Russia expects to sign S-400 air defense system deal with India this year – official

By ethan / April 26, 2018

The long-awaited deal to supply Russian S-400 air defense systems to India will likely be signed this year, as the sides only have to agree on the price now, Russia’s Military-Technical Cooperation Service (FSMTC) said.

“At the moment, all the technical issues are already discussed and agreed upon. It only remains to find common ground regarding the price and conduct the necessary procedures,” FSMTC head Dmitry Shugaev told Interfax. “I think that this year will get to the point of signing the relevant contract papers.”

The $ 5.5 billion agreement to supply S-400 was reached on the state level between Moscow and New Delhi back in 2016, but a specific contract has not been signed yet. Earlier, FSMTC deputy head Vladimir Drozhzhov assured that “there’s no talk of refusing the supplies” by the Indian side.

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An S-400 air defense missile system at the rehearsal of the Victory Day Parade in Vladivostok © Sputnik

“I wouldn’t say that the signing is being delayed. The routine negotiating process is under way… price parameters are being determined,” he said. India wanted to lower the price and the issue was discussed when Indian Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman visited Moscow earlier in April, he added.

Russian S-400 have piqued quite a bit of interest in recent years. Sales to China started earlier this year. Turkey is awaiting the arrival of S-400 systems in 2020 in a $ 2.5-billion deal, despite criticism and threats from its US and NATO allies, while deals with Saudi Arabia and Qatar are currently in the works.

S-400 Triumf, or the SA-21 Growler, according to NATO classification, is Russia’s most advanced air defense hardware, with capabilities unparalleled by any other system in the world. Consisting of a set of radars, missile launchers and command posts, it can bring down tactical and strategic aircraft as well as ballistic and cruise missiles, at ranges up to 400 kilometers (248 miles).

READ MORE: ‘Patriot not alternative to S-400’: Turkey eyes buying air defense missiles from US & Europe

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Germany scraps major music award following anti-Semitic scandal

By ethan / April 26, 2018

German music companies have decided to abolish the prestigious Echo Awards after a rapper duo won the award despite being accused of singing anti-Semitic lyrics. The scandal has prompted many musicians to return their awards.

“There will be no more ‘Echo’ [awards],” a statement published on the event’s official website says, adding that the German Federal Association of the Music Industry (BVMI) decided to completely eliminate it, as “the image of the Echo brand has been so severely damaged that the music awards now requires a … fresh start.” It also says that criteria for the awards nomination would be “completely changed.”

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German rappers Kollegah & Farid Bang perform during the 2018 Echo Music Award ceremony in Berlin. ©Axel Schmidt

The music awards should “by no means” be seen as a “platform for anti-Semitism, sexism, homophobia or downplaying of violence,” the statement adds.  It also said that the BVMI would hold a “workshop” in June to develop a completely new concept for a music award.

The scandal that prompted the BVMI to take such radical action began when the rappers known as Kollegah and Farid Bang were nominated for the Echo Award in the category ‘best hip-hop/urban album.’ The album in question, “Jung, Brutal, Gutaussehend 3” (“Young, brutal, handsome 3”), was widely criticized for containing tracks with lyrics considered to be anti-Semitic. Some tracks, in particular, had lines such as “my body is more defined than those of the Auschwitz inmates” and “I’m doing another Holocaust, coming with a Molotov.”

These facts, however, did not prevent the rapper duo from winning the award, which, by coincidence, they received on April 12 – Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel. This development immediately provoked a wave of indignation from many musicians. Campino, the lead singer of veteran German punk band Die Toten Hosen, lashed out at the rappers’ victory during the Echo Awards ceremony, receiving a standing ovation from the audience.

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© Björn Kietzmann / Global Look Press

Conductor Enoch zu Guttenberg and Andreas Reiner, a violinist with the KlangVerwaltung Orchestra, then wrote an open letter to the BVMI, in which they called the latest award ceremony a “shame.” Many prominent figures in the music industry, including musician, producer and designer of artwork for the Beatles, Klaus Voormann, pianist Igor Levit and German rock star Marius Mueller-Westernhagen, returned their Echo awards in protest.

Daniel Barenboim, a Jewish star conductor and the general music director of the Berlin State Opera, who also returned his Echo awards, denounced the BVMI decision. He also lashed out at the lyrics of the rappers by saying that it was an “abuse” of the freedom of expression.

