Saturday, February 4, 2023

Chinese Spy Balloon Shot Down, Falling Toward Atlantic

A high altitude balloon floats over Billings, Mont., on Feb. 1, 2023. (The Canadian Press/The Billings Gazette via AP-Larry Mayer)

A high altitude balloon floats over Billings, Mont., on Feb. 1, 2023. (The Canadian Press/The Billings Gazette via AP-Larry Mayer) 

The Chinese surveillance balloon drifting east toward the Atlantic Ocean has been shot down by the U.S. military and is now falling into the sea, video shows.

The news came shortly after the Federal Aviation Administration grounded flights in three airports in the Carolinas as the Chinese surveillance balloon makes its way eastward past these states, citing “national security” needs.

“The FAA has paused departures from and arrivals to Wilmington (ILM), Myrtle Beach International (MYR) and Charleston International (CHS) airports to support the Department of Defense in a national security effort,” the agency said in a statement on Feb. 4. The pause was to stay in effect until at least 2:45 p.m.

Television footage showed the balloon exploding before dropping toward the water around 2:40 p.m. U.S. military jets were visible flying in the vicinity, and ships were deployed in the water preparing for the recovery operation.

President Joe Biden earlier on Saturday broke the silence on the balloon, telling reporters that “we’re gonna take care of it.”

Several news outlets have also cited anonymous officials saying that Biden has greenlighted a plan to shoot down the balloon once it’s above the Atlantic Ocean. Biden had mulled over taking the step on Tuesday when officials first briefed him on it, but decided against it after Pentagon officials, including Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Army General Mark Milley, and commander of United States Northern Command Gen. Glen Vanherck all voiced strong objections by pointing to the potential harms to civilians on the ground, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Friday.

“We are tracking closely and keeping all options on the table,” she said.

In this photo provided by Brian Branch, a large balloon drifts above the Kingstown, N.C. area, with an airplane and its contrail seen below it. (Brian Branch via AP)

The balloon, described by U.S. officials as a “high altitude surveillance balloon,” has attracted rising attention since it was spotted above an airfield in Montana, one of three U.S. states where the nuclear missile fields are based. Pentagon spokesperson Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder late on Friday confirmed the presence of a second Chinese balloon flying over Latin America.

It drifted over Asheville, North Carolina, and then near Charlotte on Saturday morning.

U.S. officials previously estimated its size at about three school buses, flying at about 60,000 feet.

The balloon’s incursion has ignited alarm in Washington, with members of Congress questioning why the balloon has been allowed to stay in the air.

The ill-timed balloon incident also forced Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday to postpone a scheduled trip to Beijing.

On late Friday, a spokesperson for Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the Biden administration will hold a classified briefing with the four congressional leaders from the House and Senate and the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate Select Committees on Intelligence over the balloon incident following the request of House Speaker Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

JUST IN: Trump Responds To Suspected Chinese Spying Balloon

Another Chinese Spy Balloon Traveling Over Latin America, Pentagon Says

 Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder speaks during a news briefing at the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., on Feb. 3, 2023. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder speaks during a news briefing at the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., on Feb. 3, 2023. (Alex Wong/Getty Images) 

A second Chinese spy balloon is currently traversing Latin America, Pentagon confirmed late on Feb. 3 amid rising concern about a Chinese surveillance balloon hovering eastward across the continental United States.

“We are seeing reports of a balloon transiting Latin America. We now assess it is another Chinese surveillance balloon,” Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder said in a statement to media outlets.

The comment came hours after Ryder was pressed at a briefing with reporters about a Canadian defense ministry statement on Friday that they were monitoring a “potential second incident,” and whether the United States is doing the same. Ryder in response referred the question back to the Canadian authorities.

The first Chinese balloon, which military officials described to be a “high altitude surveillance balloon,” appeared earlier this week above the state of Montana, home to one of the country’s three nuclear missile silo fields.

United States China
A high altitude Chinese balloon floats over Billings, Mont., on Feb. 1, 2023. (Larry Mayer/The Billings Gazette via AP)

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday postponed a trip to Beijing that would have marked the highest profile U.S. visit to China over the balloon, calling the balloon “irresponsible” and “a clear violation of U.S. sovereignty and international law.”

