NATO, Russia to meet amid missile arms race fears, military drills

Military action during the NATO led military exercise in Trondheim, Norway, Tuesday Oct. 30, 2018. (NTB scanpix via AP)
Updated 30 October 2018
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NATO, Russia to meet amid missile arms race fears, military drills

  • This is the first time the NATO-Russia Council meets since May
  • The maneuvers come amid persistent tensions between NATO and Russia

BRUSSELS/COPENHAGEN: NATO and Russia will hold talks this week as fears grow of a new arms race in Europe, with the US vowing to pull out of a Cold War weapons treaty in response to new Russian missiles.
The meeting of the NATO-Russia Council (NRC), the first since May, comes as the transatlantic alliance carries out its biggest military exercise since the end of the Cold War in Norway, a show of strength intended to deter any would-be aggressor — and which the Kremlin has criticized as “anti-Russian.”
NATO’s secretary-general said Tuesday he is confident that both the Western military alliance and Russia “will act in a respectable way” as the two sides hold drills in the same area in waters off Norway’s coast.
Jens Stoltenberg said Tuesday as he attended the Trident Juncture war games in his native Norway that “this is not a Cold War situation,” stressing it is “purely to prevent, not to provoke.”
Russia has been briefed by NATO on the exercises and invited to monitor them, but the move has still angered the Russians.
The Russian missile tests will take place Nov. 1-3 off western Norway. The NATO drill, scheduled to end Nov. 7, takes place in central and eastern Norway, the North Atlantic and the Baltic Sea.
“This is a necessary exercise” to “send a strong signal of unity,” Stoltenberg told reporters as he visited the NATO maneuvers that involve around 50,000 personnel from all 29 NATO allies, plus partners Finland and Sweden.
There also are 65 ships, 250 restoring Norway’s sovereignty after an aircraft and 10,000 vehicles in a hypothetical scenario that involves attack by a “fictitious aggressor.”
Hundreds of Finnish and Swedish air, infantry and naval troops will be involved with Trident Juncture, prompting Russia’s foreign ministry on Thursday to remind the two countries that NATO’s drill “fits within the policy of the United States toward making Europe less secure.”
Events over recent years — from Moscow’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 to the deadly nerve agent attack in Britain in March, blamed on the Kremlin — have seen tensions between NATO and Russia soar.
But the two sides have maintained regular dialogue in Brussels and ambassadors from the 29 NATO countries will meet their Russian counterpart on Wednesday, an alliance official said.
“This is part of NATO’s twin-track approach of strong defense and meaningful dialogue with Russia, and will be the eighth meeting of the NRC in the last two years,” the official said.
No details of the agenda have been published but a European diplomat said Russia had asked for discussion of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), which bans mid-range missiles.
US President Donald Trump sparked concerns earlier this month when he announced he was pulling out of the INF treaty, a pillar of Cold War disarmament, in response to Russia’s deployment of a missile system Washington says breaches the accord.
Russian President Vladimir Putin warned last week that abandoning the INF agreement could lead to a new arms race, and vowed to respond in kind if the US deployed any new missiles on European soil.
Trump’s move is not backed by all NATO members and alliance chief Jens Stoltenberg has insisted there is no desire for reviving the Cold War or starting a new arms race.
Wednesday’s talks are also expected to cover the Ukraine crisis, the war in Afghanistan and military transparency.


UK firms step up preparations for a ‘no-deal’ Brexit as PM Theresa May meets with EU leaders

Updated 19 min 54 sec ago
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UK firms step up preparations for a ‘no-deal’ Brexit as PM Theresa May meets with EU leaders

  • May is meeting EU leaders in Brussels on Thursday in attempt to get support for Brexit delay
  • The Bank of England warned in November that the British economy could shrink by a massive 8 percent

LONDON: UK companies have ratcheted up their preparations for a disorderly “no-deal” Brexit as best they can over the past couple of months, the Bank of England said on Thursday.
With the prospect of a chaotic Brexit potentially eight days away, a survey by the central bank’s agents showed that around 80 percent of companies “judged themselves ready” for such a scenario, in which the country crashes out of the European Union with no deal and no transition to new trading arrangements with the bloc. That’s up from around 50 percent in an equivalent survey in January.
For decades, trading with the rest of the EU has been seamless. A disorderly Brexit could see the return of tariffs and other restrictions on trade with the EU, Britain’s main export destination.
To prepare, some firms have moved jobs and operations to the EU to continue to benefit from its seamless trade. Many have had to learn how to file customs declarations and adjust labels on goods. Exporters of animals are learning about health checks they will need to comply with.
According to the bank’s survey, however, many of those companies preparing for a “no-deal” Brexit said “there were limits to the degree of readiness that was feasible in the face of the range of possible outcomes in that scenario.”
There’s only so much companies can do, for example, to prepare for new tariffs and exchange rate movements.

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Britain appears headed for a “no-deal” Brexit on March 29 if Prime Minister Theresa May fails to win parliamentary support for her withdrawal agreement with the EU.
She is meeting EU leaders in Brussels on Thursday in an attempt to get support for a delay to the country’s departure date to June 30. EU leaders have said a short extension would have to be conditional on her Brexit plan getting parliamentary backing and have indicated they would only be willing to back a delay to May 22, the day before elections to the European Parliament. After two heavy rejections in parliament, there are doubts as to whether she will be able to get parliamentary approval. What would happen next is uncertain.
European leaders, including those from France and Luxembourg, have said any extension will be granted dependent on May's deal passing a third parliamentary vote.
The Bank of England warned in November that the British economy could shrink by a massive 8 percent within months, though Governor Mark Carney has indicated the recession will be less savage, partly because of heightened preparedness.
According to the minutes of the latest meeting of the bank’s nine-member Monetary Policy Committee, at which the main interest rate was kept at 0.75 percent, rate-setters warned “Brexit uncertainties would continue to affect economic activity looking ahead, most notably business investment.”
Brexit uncertainty has dogged the British economy for nearly three years. In 2018, the economy grew by 1.4 percent, its lowest rate since 2012, even during what was then a global upswing. Business investment was down 3.7 percent in the fourth quarter from the year before.
“Business investment had now fallen in each of the past four quarters as uncertainties relating to Brexit had intensified,” the rate-setters said.
The survey showed uncertainty was likely to remain for months, even years, as Britain works out its long-term relationship with the EU. It said around 60 percent of UK firms in February said Brexit was one of their top three uncertainties, compared with 40 percent just after the June 2016 Brexit referendum.
Around 40 percent of firms expect the uncertainty to be resolved only by the end of 2019 and 20 percent anticipate it persisting into 2021 or beyond.