US concerns over Nord Stream 2 are about fear of losing leverage, not welfare of Europe

As the Nord Stream 2 pipeline looms closer to completion, its panicked critics claim it will harm Ukraine and increase the EU’s energy dependence on Russia – which are, in fact, mutually exclusive arguments.

After years of delays, on Wednesday Denmark finally gave the approval for building a section of the pipeline inside its exclusive economic zone off the shore of Bornholm.  With the receiving terminal in Germany well underway, this paves the way for the pipeline’s completion by next year, only slightly behind schedule.

“This is a geopolitical issue, this strengthens Russia and weakens Europe,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a press conference with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in Kiev on Thursday.

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Nord Stream 2
Full stream ahead! Denmark removes final hurdle for Russian gas pipeline to Europe

Not quite. The pipeline strengthens Russia’s economic position – while it’s Ukraine, not the EU, that ends up weakened politically.

Kiev, Washington, Warsaw and the Baltic States have tried just about everything to halt Nord Stream 2’s construction, citing a variety of arguments. A perennial favorite is that the pipeline would increase Europe’s dependency on Russian gas, while also depriving Ukraine of something like $3 billion in transit fees.

The trouble with these two arguments is that they are mutually contradictory. If the EU were to forswear Russian gas entirely – and replace it, say, with US liquefied natural gas (LNG), aka “molecules of freedom” – Ukraine would lose the transit fees anyway. Not that this is even remotely possible, because the US does not have the capacity to make up for 200 billion cubic meters a year coming in from Russia. Even if it could, it would be at the price point the Europeans could not afford.

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US arm-twisting & pipe dreams aside, Europe just won’t quit Russian gas imports

Secondly, Russia currently pumps about 87 billion cubic meters of gas through Ukraine every year. Nord Stream 2 will be able to carry only 55 billion, meaning that shutting off the valve to Kiev entirely would actually reduce Moscow’s gas exports. The only way Europe’s “dependency” would increase is if the pipelines through Ukraine continue to run at full capacity – which would mean Kiev would collect transit fees anyway.

Secondly, although Russia gradually reduces the amount of gas it pumps through Ukraine, it still accounted for about 87 billion cubic meters in 2018. That’s in addition to about 55 billion cubic meters that are pumped on average through Nord Stream pipeline. While Nord Stream 2 will be able to add another 55 billion, shutting off the valve to Kiev entirely would still reduce Moscow’s gas exports. The only way Europe’s “dependency” would increase is if the pipelines through Ukraine continue to run at full capacity – which would mean Kiev would collect transit fees anyway.

Admittedly, those fees might have to be reduced somewhat, as Ukraine would lose its stranglehold on Russian gas exports – which is the actual complaint of Kiev and Washington.

Simply put, Russia’s ability to bypass Ukraine if needed greatly diminishes its geopolitical use to Washington – and after the US spent billions on installing and supporting client regimes in Kiev not once, but twice in ten years.

Back in 2009, the “Orange Revolution” government in Kiev diverted EU-bound Russian gas to its own use, after Gazprom slashed deliveries due to delinquency. This resulted in a total shut-down of gas deliveries in the middle of January, during a cold snap no less. Western media uniformly blamed Russia for the situation. This standoff was the impetus for the construction of both Nord Streams and what would become the ‘Turkish Stream.’

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© Reuters / Issei Kato
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The January 2009 gas crisis was only resolved when Kiev accepted a 10-year compromise deal. That contract is set to expire at the end of 2019, and negotiations to extend it have not made much progress – creating the prospect of a freezing Christmas in much of Europe, and making Nord Stream 2 look that much more attractive.

The US Congress has been threatening sanctions against anyone involved in the construction of both Nord Stream 2 and Turkish Stream, but has not followed through on the threats yet. At this point, it is too late to stop the pipelines’ completion – and the resulting loss of strategic leverage – but that does not mean Washington is above doing something, out of sheer spite and frustration.

One thing should be clear, though: it will have nothing to do with the feigned concerns for the welfare and comfort of Europeans.

Nebojsa Malic, senior writer at RT

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‘Americans will RESPAWN al-Baghdadi’: Assad casts doubt on ISIS leader’s death, draws parallels with Bin Laden’s killing

Take any words from US politicians with a grain of salt, Syria’s Bashar Assad has urged, as he cast doubt on the story of the Islamic State leader being killed in US a raid, and compared it to the shady killing of Osama Bin Laden.