“[China’s] decision to take this action on the eve of my planned visit is detrimental to the substantive discussions that we were prepared to have,” he told reporters.

The Department of Defense wouldn’t confirm the balloon’s exact location, its size, and other details on Friday other than saying that the balloon is maneuverable, has changed course at some point, and that it is currently flying at 60,000 ft eastward across the country.

President Joe Biden was first briefed on the matter on Tuesday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on Feb. 3, and was given the “strong recommendation” by military leaders not to shoot it down due to the risk that falling debris may harm civilians.

A senior defense official said the U.S. has taken unspecified mitigation measures against the balloon, adding that it was assessed that the device had “limited additive value from an intelligence collection perspective over and above what [China] can do through other means.”

The Chinese regime has claimed that the balloon over the United States is a civilian meteorological balloon from China that was blown off course. In response, Ryder said, “The fact is we know it’s a surveillance balloon.”

Costa Rica Reports

Ryder didn’t specify which country the balloon is currently hovering over, but local reports have cited sightings of a white balloon of mysterious origin over Costa Rica, which the country’s civil aviation authorities said doesn’t have a fly authorization.

“My big concern with the Chinese balloon flight is if this is a test to see how fast we react and what we do,” Art Thompson, CEO of California-based company Sage Cheshire Aerospace which provides stratospheric balloon launching and research services, told The Epoch Times.

The two balloons appear to have been launched from different locations, he said. The photos Thomson examined of the two balloons, over the United States and Costa Rica, show that they are very similar in style.

“When I look at the trajectory, the question is, where did they launch it from? And it could have been launched from mainland China, and then just drifted over and would have done a little oscillation in its flight,” he said.

Thompson has advocated for the United States to shoot down the balloon currently moving eastward over the nation with laser weapons. He believes that U.S. authorities still have several days to take action before the balloon reaches international waters, but the one over Costa Rica would have a much shorter timeline.

“It’s going to be out of touch fairly quickly because in Costa Rica, they’re going to be across into the gulf pretty fast,” he said.

“The Chinese are definitely testing us and preparing for something.”

Friday, February 3, 2023

Secret CCP Overseas Police Station in NYC Closed After Reported FBI Raid

The America ChangLe Association in New York on Oct. 6, 2022. An overseas Chinese police outpost in New York, called the Fuzhou Police Overseas Service Station, is located inside the association building. (Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)

The America ChangLe Association in New York on Oct. 6, 2022. An overseas Chinese police outpost in New York, called the Fuzhou Police Overseas Service Station, is located inside the association building. (Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)
By Andrew Thornebrooke

A covert overseas police station run by the Chinese regime in New York has been shuttered following a reported raid by the FBI.

“The FBI has confirmed that the ‘overseas police station’ in New York linked to Fuzhou has closed,” a State Department spokesperson said in an email to The Epoch Times.

“We continue to be concerned about PRC [People’s Republic of China] transnational repression efforts around the world and are also coordinating with allies and partners on this issue.”

The closure of the facility in New York’s Chinatown comes just weeks after The New York Times reported that FBI agents raided and searched the building at an undisclosed time last fall.

The facility and more than 100 others like it form a network of covert facilities from which experts believe that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is conducting a campaign of transnational repression.

According to two reports published in October 2022 and December 2022 by Safeguard Defenders, a nonprofit organization, the overseas police outposts are used to collect intelligence and even forcibly repatriate Chinese dissidents to the mainland to be imprisoned.

“We are aware of reports regarding alleged PRC ‘overseas police stations,’” the State Department spokesperson said.

“We take this issue very seriously. Establishing so-called overseas police stations without the invitation or approval of the country in which they are operating raises serious issues of respect for the sovereignty of that country.”

The spokesperson referred The Epoch Times to the FBI and Justice Department for further information. The Justice Department didn’t respond to a request for comment by press time, and the FBI declined to comment on the matter.

China’s Communist Regime ‘Violates Sovereignty’

Chinese authorities maintain that the facilities, which operate in 53 nations, assist Chinese immigrants in foreign nations with tasks that would normally be handled by a consulate, such as renewing driver’s licenses and visas.

However, the stations have been linked to the CCP’s United Front Work Department, an agency that works to advance the regime’s interests abroad by spreading propaganda, conducting foreign influence operations, suppressing dissident movements, gathering intelligence, and facilitating the transfer of technology to communist China.

