India clears $1.1bn contract for 48 Russian-built Mi-17-V5 helicopters


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NEW DELHI, September 2. /TASS/. India’s Defence Acquisition Council has approved procurement of 48 Mi-17-V5 helicopters worth $1.1 billion from Russia, the Economic Times daily reported on Wednesday.

“The contract for 48 Russian-made Mi-17-V5 helicopters worth 70 billion rupees ($1.1 billion) has topped the package deal on armament and associated materiel acquisition which was considered and approved by a session of the Defence Acquisition Council,” a source in the Indian Ministry of Defence told the publication.

India has already bought and introduced into its inventory 139 Mi-17s worth more than $2 billion.

“The advanced Russian-made helicopters will be used in difficult-terrain areas ranging from deserts to mountains along the Pakistani and Chinese borders,” Indian Air Force headquarters confirmed to TASS. ” make up the backbone of the transport helicopter fleet of the IAF,” it said.

Snowden Asks Ecuador for Asylum – Foreign Minister


RIA NOVOSTI.JUNE 23,2013

Ecuador’s foreign minister said Sunday on Twitter that Edward Snowden, a former US intelligence contractor wanted by the United States for revealing a highly classified surveillance program, had requested asylum in Ecuador.

 

U.S. National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden

U.S. National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden.© REUTERS/  Courtesy of The Guardian/Glenn Greenwald/Laura Poitras

 
 “The government of Ecuador has received an asylum request from Edward J. Snowden,” Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño Aroca wrote on his Twitter page.

Snowden, 30, left Hong Kong on Sunday, a day after the United States  formally requested his extradition. A passenger who was on an Aeroflot  flight that Snowden is believed to have taken to Moscow told RIA Novosti  that Snowden had gotten into a car with diplomatic plates on the tarmac  at Sheremetyevo Airport.

However, media reports cited airport officials as saying that Snowden  would not be allowed to leave the premises because he did not have a  Russian visa and would therefore only be able to fly to a third  destination.

Anti-secrecy organization WikiLeaks, which has released thousands of  classified US government messages, said Sunday in a statement that  Snowden was “bound for the Republic of Ecuador via a safe route for the  purposes of asylum, and is being escorted by diplomats and legal  advisors from WikiLeaks.”

That organization’s founder, Julian Assange, has been staying at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for more than a year.

Snowden, who worked for US defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, hit the media spotlight in early June after he leaked to the press information about a US government surveillance program that allegedly monitored phone and electronic conversations of millions of Americans.

Putin: The richest man on earth?


Maeve McClenaghan |THE BUREAU OF INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM | April 19th, 2012

Back in 2011, surrounded by press, Vladimir Putin emerged from the murky waters of the Black Sea clutching the discovered remnants of ancient buried treasures.

putin flowers shutterstockPutin on a brave face (www.shutterstock.com)

The discovery later turned out to be nothing more than a PR stunt. He hadn’t found the artefacts after all. But the stunt had achieved its purpose. Putin was once again seen as the bare-chested, judo-master, tiger-pacifying, untouchable leader of Russia.

But it was another apparent PR stunt – the spontaneous gifting of a £5,500 watch to a peasant boy – which led some to question whether Putin did not have buried treasure of his own.

How could a politician with a declared annual salary of around $140,000 (£88,000) afford to live a life seemingly full of luxury watches, as well as yachts and palaces?

The Bureau decided to investigate and has produced a documentary for Al Jazeera’s People & Power. We travelled from Moscow to St Petersburg looking into the origins and scale of Putin’s wealth.

Declared earnings On March 6, Putin was once again elected president of Russia. He regained the role he had relinquished in 2008, when he had stepped down because of rules preventing more than two consecutive terms, becoming prime minister instead.

As part of his latest election bid, Putin was required to declare his worth. His declaration seems modest for a world leader.

Stanislav Belkovsky, a political analyst, claims Putin could be worth as much as $70bn, a figure that would make him the richest man in the world.

