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South Korea tests solid-fuel space rocket, amid rising tensions | Military News

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Seoul says ‘important milestone’ part of effort to improve reconnaissance and satellite capabilities.

South Korea has said it conducted its first successful launch of a solid-fuel rocket in what it called a major step towards acquiring space surveillance capability amid rising tensions on the divided peninsula.

Wednesday’s launch took place six days after North Korea said it carried out its first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test since 2017, the latest in a flurry of weapons tests since the start of the year.

South Korea’s launch took place from Taean, 150 kilometres (93 miles) southwest of Seoul, in front of Defence Minister Suh Wook and other senior defence officials, with photos showing the rocket soaring into the sky before releasing a dummy satellite in space.

The ministry said the successful test marked an “important milestone” in enhancing South Korea’s independent space-based reconnaissance and surveillance capabilities.

South Korea currently has no military reconnaissance satellites of its own and depends on the United States’ spy satellites to monitor strategic facilities in North Korea.

Pyongyang has carried out a series of weapons tests since the start of the year, and a week ago tested what it said was a new ICBM. The launch ended a self-imposed moratorium on big weapons tests, broke UN Security Council resolutions and has raised concerns the country might next resume nuclear weapons testing.

South Korea's solid-fuel rocket is launched in a cloud of white smoke
The South Korean launch follows a flurry of tests from North Korea and its claimed test of its ‘monster’ Hwasong-17 [South Korea Defence Ministry via AP Photo]

Suspicions have since been raised about the ICBM with the South concluding earlier this week that it was a previously-tested Hwasong-15, rather than the bigger, longer-range Hwasong-17 Pyongyang claimed to have been tested by the North. The missile flew farther and longer than any previous North Korean launch, placing all of the mainland US within potential striking distance.

“Coming at a very grave time following North Korea’s lifting of the weapons tests moratorium, this successful test-launch of the solid-fuel space launch vehicle is a key milestone in our military’s efforts to (build) a unilateral space-based surveillance system and bolster defence capability,” the South Korean statement said.

Seoul secured US permission to use solid fuel for space launch vehicles in 2020, removing a 20-year mutually-agreed restriction over concerns that the use of the technology could lead to bigger missiles and trigger a regional arms race.

Last year, the United States lifted other remaining restrictions to allow South Korea to develop missiles with unlimited ranges.

Lee Choon Geun, an honorary research fellow at South Korea’s Science and Technology Policy Institute, said the development of the solid-fuel rocket would also contribute to improving South Korea’s missile technology, as ballistic missiles and rockets used in satellite launches share similar bodies, engines, and other technology.

Lee said solid-fuel rockets are typically used to launch small satellites because they have weaker thrust force than similar-sized liquid-fuel rockets. He said bigger satellites can carry larger cameras that produce higher-resolution imagery.

South Korea launched its first domestically-produced liquid-fuel space rocket, the NURI, last October. The three-stage rocket, emblazoned with South Korea’s flag and carrying a dummy satellite, blasted off successfully and reached its desired altitude but failed to deliver the satellite into orbit.

There was no immediate response from North Korea on Seoul’s latest rocket launch.

It previously called the US’s decision to lift the missile restrictions on South Korea an example of Washington’s hostile policy towards North Korea.

The 1950-1953 Korean War ended with an armistice rather than a peace treaty, and North and South Korea have built up troops and armaments along the demilitarized zone (DMZ), which separates the two countries.



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Is a new strategy needed to fight armed groups in the Sahel? | Conflict

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Video Duration 24 minutes 45 seconds

From: Inside Story

Mali pulls out of the regional G5 Sahel force, blaming a lack of progress and disagreements.

A founding member of a multinational West African security alliance is pulling out.

Mali is withdrawing from the G5 Sahel joint force fighting armed groups linked to ISIL (ISIS) and al-Qaeda.

The military government blamed a lack of progress and internal divisions.

It also accused a country outside of the region of trying to isolate Mali, without providing details.

With France, Germany and the European Union reducing their involvement in Mali, who’ll be left to look after security in West Africa?

Presenter: Mohammed Jamjoom

Guests:

Niankoro Yeah Samake – Malian politician and president of the Party for Civic and Patriotic Action

Emmanuel Kwesi Aning – Director of research at the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre

Jacques Reland – Senior research fellow at the Global Policy Institute



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European energy giants set to keep buying Russian gas | Oil and Gas News

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The European Union’s guidelines appear to allow the continent’s energy giants to keep buying Russian gas without breaching sanctions.

By Bloomberg

European energy giants are pressing ahead with plans to keep buying Russian gas as the European Union’s guidelines appeared to allow them to do so without breaching sanctions.