Even some people not directly linked to the music industry criticized the BVMI decision. Airbus CEO Tom Enders said that it “hurts Germany’s international reputation,” while Mathias Doepfner, the CEO of the Axel Springer publishing house that controls the German Bild and Die Welt dailies, criticized it in an opinion piece for Die Welt.

The scandal around the music awards occurred at a time when the issue of anti-Semitism came into focus in Germany once again. On April 16, Adam Armush, an Israeli Arab, and his friend were attacked in Berlin, apparently because Armush was wearing a kippah – a traditional Jewish head garment. In response, both local Jews and non-Jews staged a protest dubbed “Berlin wears a kippah,” which was supported in other cities. On April 23, German Chancellor Angela Merkel admitted that her country faces a new form anti-Semitism brought by refugees and people of Arab origin. Since 2015, more than a million migrants from predominantly Muslim countries have entered Germany, thanks to Merkel’s open-door policy, during the Europe-wide refugee crisis. The influx caused a strong backlash and a rise in popularity of right-wing anti-immigration politicians.

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France, US & allies to ‘build Syria of tomorrow’ – Macron

By ethan / April 26, 2018

Paris is seeking to bridge the moribund Geneva talks with the Russian-led Astana process in order to build peace in Syria, French President Emmanuel Macron said on his last day of a state visit to Washington.

The US, the UK, France, Jordan and Saudi Arabia have formed a “contact group” on Syria, which is coordinating with Turkey and Germany, Macron told reporters gathered at the George Washington University on Wednesday evening. The group is seeking to “build a bridge” between the UN-led Geneva talks that have so far gone nowhere, and the Astana process led by Russia, Turkey and Iran.

The Astana talks are not satisfactory to the West and would “lead to the partition of Syria,” Macron said. The new contact group is aiming to “open a line” with Russia and Turkey and bring all sides to the table.

This is a multilateral, “potential win-win approach,” Macron said.

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French President Emmanuel Macron in Washington DC, US, April 25, 2018. © Brian Snyder

Russia is allied with the Syrian government and has maintained a military presence in the country since September 2015 at the invitation of Damascus, fighting both Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) and Al-Qaeda affiliated rebels groups, some of which are backed by Western and Gulf Arab governments.

Countering the statements by US President Donald Trump that he wanted to withdraw American troops from Syria once IS is defeated, Macron said that France, the UK and the US are committed to fighting the war against terrorists “till the end.” After that, however, Macron said “we have a political goal of building a free Syria,” which is not under the influence of another country or destabilizing the region.

The US has been openly backing anti-government rebels in Syria and calling for President Bashar Assad to step down since the start of the civil war in 2011. At the same time, both the US and France say that the involvement of Iran, which has contributed money, troops and equipment to the Syrian government’s struggle against both IS and a variety of rebel groups, is unacceptable.

France is providing support for the current US military presence in the north of Syria, east of the Euphrates river, Macron confirmed, without specifying its nature.

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Macron: It doesn't look like Trump will stay in Iran nuclear deal

By ethan / April 26, 2018

French President Emmanuel Macron believes US President Donald Trump is leaning towards getting the US out of the Iran nuclear deal. The US leader is not ready to go back on his pre-election promise, Macron told media.

“”Just like you do, I listen to what President Trump is saying, and it seems to me that he is not very much eager to defend [the Iran nuclear deal]… I have in mind that it is his campaign commitment that he made a long time ago. So I do not know what the American decision will be, but if you take a rational look at the announcements and the comments made by President Trump, it seems to me that he will not do his utmost to preserve the JCPOA,” Macron said during a press conference at the George Washington University at the end of his three-day trip to the US.

Macron also reiterated his plan to expand the nuclear deal with Iran to include provisions for restraining Tehran’s influence in the Middle East. He called the JCPOA, under which Iran agreed to abandon its nuclear program and which is set to expire in 2025 if it does not fall apart before that, just one of four “pillars.” The others include forcing Iran to also abandon its ballistic missile development and containing its influence in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. In return, the Western powers will not reintroduce economic sanctions against Tehran.

The fact that he appears to be unable to change Trump’s mind on the deal, which has been hanging in the balance for over a year, does not mean that the trip was a failure, Macron said, noting that his goal was to push for a new, much broader agreement that would include Iran and the US.

“I want to be the honest broker of the situation,” Macron said.