As such, many nations have voiced concern that the facilities are a threat to national security and a violation of sovereignty.

Irish, Canadian, and Dutch officials have called for China to shut down similar police operations in their countries. Likewise, FBI Director Christopher Wray has characterized them as a violation of U.S. sovereignty.

“I’m very concerned about this,” Wray said during a November 2022 hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

“I have to be careful about discussing our specific investigative work, but to me, it is outrageous to think that the Chinese police would attempt to set up shop—you know, in New York, let’s say—without proper coordination. It violates sovereignty and circumvents standard judicial and law enforcement cooperation processes.”

He refrained at the time from commenting on the legality of the overseas police stations but said they were part of the CCP’s campaign of global transnational repression and linked them to CCP efforts to spy on Americans.

“The reason this is so important is because we have seen a clear pattern of the Chinese government, the Chinese Communist Party, exporting their repression right here into the U.S.,” Wray said.

“We have seen plenty of situations … where the Chinese government, under the pretext of going after corruption, have essentially used that as a vehicle to surveil. We’ve had situations where they’ve planted bugs inside Americans’ cars.”

There are three other similar facilities in the United States operating in New York and Los Angeles, according to Safeguard Defenders. It’s unclear if they also have been a target of the FBI.

Pentagon Tracking Suspected Chinese Spy Balloon Over Northern US

The Pentagon building in Washington, on Dec. 26, 2011. (AFP via Getty Images)

The Pentagon building in Washington, on Dec. 26, 2011. (AFP via Getty Images) 

The U.S. military is currently tracking a suspected Chinese spy balloon over Montana, according to a senior Pentagon official.

“The United States Government has detected and is tracking a high altitude surveillance balloon that is over the continental United States right now,” said Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder in a Feb. 2 statement.

A senior defense official told reporters the Pentagon has a “very high confidence” that the balloon comes from China.

The high-altitude surveillance balloon allegedly floated over the Aleutian islands and Canada before crossing over the airspace of Montana, according to an NBC report that cited three unnamed government officials.

A balloon flies in the sky over Billings
In this picture obtained from social media, a balloon flies in the sky over Billings, Montana, on Feb. 1, 2023. (Chase Doak/via Reuters)

Ryder said that North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) detected the balloon some days ago and that the military had taken measures to conceal any sensitive information that could be spotted from such a craft.

“The U.S. government, to include NORAD, continues to track and monitor it closely,” Ryder said. “The balloon is currently traveling at an altitude well above commercial air traffic and does not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground.”

“Instances of this kind of balloon activity have been observed previously over the past several years. Once the balloon was detected, the U.S. government acted immediately to protect against the collection of sensitive information.”

A senior defense official said that Pentagon leadership including Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin convened a meeting to determine whether or not the balloon should be shot down, but ultimately decided against that course of action “due to the risk to safety and security of people on the ground from the possible debris field.”

While declining to specify the exact dimensions of the balloon, the official said the Pentagon assessed that the balloon, which is traveling in the atmosphere over U.S. airspace, is “large enough to cause damage from the debris field if we downed it over an area.”

The official said that the balloon’s “current flight path does carry it over a number of sensitive sites,” without providing detail.

“Our best assessment at the moment is that whatever the surveillance payload is on this balloon, it does not create significant value added over and above what the PRC is likely able to collect through things like satellites in Low Earth Orbit,” the official said, using an acronym for the Chinese regime’s official name, the People’s Republic of China.

“But out of an abundance of caution, we have taken additional mitigation steps. I’m not going to go into what those are. But we know exactly where this balloon is, exactly what it is passing over. And we are taking steps to be extra vigilant so that we can mitigate any foreign intelligence risk,” the official added.

While surveillance balloons like this have crossed into the United States several times over the past years, a “distinguishing factor” in this instance, according to the official, is how long it has stayed over U.S. airspace.

The official added the Pentagon has “engaged PRC officials with urgency” through several channels, including the Chinese Embassy in the United States and the U.S. Embassy in China.

“We have communicated to them the seriousness with which we take this issue,” the official said, but declined to offer details about the content of its message to China.

When asked if China “wanted” the ballon to be spotted, the official declined to speculate.