The widely publicized US special forces raid that allegedly killed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) terrorist group, left more questions than answers and it should not be taken at the face value, the Syrian President cautioned, during a lengthy interview with state media on Thursday.

READ MORE: ‘He died like a dog, like a coward!’ Trump describes GRAPHIC death of ISIS leader al-Baghdadi

Damascus did not participate in the raid by any means, Assad stated, adding that he’d learned about the claim only through media reports. Adding imaginary participants into the operation is likely supposed to give it credibility, he added, while countries on such a list would likely be flattered to be a “part of a ‘great’ operation.”

We do not need such credit. We are the ones fighting terrorism.  We have no relations and have had no contact with any American institutions.

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© Twitter / News_Executive
Russian MoD doubts Trump’s announcement of killing ISIS chief al-Baghdadi, rejects claims it assisted US forces in op

Washington’s loud praise of its own actions, a picture of the ‘hero dog’ that took part in the raid and footage purportedly of the aerial strikes have not convinced Assad if it “actually took place or not.” Moreover, he thought the whole affair suspiciously resembled the 2011 killing of another notorious terrorist – Al Qaeda’s head Osama Bin Laden.

“Why were the remains of Baghdadi not shown? This is the same scenario that was followed with Bin Laden. If they are going to use different pretexts in order not to show the remains, let us recall how [former Iraqi] President Saddam Hussein was captured and how the whole operation was shown from A to Z; they showed pictures and video clips after they captured him.”

The killing of Saddam’s sons was also well-documented and widely publicized, Assad went on to add, suggesting that the Americans “hide everything” about both the killing of bin Laden and that of al-Baghdadi for a reason.

This is part of the tricks played by the Americans. That is why we should not believe everything they say unless they come up with evidence. American politicians are actually guilty until proven innocent, not the other way around.

All in all, it’s unlikely that death of the IS leader – if he really was killed – and even the ultimate destruction of the terrorist group would change anything, Assad said. The root of the problem – the Wahhabi ideology that is “more than two centuries old” would not disappear at once. The radical Islamist thought and al-Baghdadi were merely US tools all along, Assad claimed, adding that those tools could easily be re-purposed elsewhere.

“I believe the whole thing regarding this operation is a trick. Baghdadi will be recreated under a different name, a different individual, or ISIS in its entirety might be reproduced as needed under a different name but with the same thought and the same purpose. The director of the whole scenario is the same, the Americans.”

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‘Brought to justice’: Pentagon declassifies al-Baghdadi raid VIDEO & DETAILS, confirms ISIS leader’s mutilated body buried at sea

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Starbucks fired manager ‘because she was white,’ lawsuit claims in wake of infamous Philadelphia store arrest of 2 black men

A former regional manager has sued Starbucks for racial discrimination, claiming she was fired because she was white after two black men were arrested for “trespassing” at a Philadelphia location she oversaw.

Shannon Phillips, a 13-year Starbucks employee, has sued the chain, alleging she was fired for being white after video of a seemingly racially-biased arrest at one of the stores she managed went viral and triggered mass outrage against the coffee behemoth. If she was not white, Phillips charged in the suit filed in the US District Court of New Jersey earlier this week, she would still have her job, having received positive performance evaluations and merit-based bonuses up until the month of the arrest.

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FILE PHOTO: A police car pulls up outside a Starbucks in Philadelphia © Reuters / Jessica Kourkounis
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Phillips was not present at the Rittenhouse Square Starbucks on April 12, 2018, when one of the employees called the police to report “trespassing” by two black men who had entered the store without buying anything. Nor was she there when the men were marched out of the store in handcuffs. Video of the men’s arrest went viral and triggered a profuse apology from the coffee behemoth, which not only didn’t press charges but shuttered some 8,000 stores to put employees through a crash course in racial sensitivity. But she was punished for it regardless, she claimed.

After the fateful incident inflamed racial tensions across the country, Phillips said she “immediately took steps to learn additional information about the events” and “ensure that the retail locations within her area were a safe and welcoming environment for all customers, regardless of race.” She even arranged replacement staff for some Philadelphia locations when the regular hourly employees were afraid to come to work. But a month later, Starbucks was still struggling “to convince the community that it had properly responded to the incident.” Heads had to roll if community relations were to be repaired.