He went on to praise the US president’s deal-making skills, saying what he called the US’ “strategy of increasing tension” with Iran can bear fruit.

“His experience with North Korea is that when you are very tough, you make the other side move and you can try to go to a good deal or a better deal,” Macron said, calling Trump a “dealmaker.”

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‘Golden State Killer’ reportedly arrested after 40+ years, identified as ex-cop

By ethan / April 26, 2018

Police in California have arrested a man believed to be the notorious “Golden State Killer,” who was allegedly responsible for 12 homicides, 45 rapes and 120 home invasions in the 1970s and 1980s.

Former police officer Joseph James DeAngelo, 72, was arrested on two counts of murder by Sacramento police on Wednesday morning, reported NBC News.

Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert and Sheriff Scott Jones announced the arrest at a press conference Wednesday afternoon, revealing a little bit more information about the arrest and investigation.

“The answer has always been in Sacramento,” Schubert said, adding that DNA evidence is what led the authorities to the suspect.

Also known as the “East Area Rapist,” the killer stalked the Sacramento area between 1976 and 1978, before moving on to the Bay Area and later Southern California. The killer’s activity mysteriously stopped in 1981.

He targeted and raped women who were home alone or with children, and murdered women and men together, according to police.

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Four decades after his first attack, the FBI offered a $ 50,000 award in 2016 for information leading to his arrest. The killer’s story was popularized by Michelle McNamara’s book ‘I’ll Be Gone in the Dark,’ published in 2016. McNamara had researched and reported on the investigation for much of her career.

After her death, McNamara’s husband, actor and comedian Patton Oswalt, hired another journalist to help finish the book.

“I think you got him, Michelle,” Oswalt said on Wednesday in a video posted on Instagram.

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‘Syrian strike was risk without benefit for US, as Russia got American weapon samples’

By ethan / April 25, 2018

By striking Syria, the US and its allies basically sacrificed their advanced arms to Russia without receiving any actual benefit on the ground, Charles Shoebridge, a security analyst and former UK army officer, told RT.

The Russian Defense Ministry’s display of fragments of missiles, which were fired at Syrian targets by the Western allies on April 14, would be “a source of great concern to the American, British and French side,” Shoebridge said.

On Wednesday, Moscow also announced that it was in possession of two almost intact Western projectiles from Syria, including a Tomahawk cruise missile and another unnamed one. The Russian military said it plans to study both in order to further improve the Russian air defense capabilities.

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Alleged fragments of missiles fired by the US-led coalition on April 13-14 and shot down by the Syrian air defense forces, as shown by the Russian defense ministry. © Igor Ermachenkov

Shoebridge described the US-led attack as “a great risk for not much tangible benefit on the ground, given that these were civilian or largely empty targets” that were hit, while “the Russians have gained some technical knowledge of the weapon systems that actually were sacrificed by those three powers.”

The Russian Defense Ministry also showed missile fragments, saying they represent evidence disproving claims by US President Donald Trump and various US military officials, who boasted that all of the 105 missiles fired on Syria reached their targets. Russia previously said that there were only 25 successful hits during the attack, while the rest of the missiles were either downed by Syrian air defenses or they malfunctioned.

Shoebridge pointed out that American claims of 100 percent accuracy of the bombardment were likely unrealistic. “With such a large number of weapons being fired and anti-aircraft fire being directed at them, you would expect, at the very least, a small proportion of them not to get through,” he said.

The analyst stopped short of backing either version of the events, saying that, “some figure in between… is perhaps where the truth might lie.”

“Even from a successful strike you will find some fragments from the weapons used, but usually not in the kind of sizes that we’re talking about here,” Shoebridge said. “But certainly the existence of fragments like this could point to the fact that some missiles malfunctioned, were shot down or simply landed in the wrong place.”

When asked about the possible US reaction to Wednesday’s revelations, he said that “it will be handled publically, probably, the way it’s usually handled, which is either be ignored or the think tanks and so-called experts will be tasked to ridicule these Russian reports.”

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French Rafale jet with a Storm-Shadow / SCALP cruise missile © mbda-systems.com

Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon has already called the statements by Russia’s Defense Ministry “absurd,” saying that they were “another example of the Russian disinformation campaign.”