According to the Russian Central Electoral Commission, Putin has $179,612 in the bank and has earned around half a million dollars in the past four years. His wife Lyudmila has $261,541 in four bank accounts.

Putin’s declared assets are also rather spartan. He has claimed to have a share in a public garage, apartments in Moscow and St Petersburg and a 1,500-square metre plot of land outside Moscow.

But there is increasing concern that Putin has not declared all of his worldly goods.

Watches One of the reasons for such concern is that, despite his modest income, Putin has shown something of a flair for the finer things in life. He is rarely seen without a luxurious watch and has been photographed several times wearing expensive brands, including a £70,000 Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar, and a £15,000 Breguet Marine.

Not that the Russian leader is uncharitable: he has also been spotted giving away £11,000 worth of Blancpain watches. The first was gifted to the shepherd boy and the second, rather more reluctantly, to a metal worker who brazenly asked the Russian leader for a keepsake. Both instances were captured by the media.

In total Putin has been photographed wearing around £160,000 of wrist wear.  A remarkable feat for a man who earns, before tax, £80,000.

It is something that other journalists have been alert to.  Luke Harding has reported for the Guardian newspaper on Putin’s wealth for years, and has been banned from Russia in the process. He said, ‘it is unlikely that [Putin] – or any of the presidential administration – would have items of this value without any kind of supplementary income.’

We asked the Kremlin about the watches. Were they his personal property or owned by the state? They declined to tell us.

But high-end watches are positively discreet compared to luxury yachts and palaces.

Luxury accomodation As president, Putin will have access to the presidential yacht, Chakya. Bought under Medvedev’s rule, the luxury yacht came with a £26m price tag. It has six luxury cabins, wine cellar, jacuzzi, barbecue and other luxuries.

The yacht was bought with presidential funds. However, another extravagant purchase, which some have linked to Putin’s personal wealth, is a mansion overlooking the Black Sea.

The palace, sold recently for £350m, is rumoured to have been built as a holiday home for the Russian president-elect.

Leaked photographs of the Palace show richly decorated interiors, ornate grounds, gates topped by a two-headed eagle and a lift down to the beach.

Security around the palace is high, barbed wire and guard dogs kept our reporters at a distance. Putin denies any connection to the palace and current, official owner Alexander Ponomarenko says the palace is a ‘holiday home.’

However, local resident admit seeing Putin frequenting the area and when environmental activists broke into the compound in 2011 protesting the building’s construction on protected land, they were met by Federal Protection Service guards.

Sergei Kolesnikov, a Russian businessman and former associate of Putin, claims the palace was built for Putin through a web of transactions with its ownership being held in anonymous bearer shares.

The Bureau has also obtained building contract documents for work on the palace which bear the signature of Vladimir Kozhin, the head of the Presidential Administration Property Development.

Hidden wealth? But it is not just watches, yachts and palaces. There are others who believe that Putin’s declaration of modest wealth simply does not add up.

Stanislav Belkovsky, a political analyst and critic of Putin, is one of the most outspoken. He claims Putin could be worth as much as $70bn, a figure that would make him the richest man in the world.

This extraordinary sum is based on claims that Putin owns shares in three major oil and gas companies: 4.5% of national gas giant Gazprom, 37% of oil supplier Surgutneftegas and a major shareholder of a company that cannot be named for legal reasons.  That company strenuously denies any links to Putin.

‘The figure of $40bn emerged in 2007. That figure could now have changed, I believe at the level of $60-70bn,’ Belkovsky says.

His estimate is based on information gained from confidential sources around the corporations, Belkovsky claims. But he is reluctant to reveal more.

All three companies have opaque ownership structures, and it is impossible to identify the shareholdings claimed by Belkovsky.

Gas and oil producer Surgutneftegas is secretive – an attitude that has not always played in its favour. In 2009 the company bought a 21.2% stake in Hungarian company MOL. However, when Surgutneftegas came to register as a voting shareholder, it was refused. MOL said the company’s lack of transparency around its ownership structure did not comply with Hungarian law.