“I don’t know why they did what they did. I will say that the past number of times it did not loiter over the continental United States for an extended period of time. It’s different,” the official said.

The incident comes as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which rules China as a single-party state, is increasing its espionage efforts against the United States and its citizens, and has become increasingly belligerent towards its neighbors in Asia, as well as Western democracies.

Relatedly, it was recently reported that a covert overseas police station operated by China in New York City had been shut down following a reported FBI raid.

Experts have warned with increasing frequency that the CCP is preparing its military for a war to seize Taiwan that would likely draw it into conflict with the United States. As such U.S. officials have said that the regime is studying the United States’ military capabilities and building technologies with the explicit purpose of overcoming them.

This article was updated to include remarks by a Pentagon official.

Beijing confirms balloon is Chinese, says entry into US airspace was unintended 

Beijing confirmed on Friday that a high-altitude balloon traveling over the northern U.S. is Chinese and said its entry into American airspace was unintentional.

A spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the balloon is a civilian airship used primarily for meteorological research.

“Affected by the Westerlies and with limited self-steering capability, the airship deviated far from its planned course,” the spokesperson said. “The Chinese side regrets the unintended entry of the airship into US airspace due to force majeure.”

U.S. defense officials confirmed the presence of the balloon on Thursday, identifying it as a “high-altitude surveillance balloon” and noting that they were fairly confident it belonged to China.

The balloon, which was first spotted over Montana on Wednesday, is still hovering over the U.S., as officials have held off on shooting it down over safety concerns.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning initially said on Friday that they were looking into the reports and noted that Beijing “has no intention of violating the territory and airspace of any sovereign country.”

Thursday, February 2, 2023

Chinese Corn Mill Project in North Dakota to Be Terminated Over National Security Concerns

A sign opposing a corn mill in Grand Forks, N.D., stands near 370 acres recently annexed by the city for the project. Many residents don't want the project in the city because the owner, Fufeng Group, has reputed ties to the Chinese Communist Party through its company chairman. (Allan Stein/The Epoch Times)

A sign opposing a corn mill in Grand Forks, N.D., stands near 370 acres recently annexed by the city for the project. Many residents don't want the project in the city because the owner, Fufeng Group, has reputed ties to the Chinese Communist Party through its company chairman. (Allan Stein/The Epoch Times) 

A Chinese corn mill proposal in Grand Forks, North Dakota, on land that’s located within 15 miles of the Grand Forks Air Force Base, is set to be terminated after the U.S. Air Force warned that the project poses a “significant threat to national security.”

Grand Forks Mayor Brandon Bochenski announced on Jan. 31 that he plans to stop the project by Fufeng Group, a large Chinese agribusiness, in response to a request from U.S. authorities.

“The federal government has requested the city’s help in stopping the project as geo-political tensions have greatly increased since the initial announcement of the project,” Bochenski said in a statement.

“The only remedies the city has to meet this directive is to refuse to connect industrial infrastructure and deny building permits. As mayor of the city of Grand Forks, I am requesting these remedies be undertaken and the project be stopped, pending City Council approval.”

The move came not long after Sens. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) and John Hoeven (R-N.D.) shared a Jan. 27 letter (pdf) from the Air Force stating that the branch has an “unambiguous” view that the “the proposed project presents a significant threat to national security with both near- and long-term risks of significant impacts to our operations in the area.”

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum issued a statement on Jan. 31 supporting the decision.

“As we said previously, our top priority is the security of our citizens and our nation. We joined with city leaders in asking the federal government for clarity on any national security implications related to the Fufeng project, and now we finally have that clarity,” he said.

“Given [the Air Force’s] concerns, we support the decision by the City of Grand Forks to initiate steps to stop the project with Fufeng Group and will support the city in finding another partner for a corn milling operation.”

Ben Grzadzielewski, a Grand Forks resident who has been leading a grassroots campaign against the project, said that the project’s termination “goes to show you that the people still have the ability to rise up and overcome.”

“If they’d listened to us in the beginning, it would’ve saved them a year’s worth of time and a lot of money,” he told The Epoch Times.

The city of Grand Forks announced the Fufeng project in November 2021 and approved the development agreement in July 2022.

Fufeng USA, the U.S. subsidiary of Fufeng Group, will still own the 370-acre farmland they purchased in Grand Forks in the fall of 2021.

