Archive for March, 2014

Ukraine crisis: EU set to extend Russia and Crimea blacklist

Ukrainian military base

An EU summit in Brussels on Thursday is likely to extend a blacklist of Russian and Crimean figures subject to travel bans and asset freezes, senior officials and diplomats say, but is unlikely to embark on moves which could spiral into a full-blown trade war between Europe and Russia.

Divided over how to react to the Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, European leaders are poised to deliver a minimal response to the crisis.

Moscow has already reacted with derision to the EU decision on Monday to blacklist 21 Russian and Crimean officials and has upped the ante in the confrontation by declaring Crimea Russian territory and making concrete moves on the ground to entrench the seizure. There is little to suggest that Vladimir Putin’s policy will be affected by extending the number of officials or businessmen punished for the Kremlin’s actions.

Senior EU officials met late into the night in Brussels on Wednesday trying to hammer out a compromise between 28 countries. With hours to go before the summit opened in Brussels, they had not yet agreed on common action. Twelve pages of a draft summit statement, obtained by the Guardian, had nothing yet to say about Ukraine or Russia.

A senior German government official made plain that there was little stomach in Berlin to move to the kind of trade or economic sanctions that could hurt Russia but also damage Germany and much of the EU in what could becomean escalating sanctions war.

The senior official said the EU reserved the option to move to trade sanctions, but that the trigger for this would be Russian “escalation and destabilisation” in Ukraine. Putin’s action on Crimea did not pass the escalation test, the source signalled. Russian action in eastern or southern Ukraine, excepting Crimea, would be a form of red line, triggering the more forceful sanctions, he added.

The summit is also likely to cancel a meeting of Russian and EU leaders scheduled for Sochi in June and to consider other measures aimed at isolating Russia politically and internationally.

The Germans trumpeted the notion that Brussels and Kiev would sign part of an association agreement between Ukraine and the EU on Friday. The abrupt refusal of Ukraine’s deposed president, Viktor Yanukovych, to sign the same agreement last November triggered the street rebellion that culminated in his overthrow three weeks ago and sparked Russia’s intervention.

The signs are that the west is settling in for a long game with uncertain outcomes. Barack Obama is due in the Netherlands and Brussels next week for a series of summits expected to be dominated by Putin and Ukraine.

The White House on Wednesday called on Russia to open dialogue with Ukraine on the military base standoff in Crimea and said Moscow was responsible for any casualties inflicted by its own or allied forces after a Ukrainian soldier was shot dead on Tuesday. “The continuing efforts by Russian forces to seize Ukrainian military installations are creating a dangerous situation,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney. “We condemn these actions. Russia should immediately begin discussions with the Ukrainian government to ensure the safety of Ukrainian forces in the Crimean region of Ukraine.”

The Nato secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, told a forum at Georgetown University in Washington: “We have seen Russia rip up the international rule book, trying to redraw the map of Europe and creating, in just a few weeks, the most serious security crisis since the end of the cold war.”

The US stepped up its rhetoric on the economic costs of the crisis to Russia, insisting the limited sanctions were already having an effect on broader market confidence, despite the ridicule from Moscow.

Jen Psaki, the US state department spokeswoman, said: “There is a huge economic impact that we are seeing on the ground in Russia and that is partly in response to the political steps we have taken but also in anticipation of the some of the economic steps. Despite the intervention of the Russian central bank, the rouble is at a five-year low against the dollar. More capital has already fled Russia this year than in all of 2013. There are impacts.”

The UN secretary-general, Ban-Ki-Moon, is to go to Moscow and Kiev on Thursday/today and Friday/tomorrow to try to get negotiations going between Russia and Ukraine.

The Kremlin maintained its argument that the US and the EU had fomented an anti-Yanukovych coup on Kiev, abrogating the 1994 Budapest memorandum in which Russia, the US, Britain and France guaranteed Ukraine’s border and territorial integrity in return for Kiev’s surrender of its Soviet-era nuclear arsenal.

The US and the EU argue that Putin has shredded that 1994 pact by seizing part of Ukraine and redrawing the country’s borders.

Psaki said the Kremlin was guilty of aggression in Crimea.

“The Russian military is directly responsible for any casualties that its forces inflict, whether they be regular uniformed troops or irregulars without insignia.

“Reports that a Ukrainian military officer was killed yesterday are particularly concerning and fly in the face of President Putin’s claim that Russia’s military intervention in Crimea has brought stability.”

March 20, 2014 Posted Under: News update   Read More

Why were there no phone calls from MH370?

Experts say plane may have been flying too high or too fast to register with cell towers

Author: By Frances Cha CNN

Malaysia-Airlines-Flight-370-

Many recall that when United Flight 93 was hijacked on Sept. 11, 2001, passengers were able to make two cellphone calls during the flight’s final moments. Several other calls were made using airphones.

If metadata was detected from cellphones on Flight 370, surely it would shed more light on the missing plane’s flight path?

The plane may have been flying too high or too fast to register with cell towers, according to telecoms experts, but careful analysis of the passengers’ cellphone records will need to be completed to be certain.

“So far, we have not had any evidence of any telephone company of any member trying to contact,” said Malaysia Airlines CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya at a news conference on Monday.

“But anyway, we are still checking. There are millions of records to process. It is being done as part of the investigation.”

Was the plane too high?

According to radar analysis, the plane is believed to have been flying as high as 45,000 feet and as low as 23,000 feet.

But even this lower altitude is too high to register with mobile towers, experts say.

which the planes were traveling is too high,” Vincent Lau, wireless communications specialist and professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology’s Department of Electronic and Computer Engineering, told CNN.

“Even on the ground it wouldn’t be easy to pick up from that distance, and if you are flying it’s even more difficult because at those angles you are only picking up what we call leakage from the side loops of the antennas, which are substantially weaker than the signals from the main loops of the base stations.”

While business class seats on the aircraft are known to have been equipped with phones that worked via satellite, it would be easy to strike down that system from inside the plane, said Lau.

Reports on Monday that the plane flew as low as 5,000 feet or less over mountainous terrain — possibly in order to evade radar detection — haven’t been confirmed.

“In terms of the altitude it would have to be no higher than around 10,000 feet. Anything higher … would be problematic,” according to Bill Rojas, director of telecom research at IDC Asia Pacific.

Unlike in urban areas, where cellphone antennae are typically pointed down toward the ground, cell towers in rural areas are up to 30-45 meters high and are often pointed at an angle meant to cover wider distances.

So if you’re up in the sky, you can receive the signal as well, Rojas said.

“If the airplane were flying over northern Malaysia or southern Thailand — basically the rural area — then it’s very possible that a cell tower could register the signal from the phones, assuming they were on,” said Rojas.

“Technically it is possible.”

Retrieving the data

If smartphones had been on and registered with a cell tower, the records would be relatively easy to retrieve.

“The registrations would typically be logged and depending on the operator they will be kept for hours, days or months,” said Rojas.

The telecom expert said that he’d place particular focus on the phone numbers of passengers from Thailand or Malaysia.

“I would assume that the authorities are checking with the mobile operators by comparing known passenger cell numbers to see if there were any pings or attempted or successful network registrations in northern Malaysia or southern Thailand or possibly even Indonesia,” said Rojas. “Any passenger who had roaming capabilities or a local Malaysian number — if the plane were over Malaysia — could in theory have been registered on the network if their phone was on.

“If a passenger does not have international roaming then their access would be rejected by the network and for a period of time that metadata might be stored by the network.”

If the metadata records were erased automatically after a few days or a few hours, could they be retrieved?

March 20, 2014 Posted Under: News update   Read More