Gazprom is the biggest gas extractor in the world; the Russian government controls it with a 50.002% stake. But while Gazprom is more transparent over share ownership, Belkovsky claims Putin’s share is hidden through ‘a non-transparent scheme of successive ownership of off-shore companies and funds’.

Gazprom and Surgutneftegas did not respond to the Bureau’s questions.

Despite repeating the claims several times and it being reported widely, Belkovsky has never faced legal action disputing them.

Russian gas plant (www.shutterstock.com)

Investigating Putin As Bureau reporters travelled across Russia we came across others that had tried to investigate Putin in the past.

Deep in the countryside, outside St Petersburg, we met with Marina Salyle.

In 1992 Salye investigated a deal made in the St Petersburgh City office deal which involved the export of $100m worth of raw materials in exchange for food. According to Salye Putin oversaw the deal but while the raw materials were shipped from the city, the promised food never arrived. Her accusation, made up until her recent death, was that Putin benefited from this incomplete deal.

The Kremlin argue that Putin never signed the paper authorising it, though Salye has papers that she claims do contain the President-elect’s authorising signature.

Back in St Petersburg, Lt. Col. Andrei Zykov, a former senior investigator at the Russian Interior Ministry, described his own work looking into Putin’s past.

In June 1999, when Putin was serving his first term as president, Zykov was put in charge of criminal case, number 144 128.

The case involved a construction company called Twentieth Trust, which officials suspected had been used to siphon money from St Petersburg’s city budget in the early 1990s. Zykov claims that Putin benefited from a Spanish villa from the deal.

The investigation was shut down on the grounds of ‘insufficient proof’ and according to Zykov he was fired a year and a half later.

We asked the Kremlin to respond to Mr Zykov’s claims. It has declined to do so.

In the early days of his first term as president, Putin had promised to rid Russia of its corrupt oligarchs.

However, as he now prepares to enter a third term as leader of Russia, it is the luxury lifestyle of a tsar that awaits him.

Modernized S-300 Missiles in Air Defense Exercise


RIA Novosti.Feb 18,2013

S-300 surface-to-air missiles

Modernized S-300 surface-to-air missiles will shoot down “enemy” fighters in an exercise in Russia’s Western Military District, the district’s press service said on Monday.

The joint tactical exercise involving aviation, antiaircraft and radiotechnical forces, encompasses an area from Russia’s westernmost exclave of Kaliningrad to central Russia’s Nizhny Novgorod and from Murmansk in the north to Belgorod in the south, the Western Military District said.

The S-300-P surface-to-air missile system

It did not say when the exercise began or will end.

Radar crews will track several targets simultaneously amid heavy jamming and issue target designation data to S-300 missile crews in real time, the Western Military District said.

A group of Su-27 Flanker and MiG-31 Foxhound fighters will pose as “enemy” warplanes.


RIA Novosti.26,Decmber 2012

Russia to Bring Back Railroad-Based ICBM

Russia to Bring Back Railroad-Based ICBM

Russia will restart production of railway-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), with prototypes to be deployed by 2020, a senior Russian defense industry official said on Wednesday.

Work has already begun on the prototypes, which will utilize exclusively domestically-made components, the official told RIA Novosti on condition of anonymity.

The new missiles will be half the weight of their decommissioned Soviet analogues, allowing them to fit into one railcar, the official added.

The Soviet military deployed its first missile train in 1987, and had 12 of them by 1991. But by 2005 they had all been destroyed under the START II arms reduction treaty with the United States.

However, the treaty’s 2010 replacement, New START, does not prohibit the development of railway-based ICBMs.

The original railway-based system involved SS-24 Scalpel missiles that weighed 104 tons, required three locomotives to move, and were so heavy that they damaged railroad tracks. It was thought that missiles launched from the moving trains were harder to track than stationary launches.