Fufeng USA officials didn’t respond by press time to a request by The Epoch Times for comment.

In December 2022, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), a federal panel charged with reviewing foreign acquisitions for national security risks, decided that it didn’t have jurisdiction to probe the land purchase. Before that, the project had prompted significant pushback from Republican lawmakers and locals who said it threatened both national and economic security.

Both Sens. Cramer and Hoeven raised national security concerns before and after the CFIUS review.

As of Dec. 31, 2020, China owned 325,686 acres of U.S. agricultural land, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. While the acreage under Chinese ownership is slightly less than 1 percent of all foreign-held agricultural land, it represents about a 20-fold leap from 13,720 acres in 2010.

Many state officials have also sounded the alarm about Chinese ownership of U.S. farmland. As a result, some states are creating legislation to prohibit or restrict Chinese entities from buying U.S. agricultural land and businesses. These states include South Dakota, Florida, Texas, Virginia, Missouri, and Iowa.

2022 was strongest year for gold demand in over a decade — report

 Gold investment demand remains well supported in 2021 – report 

Demand for gold has reached its highest in over a decade on the back of colossal purchases made by central banks, as well as vigorous retail investor buying and slower ETF outflows, the World Gold Council (WGC) said on Tuesday.

Annual gold demand jumped 18% to 4,741 tonnes, almost on a par with 2011 – a time of exceptional investment demand, the WGC said in its 2022 Gold Demand Trends report. The strong full-year total was aided by record Q4 demand of 1,337 tonnes.

The investment portion of demand reached 1,107 tonnes in 2022, representing a 10% increase over 2021. Demand for gold bars and coins grew 2% to 1,217 tonnes, while holdings of gold ETFs fell by a smaller amount than in 2021, which further contributed to total investment growth. Quarterly fluctuations in OTC demand largely netted out over the year.

Jewellery consumption, on the other hand, softened a fraction in 2022, down by 3% at 2,086 tonnes. Much of the weakness came through in the fourth quarter as the gold price surged.

Demand for gold in technology saw a sharp Q4 drop, resulting in a full-year decline of 7%. This was a consequence of deteriorating global economic conditions, which hampered demand for consumer electronics.

Central bank buying

In 2022, central banks added 1,136 tonnes of gold worth some $70 billion to their stockpiles, which was by far the biggest purchase of any year since 1967. Purchases in Q4 alone (417 tonnes) almost matched that of 2021 (450 tonnes).

The trend underlines a shift in attitudes to gold since the 1990s and 2000s, when central banks, particularly those in Western Europe that own a lot of bullion, sold hundreds of tonnes a year. Since the financial crisis of 2008-09, European banks stopped selling and a growing number of emerging economies such as Russia, Turkey and India have bought.

Central banks like gold because it is expected to hold its value through turbulent times and, unlike currencies and bonds, it does not rely on any issuer or government. It also enables central banks to diversify away from assets like US Treasuries and the dollar.

“This is a continuation of a trend,” WGC analyst Krishan Gopaul said in a Reuters note.

“You can see those drivers feeding into what happened last year. You had on the geopolitical front and the macroeconomic front a lot of uncertainty and volatility,” he added.

Outlook for 2023

Looking ahead, the WGC said it has not altered its view of a good year for gold, with more upside potential than downside risk given a growing risk of recession in the US and Europe.

“A lacklustre 2022 for ETF and OTC demand is likely to set the stage for a year of growth in investment,” said the WGC, noting that “gold’s stable performance in 2022, despite strong headwinds from rising rates and a strong dollar for most of the year, has reignited investor interest.”

“Jewellery demand is also likely to capitalize on a resilient 2022, driven primarily by the reopening of China,” the WGC added.

Central bank buying – despite the latest trend – is unlikely to match 2022 levels, according to the Council, as demand remains difficult to forecast partly because it can be policy driven and does not always respond to the most common economic drivers.

“Lower total reserves may constrain the capacity to add to existing allocations. But lagged reporting by some central banks means that we need to apply a high degree of uncertainty to our expectations, predominantly to the upside,” the WGC said.

(With files from Reuters)

Related: Recession risk, stagflation set stage for positive gold performance in 2023

Biden blocks Pebble copper-gold mine in Alaska 

The area where Pebble mine would be built, 320 km southwest of Anchorage, within the Bristol Bay watershed. Image courtesy of Northern Dynasty Minerals.