The US-led missile strikes were justified by unverified reports of an alleged use of poisonous gas in the town of Douma in the Damascus suburb of eastern Ghouta on April 7 and targeted what the West called the Syrian government’s chemical weapons facilities. Syria, which destroyed all of its chemical stockpiles in 2013 and 2014 under international supervision, has denied the claims, while Moscow provided evidence that the Douma attack was actually fabricated.

According to Shoebridge, Wednesday’s statement by the Russian military that no traces of chemical weapons were discovered at the Syrian sites targeted by the coalition was “consistent with what was being reported by media outside the US, UK and France.” He recalled that “even a day after those strikes when those buildings were burning and there was a lot of smoke still around you had large crowds of reporters… on the scene not wearing protective equipment,” which would have been deadly in case of a chemical spill.

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City beneath city: RT films massive network of militant-built tunnels under Syria’s Douma (VIDEO)

By ethan / April 25, 2018

The Syrian military has been combing through a vast network of tunnels built by jihadists in Douma, not far from Damascus. RT Arabic filmed vehicles easily fitting in the passages and asked locals how the militants treated them.

Located 15 meters deep under the surface, the massive tunnels are supported by metal pillars and are paneled with some sort of liner plates, creating a subway look. They stretch for kilometers under the town, located in the area of eastern Ghouta, forming an entire city beneath the city.

To complete the set, the tunnels are equipped with electricity, parking lots and workshops. They are so big that a minivan could easily move through them, as seen in the footage. The military discovered that the tunnels were specifically used to stockpile machinery and vehicles.

The militants forced the locals to build the tunnels for them by starving the people, who refused to work, Douma residents told RT. “They starved us, they harassed us,” one man said, adding that the extremists also made captives and civilians work on the tunnels. “They [the militants] would not feed those, who refused to work,” he said.

READ MORE: Moscow slams western media ‘disinformation campaign’ about OPCW experts being denied entry to Douma

The Russian military said they found a chemical laboratory operated by militants in central Douma soon after the city’s liberation. The facility, located in the basement of a residential building, had some sophisticated equipment, including an industrial chemical reactor, which the military said was used by the jihadists to create toxic agents. Vast stockpiles of various chemicals were also found in the laboratory.

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Seriously, Homeland? Latest episode of US spy drama goes to ‘Moscow’

By ethan / April 25, 2018

Hollywood has always drawn viewers in with Russian villains and scary plots of Kremlin deception. House of Cards, Scandal, Blacklist, Allegiance — you name it, they’ve all delighted their audiences with scary Russian villains.

But has the hit spy drama Homeland taken things too far?

The latest episode of the show takes place mostly in Moscow and sees the two lead characters, Carrie Mathison and Saul Berenson hatching a plot to retrieve Simone Martin, an undercover Russian agent who is in a romantic relationship with the White House chief of staff. Yeah, it gets weird.

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©  Sony Pictures Entertainment

Yevgeny Gromov is the baddy standing in the way of the plan. He is played by Costa Ronin, who also plays a Russian baddy on The Americans.

Anyway, the episode opens with Carrie and Saul’s plane touching down in Moscow. The Americans are ostensibly on an “unscheduled diplomatic mission” but the viewer knows it’s really a covert operation to grab Simone from under the Russians’ noses. Cue the dramatic music.

As Carrie and Saul disembark from the plane, we see Yevgeny and another tough-looking Russian watching the Americans on a computer monitor — and that is precisely where any credibility that this could be Moscow ends.

From here on out, the show’s attempts to make its Moscow scenes believable are futile. The first city scene shows the American delegation’s motorcade pulling up outside the easily identifiable New York Cafe in Budapest, complete with an iconic yellow Budapest tram rolling past. In later scenes, popular Budapest tourist locations are shown clearly. It’s almost an insult to the viewer — although the TV critics didn’t seem to notice, so perhaps the production team were right not to bother trying too hard to make Moscow out of Budapest.

There is one meagre attempt to make the city look like Moscow. The Kremlin cathedrals are superimposed into the background of a scene on a rooftop where Carrie and Saul are speaking.

So, back to the plot. The Americans set up a diplomatic meeting in order to pull Yevgeny away from his dacha outside Moscow, where Simone is held. They send a team to retrieve her, but the pesky Russians are onto them. As soon as the American team lay their eyes on Simone they are ambushed by Russians. Mission failed.

Plan B. The Americans blackmail Artem Yakushin, yet another corrupt Russian (snooze fest) with $ 300 million tucked away in US bank accounts. They drain his accounts and force him to lead them to Simone. We’re back in action.

