidden for tax evasion, money laundering, sanctions busting, drug deals or other crimes.

The law firm, Mossack Fonseca, which says it has set up more than 240,000 offshore companies for clients around the globe, denied any wrongdoing and called itself the victim of a campaign against privacy.

Leading figures responded to the leaks with denials or declining comment on Monday as prosecutors and regulators began a review of the reports from the investigation by the U.S.-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).

The U.S. Department of Justice would determine whether there is evidence of corruption and other violations of U.S. law, a spokesman said. A White House spokesman said that “in spite of the lack of transparency that exists in many of these transactions” there were U.S. experts who can find out whether they violated sanctions and laws.

Financial prosecutors in France announced the opening of a preliminary investigation for aggravated tax fraud.

Germany would also “pick up the ball” in the case, a Finance Ministry spokesman said on Monday. Financial market watchdog Bafin is looking into the matter, said a source close to the regulator, which reports to the ministry.

Australia, Austria, Sweden and the Netherlands were among other countries which said they had begun investigating the allegations based on more than 11.5 million documents. Banks came under the spotlight over allegations that they helped clients hide their wealth offshore.

In Argentina, political opposition parties demanded an explanation from center-right President Mauricio Macri because he served as a director of an offshore company in the Bahamas related to his wealthy father’s business in the past.

In Brazil, where a corruption crisis threatens President Dilma Rousseff’s administration, the O Estado de S.Paulo newspaper said politicians from seven parties were named as Mossack Fonseca clients. They did not, however, include politicians from Rousseff’s Workers’ Party.

Brazil’s tax agency said it would verify information about offshore tax avoidance in the documents and could impose fines on undeclared assets in offshore accounts of up to 150 percent of their value.


The documents, covering a period from 1977 until last December, were leaked to more than 100 news organisations around the world in cooperation with the ICIJ.

“I think the leak will prove to be probably the biggest blow the offshore world has ever taken because of the extent of the documents,” ICIJ director Gerard Ryle said.

The Kremlin said the documents contained “nothing concrete and nothing new” while a spokesman for British Prime Minister David Cameron said his late father’s reported links to an offshore company were a “private matter.”

Pakistan denied any wrongdoing by the family of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif after his daughter and son were linked to offshore companies.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko defended his commitment to transparency after lawmakers called for an investigation into allegations in the documents that he had used an offshore firm to avoid tax. Poroshenko purportedly moved his confectionery business, Roshen, to the British Virgin Islands in August 2014 as fighting between Ukraine and pro-Russian separatists peaked.

“I believe I might be the first top official in Ukraine who treats declaring of assets, paying taxes, conflict of interest issues seriously,” Poroshenko tweeted.

Iceland’s Prime Minister Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson faced calls for his resignation after ICIJ said he and his wife were connected with a secretive company in an offshore haven. His political opposition filed a no-confidence motion.

“I certainly won’t (resign) because what we’ve seen is the fact that, well, my wife has always paid her taxes. We’ve also seen that she has avoided any conflict of interest by investing in Icelandic companies at the same time that I’m in politics,” he told Reuters TV.


Britain’s Guardian newspaper said the documents showed a network of secret offshore deals and loans worth $2 billion led to associates of Putin, including concert cellist Sergei Roldugin, a childhood friend of the president. Reuters could not confirm those details.

Putin’s spokesman dismissed the reports as “Putinophobia”.

The British government asked for a copy of the leaked data, which could be embarrassing for Prime Minister Cameron, who has spoken out against tax evasion and tax avoidance.

His late father, Ian Cameron, a wealthy stockbroker, is mentioned in the files, alongside some members of his Conservative Party, former Conservative lawmakers and party donors, British media said.

Jennie Granger, head of enforcement and compliance at HM Revenue and Customs, said the government would examine the information “and act on it swiftly and appropriately.”

Cameron’s spokeswoman declined to comment on whether the leader’s family had money invested in offshore funds set up by his father, saying it was a “private matter”.

The opposition Labour Party’s finance spokesman, John McDonnell, tweeted: “Cameron promised and has failed to end tax secrecy and crack down on ‘morally unacceptable’ offshore schemes, real action is now needed.”

The Australian Tax Office said it was investigating more than 800 wealthy Mossack Fonseca clients and had linked more than 120 of them to an associate offshore service provider located in Hong Kong, which it did not name.


The head of Mossack Fonseca, Ramon Fonseca, has denied any wrongdoing but said his firm had suffered a successful but “limited” hack on its database. He described the hack and leak as “an international campaign against privacy.”