The Biden administration banned the dumping of mining waste near Bristol Bay, Alaska, issuing a decree that thwarts longstanding plans to extract gold, copper and molybdenum because of potential harm to the region’s thriving sockeye salmon industry.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s final determination, announced Tuesday, effectively blocks the mine planned by Pebble Limited Partnership as well as future mining of the same deposit in headwaters of Bristol Bay, home to the world’s largest sockeye harvest.

“The Bristol Bay watershed is a vital economic driver, providing jobs, sustenance, and significant ecological and cultural value to the region,” EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan said in an emailed release. “With this action, EPA is advancing its commitment to help protect this one-of-a-kind ecosystem, safeguard an essential Alaskan industry and preserve the way of life for more than two dozen Alaska Native villages.”

Pebble, a subsidiary of publicly traded Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd., has been seeking to mine in the area for roughly two decades and could challenge the decision in federal court. Chief Executive Officer John Shively said the “next step will likely be to take legal action to fight this injustice,” calling the EPA’s move an unprecedented preemptive veto of the project that “is not supported legally, technically or environmentally.”

Shares of Northern Dynasty Minerals fell in Toronto trading.

The ban dovetails with a pledge President Joe Biden made while campaigning for the White House, when he called Bristol Bay “no place for a mine.”

Bristol Bay supplies roughly half of the world’s wild sockeye salmon, generating an estimated $2.2 billion in economic activity each year. A record number of sockeye have returned to Bristol Bay to spawn in recent years, even as other salmon runs have declined.

Katherine Carscallen, director of Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay, called EPA’s final action “surreal,” because it “will finally put an end to the threat of Pebble.”

“Any mining of that site would do irreperable damage to the watershed,” Carscallen said. “This is not just about fighting this mine this year or the last 20 years but making sure we won’t be fighting another mine at that site in the future.”

The proposed Pebble Mine has been a source of contention for years. Under former President Barack Obama, the EPA recommended restrictions that would rule out the project. But the agency later withdrew the controls after a legal challenge. A federal judge last year sent the issue back to the EPA for reconsideration.

Critics said the decision conflicts with the Biden administration’s commitment to accelerating the deployment of renewable power and electric vehicles that rely on critical minerals.

These goals “cannot possibly be realized responsibly if US government authorities continue on this adversarial path with domestic mining projects,” the National Mining Association said in an emailed statement. “This end-run of the proper permitting process creates significant regulatory uncertainty for the mining industry during a crisis point for minerals demand.”

The ban, ordered under the Clean Water Act, represents a victory for conservationists and local residents who lobbied the EPA to definitively kill the mine by wielding broad authority under the statute to veto projects involving the discharge of dredged material. The Bristol Bay move marks only the third time in 30 years the EPA has used the authority.

Under the final determination, the EPA is prohibiting certain waters in the Bristol Bay region from being used as disposal sites for waste associated with Pebble Limited Partnership’s plan as well as any future proposals targeting the same deposit that would result in equivalent or greater loss or change to aquatic resources.

The EPA “truly listened to the original stewards and first peoples of this land,” said Alannah Hurley, executive director of the United Tribes of Bristol Bay. “These Clean Water Act protections provide certainty that Pebble cannot be built in Bristol Bay.”

(By Jennifer A. Dlouhy)

Saudi Arabia Remains China's Top Crude Supplier 

Russia remained China’s second-largest source of crude oil in 2022, following repeat top supplier Saudi Arabia, as Chinese refiners snapped up low-cost Russian barrels while Western countries shunned them after the Ukraine crisis.

China’s crude oil imports from Russia jumped 8% in 2022 from a year earlier to 86.25 million tonnes, equivalent to 1.72 million barrels per day (bpd), data from the General Administration of Customs showed on Friday.

Russian crude has been trading in widening discounts to global oil benchmarks following Western sanctions over its invasion of Ukraine, which the Kremlin has called a “special operation”.

China, which refused to condemn the attack, cranked up procurement of Russian barrels and has largely ignored the sanctions imposed by Western nations on seaborne Russian crude from Dec. 5.

