Russia not into American regional games

From increasing sanctions pressure to energy leverage, the Kremlin has the impression Washington is up to political games in the region, an aide said.

Speaking at the start of the year, Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Błaszczak said he was expecting more U.S. troops in a country on the edge of the Russian sphere of influence.

"I guarantee that this presence could be a success not only for Poland, but also for Central and Eastern Europe," he said.

U.S. interests in Poland extend beyond defense into the energy sector. Central and Eastern European countries like Poland have few resources of their own, leaving them dependent on Russia for energy supplies.

The U.S. State Department has said it believes U.S. natural resources could contain Russian leverage. U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., meanwhile, is pushing his Small Scale LNG Access Act, which would facilitate the approval process for low-volume liquefied natural gas projects in the United States. That could extend the U.S. energy reach into the region.

In November, Polish Oil and Gas Co., known commonly as PGNiG, signed a five-year contract to secure LNG from the Sabine Pass terminal in Louisiana, the first mid-term contract of its kind.

Yuri Ushakov, an aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin, said Washington was trying to push its agenda on the region.

"I have an impression we are being forced to play American football, but let us be frank that very few know how to play that game and, what is most important, far from everybody wishes to play it," he was quoted by Russian news agency TASS as saying.

Testifying last week, Congressman Ted Poe, R-Texas, the chairman of a terrorism subcommittee in the House, said the United States could use its energy as a "force multiplier" for U.S. leverage.

Ushakov's comments mirror those from Mario Mehran, the CEO of Wintershall, who said U.S. pressure on Russia could be a tacit way to advance U.S. economic interests in the European energy market.

"Europe must not let itself become a geopolitical football," he told UPI last year. "The framework conditions for the energy cooperation between Russia and Europe are determined by the European countries themselves -- and not by third-party countries."

Austrian energy company OMV echoed that sentiment in December when it said it was an energy company interested in "business, not geopolitics."

Both companies have a role in plans by Russian energy company Gazprom to twin the Nord Stream natural gas pipeline through the Baltic Sea to Germany. That project, and the company that leads it, have faced pressure from the U.S. government.

Latvia convicts ex-railway worker of spying for Russia
Riga (AFP) May 29, 2018 - A Latvian court on Tuesday convicted a former railway worker of spying for Russia, sentencing him to 18 months behind bars for sharing classified information on NATO troops and heavy equipment being moved by rail.

Aleksandrs Krasnopjorovs, an ethnic Russian and former Soviet Red Army soldier who served in Afghanistan during the 1980s, worked for Latvian state railways and had access to its network of surveillance cameras.

He was found guilty of recording videos of NATO troops and cargo being moved by rail -- images considered to be classified -- and then sending them to contacts in Russia.

Krasnopjorovs pleaded not guilty and his lawyer vowed to appeal the verdict.

Latvia hosts one of four NATO battle groups deployed to the three Baltic states and Poland to reinforce the alliance's eastern flank, particularly since Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

Krasnopjorovs made the recordings between October 2015 and September 2016 when troops from Canada, Poland, United States and other NATO member countries arrived in Latvia along with heavy equipment that was transported mostly by rail.

Krasnopjorovs, who lost his railway job after being arrested in late 2016, spent more than a year in pre-trial detention and so will now only be required to serve three months of the sentence he was handed on Tuesday.

Along with the jail time, the court also sentenced him to 60 hours of community service and 18 months probation, plus covering the court expenses. He was also found guilty of possessing explosives.

The conviction is the first of its kind after Latvia tightened legislation on what constitutes espionage and treason or terrorist activity in the wake of Crimea's annexation.

A Baltic eurozone and NATO state, Latvia has a large ethnic Russian minority accounting for about a quarter of its 1.9 million people.

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NATO should adopt hybrid warfare trigger: special rapporteur
Warsaw (AFP) May 27, 2018
NATO states should modify the alliance's Article 5 collective defence provision to trigger a response in the event of so-called "hybrid warfare" attacks, a conservative British lawmaker said in a special report Sunday. NATO allies have accused Russia of using "hybrid warfare" techniques, including subversion, propaganda and cyber warfare, to undermine the West without triggering a full NATO military response. In his special report on countering Russia's hybrid threats, Britain's Lord Jopling tol ... read more

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