The chain didn’t fire the (black) manager overseeing the employee who had called the cops, but it did request Phillips suspend the white district manager after non-white managers at his stores complained they were being paid less than their white counterparts, she said. She refused, insisting the manager was “not racist” and reminding her supervisors that it wasn’t his job to set salaries anyway. She was subsequently fired and told “the situation is not recoverable.”

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Phillips is seeking unspecified compensation for her “emotional upset, mental anguish, humiliation, and loss of life’s pleasures” as well as punitive damages. A Starbucks spokesperson dismissed her claims, denying there was any merit to the suit. 

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Trump says Melania ‘wouldn’t cry her eyes out’ if he were shot – joke explodes on Twitter

US President Donald Trump has, apparently, confirmed that his wife Melania would not be moved to tears if he happened to get shot – and Twitter has quickly taken it as a window into the first couple’s much-discussed marriage.

Speaking to a Republican audience at a private fundraiser at the Trump Hotel in Washington on Tuesday, Trump brought up the 2017 shooting of House minority whip Steve Scalise.

Trump recalled that, when he visited Scalise in hospital, the politician’s wife had “cried her eyes out” – a reaction he would not, apparently, expect from Melania – or most wives, for that matter.

I mean, not many wives would react that way to tragedy, I know mine wouldn’t

Maybe Trump has just been unlucky in love?

The president also joked that he would not recommend being shot as a good way to lose weight – a reference to his comments at the time that Scalise being critically wounded was a “hell of a way to lose weight.”

Needless to say, Trump’s comments about Melania’s alleged indifference sparked instant reaction on Twitter.

“Finally Trump says something that everyone finds credible,” one person wrote. “Disturbingly insightful,” wrote another.

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US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump in Alabama, March 8, 2019. © Reuters / Mike Theiler
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There was also plenty of dark humor to go around.

“Tears of relief, maybe,” one tweet suggested.

Other’s just steered clear of the whole thing, hoping to avoid any kind of visit from the Secret Service.

Yet, one person took what was perhaps the lowest blow of all, writing: “Melania would cry if Justin Trudeau was shot…just sayin.”

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© Pool via Reuters / Andrew Parsons
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No bull: WATCH Indians engage in massive COW DUNG fight for Gore Habba festival

Getting smeared in moist bovine discharge is hardly a pleasant experience for most, but revelers at the Gore Habba festival are happy to hold massive cow dung fights, believing it has a healing effect.

The fecal festival is a customary annual event that takes place at the village of Gumatapura, located in southern India. Each year after the Deepavali holiday, the villagers – and anyone willing to join them – partake in a massive excrement-throwing ordeal.

The cow dung – used in rural India for various purposes, ranging from insulating houses to serving as stove fuel – is stockpiled well before the event to ensure that the revelers do not run out of ‘ammo.’ While it might look quite unsanitary to smear your whole body in feces, the devotees believe it is not only harmless, but actually cures diseases.

READ MORE: Cow dung hurled by rival Indian villages to mark ‘war of married gods’ (VIDEO)

“Cow dung is very natural and has a lot of medicinal benefits. Others might say if we throw cow dung at each other we will get some infections or even some disease. But with the trust of our god Beereshwara, we are playing in the cow dung, so nothing happens to us,” one of the villagers, going only by his first name Prabhu, explained.

He added that the festival was all about equality and anyone regardless of their caste or religion can participate. Still, women are barred from the excrement-throwing part, yet they are free to watch the show.

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The tradition comes from the belief that remains of a saint were placed in a pit in the village, and took the shape of a Linga (an abstract phallic representation of Shiva), which became covered by cow excrements over time. The deity of the village is believed to value cow excrements too, thus the villagers dump the substance in abundance behind the local temple.

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Trump invades Brexit: ‘We can’t make’ US-UK trade pact with current EU deal & Corbyn’s ‘so bad’ for Britain

US President Donald Trump has waded into the protracted Brexit process, claiming that with the withdrawal agreement at hand Washington “can’t make a trade deal” with Britain. He also picked a side in the upcoming general election.

Speaking to Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage on LBC radio, Trump said that certain elements of the Brexit accord as it stands are problematic for a trade deal between the two countries. 

“To be honest with you, this deal, under certain aspects of the deal, you can’t do it. You can’t trade. We can’t make a trade deal with the UK,” he said. He added that EU officials were “very tough people to deal with.”

Trump called the situation “completely ridiculous” and insisted that the US wants to “do trade” with the UK and that trade between the two “could be four-to-five times higher.” 