Fonseca, who until March was a senior government official in Panama, told Reuters the firm had formed more than 240,000 offshore companies.

Media reports said the leaked data pointed to a link between a member of global soccer body FIFA’s ethics committee and a Uruguayan soccer official who was arrested last year as part of a U.S. probe into corruption in the sport.

The British-based Tax Justice Network said too many offshore lawyers, accountants and bankers saw it as their role to shield their clients from financial regulations. Director John Christensen said in a statement that the law firm operated with “extreme secrecy and discretion” for their clients “which was attractive to many clients engaged in tax evasion, fraud, hiding conflicts of interest, and other white collar crimes.”

The group said little had been done by authorities internationally about Panama’s secretive haven. The Central American country has declined to sign up to global transparency rules.

Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, which has pushed for more transparency on taxes, said Panama “must put its house in order.” OECD said it had warned G20 finance ministers before the leaks that Panama was backtracking on a commitment to share information on accounts with other governments.

“The consequences of Panama’s failure to meet the international tax transparency standards are now out there in full public view,” OECD Secretary General Angel Gurria said in a statement.

(Reporting by Reuters bureaux, Additional reporting by Andreas Kroener in Frankfurt and Matthias Sobolewski in Berlin; Writing by Angus MacSwan and Grant McCool; Editing by Philippa Fletcher and Meredith Mazzilli)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

Asia’s largest optical telescope at Nainital to be activated today

The Aries telescope has been a joint international effort between Indian, Russian and Belgian scientist. In March 2007 Aries and Belgian company Advanced Mechanical and Optical Systems(AMOS) entered a contract for design, manufacture, integration, testing, supply and installation of the telescope. In a major technological advancement for astronomy in the country, Asia’s largest and first of its kind optical telescope will be unveiled on Wednesday evening at Devasthal near Nainital. During his one-day visit to Belgium, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will remotely activate the Aryabhatta Research Institute for Observational Sciences (Aries) telescope along with Belgium Prime Minister Charles Michel. The optical telescope’s mirror has a 3.6 m diameter and it will further research of star structures and magnetic field structures of stars.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The Aries telescope has been a joint international effort between Indian, Russian and Belgian scientist. In March 2007 Aries and Belgian company Advanced Mechanical and Optical Systems(AMOS) entered a contract for design, manufacture, integration, testing, supply and installation of the telescope. Belgium funded 7 per cent of the project whose total cost is estimated to be more than Rs120 crore. “This is a big thing because it is a product of Indo-Belgian collaboration. India has collaborated with a Belgian company called AMOS to produce this infrared steerable optical telescope which is the first of its kind in the whole of Asia,” said Vikas Swarup, ministry of external affairs spokesperson.”The activation of this telescope is a major achievement for us and astronomers of the country. The project was challenging and the international collaboration helped us,” said Wahab Uddin, acting director, Aries. He added, “The telescope is located at a height of 2,500 metres and the site was chosen for getting a clear view of the sky.” Currently, the Vainu Bappu observatory in Kavalur, Tamil Nadu is home to Asia’s largest optical telescope.”The telescope at Devasthal will provide us with a great tool to advance our astronomy research. Indian astronomers have long felt the need to go beyond the 2 metre reflector size and the ARIES project has been long in the making. Scientists first thought about going for a larger telescope in the early 1990’s,” said Arvind Paranjype, director, Nehru Planetarium, Mumbai.

FlyDubai crash: Husband and wife from Kerala killed in tragedy in Russia

Kochi: A couple from near Perumbavoor in Kerala was among the 62 people killed on Saturday in a plane crash in Russia’s Rostov-on-Don city, officials said.

The FlyDubai Boeing 737-800 from Dubai missed the runway as it attempted to land at 3:50 am.

The couple — Shyam Mohan and his wife KA Anju, both aged 27 — worked in an ayurvedic resort in Russia and had left from Kochi on Thursday.

CV Issac, a resident of Vengoal in Perumbavoor, who reached the home of the Mohans said it was around 2 pm on Saturday that they got the tragic news of the air crash.

“Both of them are trained ayurveda nurses and their marriage took place here on November 2, 2014. It was their first visit (to Kerala) after they both went to Russia. They were here for a month and they left for Dubai from here on Thursday afternoon,” said Issac.

Russian Emergency Ministry employees investigate the wreckage of the crashed plane at the Rostov-on-Don airport. APRussian Emergency Ministry employees investigate the wreckage of the crashed plane at the Rostov-on-Don airport. AP

Russian Emergency Ministry employees investigate the wreckage of the crashed plane at the Rostov-on-Don airport. AP

Anju has been working in Russia since 2011 and it was after their marriage in 2014 that Mohan also joined her.