Even as conflicting messages continued to emerge from Brussels over the legality of complying with Moscow’s demands to pay for gas in rubles, Italy’s Eni SpA said it was opening a ruble account to keep the gas flowing.

It’s the clearest sign yet that the biggest European importers of Russian gas are counting on business as usual. Germany’s Uniper SE and Austria’s OMV AG also expect to find a way to keep buying.

Moscow’s demand on March 31 that gas payments should now be made in rubles threw markets and policy makers into disarray and companies have been scrabbling ever since for a way to keep the crucial energy flowing without breaching sanctions aimed at weakening Russia in its war in Ukraine. The move has divided the bloc, with Poland and Bulgaria quick to reject Moscow’s demands — and have their gas cut off as punishment.

Share of natural gas imports coming from Russia, 2020 |

The bloc has issued two sets of guidance on the matter so far, both of which allow room for interpretation. There’s still nothing in writing from the Commission that explicitly stops companies from paying Gazprom PJSC in a way that the Russian company has indicated would be satisfactory.

Gas prices fell on Monday as the latest Brussels missive to member states stopped short of banning companies from opening bank accounts in rubles. Then on Tuesday, European Commission spokesman Eric Mamer said that opening an account in rubles would go beyond the recommendations and constitute a breach of sanctions. Gas prices rose, before easing back again after Eni said it was pressing ahead.

“Anything that goes beyond opening an account in the currency of the contract with Gazprombank and making a payment to that account and then issuing a statement saying that with that you consider you have finalized the payment contravenes the sanctions,” Mamer said.

The issue has divided the bloc, with Poland outraged at the EU’s reluctance to set out clear red lines. In the opposite camp, Prime Minister Mario Draghi went as far as to say that it was a gray area when it came to sanctions. And enforcing sanctions is a matter for member states, rather than the bloc.

“There is no official pronouncement of what it means to breach sanctions,” he said. “Nobody has ever said anything about whether ruble payment breach sanctions.”

(releads)

–With assistance from Vanessa Dezem, Jonathan Tirone, Alberto Nardelli and Jerrold Colten.



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EU set to approve new military aid for Ukraine | Russia-Ukraine war News

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Top EU diplomat Josep Borrell says bloc set to approve another 500 million euros ($527m) in military aid for Ukraine.

European Union defence ministers are set to approve another 500 million euros ($527m) in military aid for Ukraine, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has said.

“We have to continue to support the Ukrainians with arms, that’s why we will pull 500 million euros more” from the European Peace Facility, Borrell told reporters on Tuesday on the way to the meeting of EU defence ministers.

The new tranche of military support would bring the bloc’s military aid to 2 billion euros ($2.1bn).

Borrell also expressed support for Finland and Sweden’s requests to join NATO and hoped the alliance would be able to overcome Turkey’s objection to the bids.

According to Borrell, the two countries will “receive strong support from all member states because it increases our unity and makes us stronger”.

German Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht and her Luxembourg counterpart Francois Bausch argued both countries belonged in NATO “because of the values that they are defending”.

Sweden has signed a formal request to join NATO, a day after the country announced it would seek membership in the 30-member military alliance.

Legislators in Finland have formally approved Finnish leaders’ decision to join as well.

The moves by the two Nordic countries, ending Sweden’s more than 200 years of military non-alignment and Finland’s non-alignment after World War II, have provoked the ire of the Kremlin.

While most NATO members are keen to welcome the two countries as quickly as possible, Turkey has potentially complicated their accession by saying it cannot allow them to become members because of their perceived inaction against exiled Kurdish fighters.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday doubled down on comments last week indicating that the two Nordic countries’ path to NATO would be anything but smooth.

He accused the two Nordic countries of refusing to extradite “terrorists” wanted by his country.

“Turkey has opposition to this. Turkey says that the two harbour terrorism, that they have supporters of the PKK and the Kurdish nationalists living in their countries. This is something that throughout the week is going to be a big issue,” Al Jazeera’s diplomatic editor James Bays reported from Brussels.

“We understand that the Turkish foreign minister and the US secretary of state are going to meet in New York in the coming days but how can this issue be overcome?”

Turkey is a NATO member. All 30 NATO countries must agree to open the door to new members.

Sanctions against Russia stalled

The EU has been unable to agree on its sixth package of sanctions against Russia – which includes asset freezes and travel bans on prominent supporters of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The plan outlined earlier this month by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen included an embargo on Russian oil imports to come into effect at the end of 2022.

The sanctions against Russia target individuals including Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, as well as banning the export of luxury goods, and coal imports, and excluding Russian and Belarusian banks from using the SWIFT international payment system.

However, Hungary, which is nearly completely dependent on Russian oil, is holding up an EU-wide embargo that requires unanimity from the 27 member states.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has likened the oil embargo to an atomic bomb hitting his country’s economy.



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