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UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks in the House of Commons © Reuters / UK Parliament / Handout / Jessica Taylor
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The US president also took time to criticize Jeremy Corbyn, saying that he was sure the Labour leader was a “lovely man” but he is “of a different persuasion, to put it mildly.” Trump said Corbyn would be “so bad” for Britain and take the country “into such bad places.”

Corbyn had previously claimed that UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s planned trade deal with Trump could give American companies access to Britain’s National Health Service (NHS), allowing them to drive up drug prices. Trump assured Farage that the US “wouldn’t even be involved” in that and that the America was trying to sort out its own health service problems.

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‘Boris knows how to win’: Trump sure of his ‘friend’ Johnson, despite ongoing Brexit beatdown

Johnson, on the other hand, is “fantastic” and “the exact right guy for the times,” Trump said.

Corbyn hit back at Trump on Twitter, saying that the US leader was “trying to interfere in Britain’s election to get his friend Boris Johnson elected.” Yet, Trump’s comment, that a trade deal with the UK may not be possible under the current Brexit arrangement, is unlikely to be helpful to Johnson during the election campaign.

As for Brexit itself, Trump said even people in the US were sick of hearing about it: “People are tired of hearing about it, we’re even tired of hearing about it over here.”

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Screenshot of a tweet © Twiter / @Melfyboom
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‘Time to go streaking!’ Washington Nationals’ ‘biggest’ fan celebrates World Series win with topless stage dive (VIDEO)

Baseball fans of all shapes and sizes were sent into a frenzy late on Wednesday when the Washington Nationals clinched their first MLB World Series against the Houston Astros, with one fan in particular getting quite carried away.

The Nationals won the crucial seventh game of their series in Texas by a score of 6-2 to take custody of the World Series for the very first time since their formation in 1969 – and as you might expect of sports fans witnessing their team make history, some rather exuberant celebrations followed.

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© AFP / Patrick Smith
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Despite the the crucial game in the series taking place nearly 1,500 miles away in Texas, thousands of Washington fans braved poor weather and packed into Nationals Park to watch the game on the big screen and after victory was secured the fans in attendance erupted in celebration.

It was all too much for one supporter who immediately ripped his t-shirt from his body and performed a ‘stage dive’ across the slippery surface above the dugout, before briefly considering (and ultimately aborting) an attempt at performing ‘The Worm’.

This comes just days after a woman was issued with an indefinite ban from attending any Major League Baseball stadium after she was found to have ‘flashed’ Astros player Gerrit Cole.

One person who presumably didn’t enjoy the Nationals’ victory was a man who lives just two miles from the baseball club’s stadium, Donald Trump. The deeply divisive US president was booed by fans, who also chanted ‘Lock Him Up!’, when he attended the fifth game in the series earlier this week.

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US President Donald Trump waves to the crowd during game five of the 2019 World Series between the Houston Astros and the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park.  © Reuters / USA TODAY / Geoff Burke
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UFC 244: Jorge Masvidal plans on putting Nate Diaz ‘in outer orbit’ during Madison Square Garden clash (VIDEO)

UFC 244 main event star Jorge Masvidal has exploded into the consciousness of MMA fans around the world over the last 18 months, and says he’s ready to put on a show and wow the fans once again at Madison Square Garden.

Masvidal may only be getting full recognition for his talents now, but that doesn’t mean he plans on changing his approach. Ahead of his main event “BMF” title bout with Nate Diaz at UFC 244 on Saturday night, “Gamebred” says he’s planning on sticking to the approach that got him to the top of the game.

“I’m here to do the same thing, that’s damage. That’s turn the off button on him, make him short-circuit, put him in outer orbit,” he told the media at the UFC 244 open workouts this week.

“It’s really for me, my family and my legacy. The only way for me to separate myself from the pack is to send these people to another dimension, and there’s only one way to do that.”

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Masvidal is coming into the fight having just registered the fastest knockout in UFC history, a five-second starching of the formerly-undefeated Ben Askren at UFC 239 in Las Vegas, and says he isn’t concerned whether it’s another quick night or a five-round war. He plans on getting his hand raised either day.

“I’ve got a lot of tools in the toolshed. So I wouldn’t mind displaying all of them (but) I wouldn’t mind ending the fight quick. My mind’s not set on any particular technique,” he said.

“If it happens in the first or the fifth, it’s just to finish him – that’s the only thing on my mind.”

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© AFP / Steve Marcus
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