Local legislator Saju Paul siad that Mohan’s residence was in his constituency and he was reaching there soon.

“His father is a carpenter and Mohan was the mainstay of his family, so was Anju, whose father passed away,” the legislator said.

Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said that he spoke to Mohan’s father and has assured all help to see how best the state government can help the grieving families.

“I will speak to External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj seeking her help to see what can be done,” added Chandy.

FlyDubai Boeing 737-800 with 62 people on board nosedived and exploded in a giant fireball early Saturday while trying to land in strong winds in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, killing all aboard, officials said.

Russia’s Emergencies Ministry said the plane was carrying 55 passengers, most of them Russians, and seven crew members of various nationalities. FlyDubai confirmed that there were no survivors and said four children were among those killed.

The powerful explosion pulverized the plane but investigators quickly recovered both flight recorders. The cause of the crash wasn’t immediately known, but officials and experts pointed at a sudden gust of wind as a possible reason.

“Our primary concern is for the families of the passengers and crew who were on board. Everyone at FlyDubai is in deep shock and our hearts go out to the families and friends of those involved,” said CEO Ghaith al-Ghaith.

He said that pilots, who were from Cyprus and Spain, hadn’t issued any distress signal before the crash. They had 5,965 and 5,769 hours of flying time respectively, making them “quite experienced,” al-Ghaith added. The cabin crew included two Russians and citizens of Seychelles, Colombia and Kyrgyzstan.

Al-Ghaith said the plane was produced in 2011 and underwent a detailed maintenance inspection known as a C check in January.

Rostov regional Gov. Vasily Golubev said that “by all appearances, the cause of the air crash was the strongly gusting wind, approaching a hurricane level.”

According to the weather data reported by Russian state television, winds at ground level weren’t dangerously strong at the moment of the crash, but at an altitude of 500 meters (1,640 feet) and higher they reached a near-hurricane speed of around 30 meters per second (67 miles per hour).

Ian Petchenik, a spokesman for the flight-tracking website Flightradar24, told The Associated Press that the plane missed its approach then entered a holding pattern.

According to Flightradar24, the plane circled for about two hours before making another landing attempt. It said a Russian Aeroflot plane scheduled to land around the same time made three landing attempts but then diverted to another airport.

According to its data, the Dubai plane began climbing again after a go-around when it suddenly started to fall with vertical speed of up to 6,400 meters per minute (21,000 feet/min).

The closed-circuit TV footage showed the plane going down in a steep angle and exploding.

Al-Ghaith said the plane attempted to land in line with established procedures.

“As far as we know the airport was open and we were good to operate,” he said, adding that they couldn’t have landed without air traffic controllers’ permission.

Al-Ghaith said the pilots hadn’t issued any distress call and hadn’t attempted to divert to an alternate airport.

Russian emergency fire trucks are seen among the wreckage of the crashed plane at the Rostov-on-Don airport. group via APRussian emergency fire trucks are seen among the wreckage of the crashed plane at the Rostov-on-Don airport. group via AP

Russian emergency fire trucks are seen among the wreckage of the crashed plane at the Rostov-on-Don airport. group via AP

Viktor Gorbachev, director of the Russian airports association, said the airport in Rostov-on-Don has modern equipment to deal with adverse weather.

Several planes had landed in Rostov-on-Don shortly before the Dubai airliner was scheduled to touch down, but other flights later were diverted.

“It was an uncontrollable fall,” said Sergei Kruglikov, a veteran Russian pilot, said on Russian state television. He said that a sudden change in wind speed and direction could have caused the wings to abruptly lose their lifting power.

He said that the pilots would have understood seconds before the crash that they were going to die, but “passengers and the cabin crew likely didn’t realize they were facing imminent death.”

Pilot Vitaly Sokolovsky told Rossiya 24 television that a sudden gust of wind could be particularly dangerous at low altitude while the plane was flying slowly at low power and the pilot was throttling up the engines to make another run.

President Vladimir Putin offered his condolences to the victims’ families and top Russian Cabinet officials flew to the crash site to oversee the investigation.

Emirati authorities including the president, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, sent condolences to Putin, and Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who also serves as the Emirates’ vice president and prime minister, expressed his regrets on his official Twitter feed.

In a statement expressing “shock and grief,” Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades confirmed that the pilot was a Cypriot national, Aristos Socratous from Limassol.

Officials said the plane and bodies of the victims were torn into small pieces by the powerful blast, making identification difficult Investigators said they were working on the plane’s cockpit conversation recorder and another one recording parameters of the flight.