However, prominent Russian military expert Alexander Konovalov said that this apparent return to the cumbersome Soviet technology, even in revamped form, was a “bad idea.”

The return to missile trains is an apparent response to US plans to position elements of its missile defense system in Eastern Europe, said Konovalov, the president of the Institute for Strategic Assessment, a Moscow-based private think-tank.

Russia has claimed the US missile shield will affect its launches, but Konovalov said that the threat is exaggerated. He added that the missile trains were outdated technology.

“We’re better off developing telecoms systems, unmanned drones and precision weapons, not these monsters,” Konovalov told RIA Novosti, speaking about the missile trains.


December 29 (RIA Novosti) –

Russia Delivers Four MiG-29K Fighters to India in Dec.

Russia Delivers Four MiG-29K Fighters to India in Dec.

Russian aircraft maker MiG delivered in December a batch of four MiG-29K/KUB shipborne fighters to the Indian Navy under a contract concluded in 2010, the company said.

With the delivery, MiG “has fulfilled all its obligations for 2012 stipulated in the 2010 contract with the Indian Defense Ministry,” the company said in a statement.

In March 2010, Russia and India signed a $1.5-billion contract on the supply of 29 additional MiG-29K Fulcrum-D carrier-based fighter jets to New Delhi.

contract with the Indian Defense Ministry, supplying the country with 12 single-seat MiG-29Ks and four two-seat MiG-29KUBs.

The contracts for the jets also stipulate pilot training and aircraft maintenance, including the delivery of flight simulators and interactive ground and sea-based training systems.

MiG: between Past and Future_big

The Indian Navy will base the MiG-29K squadron, dubbed the “Black Panthers” at an airfield in the state of Goa on India’s west coast until INS Vikramaditya, the Soviet-built carrier originally named the Admiral Gorshkov, joins the Navy in the fall of 2013.

The MiG-29K is a navalized variant of the MiG-29 land-based fighter, and has folding wings, an arrester tail-hook, strengthened airframe and multirole capability. It can be armed with a wide variety of air-to-air and air-to-surface weaponry.

Moscow Reiterates Invitation to Syria Opposition Leader


RIA Novosti.December 29,2012

Syria opposition leader Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib

Syria opposition leader Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib

Russian diplomats are ready to meet with the leader of the Syrian opposition in a neutral country for peace talks, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Saturday.

“We had contacts through our embassy in Egypt with representatives of the National Coalition, including Mr. Khatib [Syrian opposition leader Moaz al-Khatib],” he said.

“We expressed readiness to meet with him in Moscow but at that moment he preferred some neutral capital, some other country. We are also ready for that,” he said during a meeting with UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi.

On Friday, al-Khatib rejected an invitation from Russia for peace talks. In an interview on AlJazeera television he said he wanted an apology from Moscow for its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“We have clearly said we will not go to Moscow. We could meet in an Arab country if there was a clear agenda,” he said. “Now we also want an apology from Lavrov because all this time he said that the people will decide their destiny, without foreign intervention. Russia is intervening and meanwhile all these massacres of the Syrian people have happened, treated as if they were a picnic.”

“If we don’t represent the Syrian people, why do they invite us?” Alkhatib said. “And if we do represent the Syrian people why doesn’t Russia respond and issue a clear condemnation of the barbarity of the regime and make a clear call for Assad to step down?”

Lavrov reiterated Moscow’s position that there is no way to “persuade Assad to leave.”

“He has repeatedly stated, both publicly and non-publicly, that he will not step down and is determined to defend the Syrian people,” Lavrov said.

The National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (SNCROF) was formed on November 11 in Doha, Qatar and proclaimed itself the legitimate representative of the Syrian people. Its legitimacy has since been recognized by Western powers but questioned by Moscow.

The conflict between the Assad regime and opposition forces in Syria has claimed the lives of more than 30,000 people since March 2011, according to UN figures.