Yakushin rallies a band of men and leads the Americans to the GRU building — the Russian army’s intelligence agency. As they speed down the “Russian” streets, it’s easy to spot road signs in Hungarian — and as the men drive through what is supposed to be central Moscow in the middle of the day, they meet almost no other cars — strange, for one of the busiest, most traffic-congested capitals in the world.

When they arrive at the GRU building, war breaks out between Russian foreign military intelligence officers, the CIA and Yakushin’s thugs. Bullets and fists are flying. Terrified Russians are running for their lives. Just an average day in Moscow.

Meanwhile, back home in Washington, the newly-elected female president, Elizabeth Keane, is holding onto her job by a thread and is ultimately thrown out of office by the invocation of the 25th Amendment. It’s like Homeland is mimicking the period of the Trump presidency just…without Trump.

The portrayal of Russia and Russians is cartoonish. The plot is unimaginative and seems to repeat a hackneyed Hollywood scenario. But we might know where it’s coming from.

In 2014, the hack of Sony Pictures Entertainment revealed that the US State Department had sought out some of Hollywood’s biggest players to help them with what they called “anti-Russia messaging” for the big and small screen. It looks like TV and movie producers were happy to oblige.

Oh — and it seems this ‘Budapest as Moscow’ thing is a trend. The recently released Red Sparrow, yet another Russian spy-focused movie, was also filmed in Budapest with zero effort to conceal the city’s most iconic attractions.

Danielle Ryan for RT. 

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Plane swept over by raging sandstorm at Saudi Arabian airport (VIDEO)

By ethan / April 25, 2018

Cockpit footage shot at Saudi Arabia’s Jizan Airport showed a pilot struggling to control a commercial plane in almost zero-visibility conditions after landing straight into a sandstorm engulfing the runway.

Rocked by high winds, the jetliner touched down as a sand cloud blanketed the runway, blocking the sun. As the plane slowed to a halt on the asphalt, visibility was reduced to almost zero.

Less than 40 miles from the Yemeni border, Jizan has been the focus of conflict between Saudi military forces and Yemeni Houthi rebels in recent days. Saudi air defenses reportedly intercepted Houthi ballistic missiles in the region this week, and a Saudi military convoy was reportedly attacked nearby the week before.

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We will bring down the government – DUP warns May over Brexit red lines

By ethan / April 25, 2018

DUP leader Nigel Dodds threatened that his party is prepared to vote against Theresa May’s government if their Brexit “red lines” are crossed, he said in an interview with ConservativeHome website.

His comments come as the Evening Standard reports that EU leaders from the 27-member bloc favor Northern Ireland staying within the customs union and single market if the British government cannot come up with a viable alternative option that avoids a hard border between the republic and the North.

Dodds comments will give the prime minister something to consider as reports suggest that her proposal to create a ‘customs partnership’ to avoid a hard border was categorically knocked back by EU negotiators last Wednesday in Brussels.

In the interview, he said: “The government’s well aware that when it comes to Brexit and the United Kingdom, the United Kingdom has to leave the European Union and all its institutions together.”

Dodds underscored his point by stating: “That is an absolute red line for us, and if the government were to suggest that Northern Ireland were to be treated differently, in a way that Northern Ireland didn’t agree to… on the big issue of customs union, single market regulation, border down the Irish Sea, that would cross a very big red line for us.”

The Northern Irish MP then warned that a Corbyn-led Labour government is a real possibility if the UK government does not take heed of his warnings over Brexit red lines.

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Cathal McNaughton

“You might as well have a Corbyn government pursuing openly its anti-Unionist policies as have a Conservative government doing it by a different means,” Dodds told ConservativeHome website.

The DUP became kingmakers in the UK parliament after the 2017 general election resulted in a hung parliament, much to the dismay of Theresa May and her Tory party. The ensuing sweetener to entice the DUP into a ‘confidence and supply’ arrangement to help prop up the Tories came in the form of £1 billion ($ 1.2 billion) of government funding for Northern Ireland. It was an offer the DUP could not refuse, unsurprisingly.

This latest DUP warning comes after the government suffered three recent defeats in the House of Lords on the EU Withdrawal Bill, where peers voted in favor of the UK remaining in a customs union. A symbolic parliamentary vote on the customs union is scheduled for Thursday this week, the result of which is currently uncertain.

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