It was FlyDubai’s first crash since the budget carrier began operating in 2009. It was launched in 2008 by the government of Dubai, the Gulf commercial hub that is part of the seven-state United Arab Emirates federation. The carrier has been flying to Rostov-on-Don since 2013.

FlyDubai’s fleet consists of mint 737-800 aircraft, like the one that crashed. The airline says it operates more than 1,400 flights a week.

The airline has expanded rapidly in Russia and other parts of the former Soviet Union. Dubai is a popular destination for Russian vacationers, and many Russian expatriates live and work in Dubai, a city where foreigners outnumber locals more than 4-to-1.

FlyDubai has a good safety record. In January 2015, one of its planes was struck on the fuselage by what appeared to small-arms fire shortly before it landed in Baghdad. That flight landed safely with no major injuries reported.

With inputs from agencies

dna Must Reads: From latest in India v/s Pakistan match to blast in Turkey

1. India v/s Pakistan at Eden Gardens: Latest Kolkata Weather Update — Great news! Covers are coming off Currently, the scene at Eden Gardens currently as the clouds overhead threaten rain and hopefully it will be clear by 7:30 PM. Read more here.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>2. Won’t write against the government: Authors belonging to Urdu body asked to sign declarationIn a decision which has stoked massive controversy, Urdu writers whose books are acquired for distribution by the National Council for Promotion of Urdu Language (NCPUL), have been asked to declare that their written content will not be against the government or the country. Read more here.3. Russia Flydubai plane crash: All 62 people on board killed, including 2 IndiansAll 62 people aboard a passenger jet flying from Dubai to southern Russia were killed when their plane crashed on its second attempt to land at Rostov-on-Don airport on Saturday, Russian officials said. Read more here.4. Another assault by PM Modi on middle class: Rahul Gandhi on interest rate cut on small savingsRahul Gandhi on Saturday came down hard on the government for slashing the interest rates on small savings, including PPF, dubbing it as yet another assault on the middle class. Read more here.5. Live: Five dead, 36 wounded in blast in Istanbul, TurkeyFive people were killed and 36 wounded in a suicide bombing on a central shopping district in Turkey’s largest city of Istanbul on Saturday, the local governor said. Read more here.

Indian student’s death in Russia: Sushma Swaraj says case registered

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Monday said that a criminal case has been registered in Russia to probe the death of Yasir Javed, an Indian student who died in Kazan city following an attack on him by a group of local goons.”Indian Embassy in Moscow has informed me that a Criminal case has been registered to investigate the death of Yasir Javed in Kazan,” Swaraj tweeted. Javed was attacked by unknown miscreants in Kazan city on March 3 and he died last Tuesday at a hospital there after remaining in coma for several days.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>India had sought a thorough probe and filing of a criminal case by Russian authorities into Javed’s death. The Indian Embassy in Moscow had conveyed to Russian Foreign Ministry that death of Javed, hailing from Srinagar, should be probed to punish the guilty.”The Embassy has sought an investigation into the circumstances leading to the death of an innocent person and filing of a criminal case,” External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Vikas Swarup had said last week. He had said a team of officials from Indian Embassy in Moscow had gone to Kazan where they met investigators and police officials.

For environment’s sake, let oil flow be free of political dealings and feuds

The Mexican foreign Minister is about to touch down into India. I asked the Mexican Ambassador Melba Pria, what does India buy from Mexico? She answered, 4% of India’s oil imports are from Mexico. What raced through my mind was, this was too far away, especially when the neighbouring West Asia is full of oil.Huge amounts of money are wasted transporting oil needless distances. India is now the world’s third-largest oil importer, expected to bring in 188 million tonnes of crude in FY 16. India is starting to get less oil from West<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Asia, and more from far away Venezuela. The world’s biggest crude oil importer, the US, gets the bulk of it from distant Saudi Arabia, not neighbouring Mexico. If countries got oil from the nearest source instead of from across the world, both money and the environment could be saved.Why do oil tankers travel so far then?The type of imported crude needs to be compatible with that country’s oil refineries. For example, oil from Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) is heavier than standard Brent crude, or the even lighter oil from Texas. Unless billions of dollars go into an upgrade, oil refineries only work with specific types of oil. Heavier oil requires a sturdier refinery. Another way to think about it, it’s kind of like refining Apple oil in an IBM refinery.It can be done, but you need to go through annoying hoops.Current market conditions encourage oil transport. Fuel, shipping’s greatest expense, is very cheap today. OPEC is over-producing oil, and millions of barrels can’t just sit around idle. This perpetuates a vicious cycle.Inexpensive oil means reduced transport costs, which incentivises shipping oil by tanker, which in turn increases the odds for multifold environmental damages. The cycle works in the reverse direction too: when oil is expensive and transport costs are high, the cargo’s increased value more than pays for this difference.International alliances and feuds are the main driver of oil importing and exporting. This is subject to not just change, but great reversals: current market conditions have made bargaining power shift from oil producers to oil buyers. Pundits speculate endlessly about the potential links between oil costs and political dealings. Is the US ally Saudi Arabia overproducing oil to sink the Russian rouble? Is it to slow down newly unsanctioned Iran? How does America’s production of shale gas insulate them from the international oil market, and what impact does this have on the price of crude? In desperate times, like war or financial turbulence, will countries exploit their allies by charging them more for oil, or will they be reliable? The answers to these questions are up for debate. What nobody disputes is that political machinations prevent oil from being dispersed efficiently around the world.What’s so bad about long oil tanker voyages?When considering these circuitous routes, remember that they are hugely expensive. A Very Large Crude Carrier trip from India to Venezuela takes between 31-38 days, depending on the route and other factors. Each day of operation costs roughly $45,000. The charter cost (the term for shipping oil by tankers) accounts for 5-10% of oil’s final price.Environmentally speaking, every additional day a tanker spends at sea increases the odds of a spill. Oil spilled on water does way more harm than on land. Once oil contacts water, the destruction of ecosystems is widespread and almost instant. Even if billions are spent on the cleanup, the damage to land and wildlife is mostly permanent.April of 2010 saw an oil catastrophe of epic proportions. A British Petroleum (BP) operated tanker exploded, killing 11, and when it sunk it in turn triggered a sea-floor oil gusher which spewed crude oil out uninterruptedly for 87 days. A total of 130 million gallons were leaked into the Gulf of Mexico. BP has spent upwards of $53-billion between the cleanup and legal damages, but years later the environment is still decimated, and BP is still dealing with hundreds of thousands of legal claims relating to the spill. It’s reminiscent of the Exxon Valdez, which in 1989 spilled 11 million gallons into pristine Alaskan waters, fouling about 1,300 miles of shoreline.Thousands of animals died, including whales and bald eagles. Today, after 25 years and billions spent on cleanup, the shoreline is still badly polluted and the region’s wildlife will probably never recover.Human error makes oil tankers spill eventually, and having enormous numbers of them daily crisscross the globe invites irreversible disaster. It’s also very expensive. Whether the motive is financial or environmental, there’s lots of incentive to shorten tanker trips or to reduce their use altogether.PipelinesIn the meantime, there are energy projects like the proposed 1,078 mile-long natural gas pipeline running from Turkmenistan’s Galkynsh oil field (the world’s second largest) to Afghanistan, Pakistan and India (TAPI).Pipelines are far from perfect—they also spill, are expensive to build, and eventually become obsolete because their alignment can’t be adjusted after a region’s oil is tapped. Pipelines are not solar panels, but they are less harmful to the environment than oil tankers. In the event of a spill, pipelines can be sealed quickly. In this specific case, TAPI unites two countries whose relationship could use mending. Pipelines in general aren’t a permanent or comprehensive solution. But if energy security benefits these economies and helps foster peace, all while posing a smaller environmental risk, it’s much better than sending expensive, damaging oil tankers across the world.How do we plan better?It will take boldness, but there needs to be an international body with the mandate and power to control the dispersion of the world’s oil safely and efficiently. Every country needs oil. Nobody expects petro states to just relinquish their power, but the world’s current path guarantees continued proxy wars and environmental catastrophes. This is untenable. And the harmful status quo fails to adequately meet the world’s energy needs. What this international body may look like is anybody’s guess. But this dialogue is necessary.Rohit Gandhi is the Editor-in-Chief of ZEE’s upcoming global English channel.

Two Indian girl students killed in Russian medical academy fire

Two Indian girl students were killed in a fire at a medical university in western Russia and some others injured, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said on Monday. “We have lost two Indian girl students (both from Maharashtra) studying at Smolensk Medical Academy in Russia in a fire accident,” Swaraj tweeted late on Monday night. The Minister further said: “Some students are injured. They are out of danger. The place is 400 kms from Moscow. Our team has already reached there.”<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>According to the Russian investigative committee, the preliminary report showed that fire occurred at the fourth floor of the dormitory of the university on Sunday morning. The two students killed in the dormitory fire were Indian nationals, it added.