In December, it brought in 6.47 million tonnes of crude oil from Russia, or 1.52 million bpd, compared to 1.7 million bpd in the same period in 2021.

China’s state-backed refiners have wound down the purchase of Russian oil since November, but the independent refineries have continued buying from intermediary traders who arrange shipping and insurance, shielding them from the risk of secondary sanctions.

Saudi Arabia shipped a total of 87.49 million tonnes of crude to China in 2022, equivalent to 1.75 million bpd, customs data showed, on par with the level in 2021.

China’s state-backed oil refiners largely fulfilled their term contracts with Saudi in 2022 despite the sluggish domestic demand.

Saudi Arabia is expected to remain a key, if not the dominant, crude exporter to China after President Xi Jinping’s visit to Riyadh in December, where he told Gulf leaders that China would work to buy oil in Chinese yuan, rather than U.S. dollars.

Customs data also showed that crude imports from Malaysia almost doubled in 2022 to 35.68 million tonnes. The Southeast Asian country is a transfer point for sanctioned shipments originating from Iran and Venezuela.

No Venezuelan crude imports were recorded by Chinese customs throughout 2022 and a total of 780,392 tonnes of crude oil from Iran arrived in China.

China is Iran’s biggest oil buyer, but most Iranian exports are rebranded as crude from other countries to evade U.S. sanctions.

Vortexa, a ship tracking specialist, assessed that China’s December imports of Iranian oil rose to a record of 1.2 million bpd, up 130% from a year earlier.

Crude shipments from the United States reached 7.89 million tonnes in 2022, down 31% year-on-year.

Exxon Preparing to Open Its Massive $2B Refinery Expansion in Beaumont 

Exxon Mobil said Monday it finished building its $2 billion refinery expansion in Beaumont and plans to start it by the end of March, bringing the equivalent of a mid-size refinery to the market at a time when refining capacity has been tight.

Start-up procedures have begun at the crude processing unit, which will increase Exxon’s refining capacity along the Gulf Coast by about 17 percent and bring the Beaumont site’s refining capacity to more than 600,000 barrels per day — rivaling the nation’s largest refinery, Motiva’s Port Arthur refinery, which can process 630,000 barrels per day.

The expansion offers relief after a year of at-times desperately tight refining capacity that drove fuel prices to record highs and prompted the Biden administration to consider emergency measures. The capacity to process oil into fuel grew tight after aging and damaged refineries closed permanently during the pandemic, shrinking capacity by 1 million barrels per day in the United States and 3 million barrels globally since January 2020.

The new unit will add 50 jobs to the site and can process light crude from the Permian Basin. Exxon began constructing it in 2019, saying at the time the company aimed to capitalize on production growth in West Texas and establish the Beaumont refinery “as a leader in the U.S. refining industry.”

The project equips the Beaumont refinery to prioritize its diesel production, which has been especially tight, said Debnil Chowdhury, S&P Global Commodity Insights’ head of fuel and refining in the Americas.

“Beaumont is starting at an opportune time as the Russian crude and product sanctions will create prospects for U.S. refiners to fill the void,” he said. “Also gasoline, diesel and jet fuel demand continue to come back from the pandemic to provide an outlet for the products from Beaumont.”

While other refineries shuttered in the face of mounting costs and as the pandemic suppressed demand, Exxon said it kept developing the project.

“We maintained investments in the refinery expansion even through the lows of the pandemic,” it said in a statement.

The 250,000 barrel-per-day expansion in Beaumont nearly replaces the refining capacity expected to fall from the local market this year when LyondellBasell closes its aging Houston refinery, which can process 268,000 barrels of oil per day.

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Margin Call (2011) - Fire Sale of Mortgage Bonds (Wall Street Investment...

U.S. Oil Refiners Set for Strong 4Q Earnings as Margins Stay High 

U.S. oil refiners are expected to report higher fourth quarter earnings thanks to strong demand and healthy margins from processing crude oil into motor fuels, said analysts.

Profits last year from turning oil into gasoline, diesel and jet fuel hit multi-decades highs as plants ran full bore to meet rising travel and exports demand. Profits surged into the stratosphere for a sector that had been largely written off as the first victim of the energy transition.

Valero Energy, the second-largest U.S. refiner by capacity, kicks off earnings on Thursday with a projected per share profit of $7.19, according to Refinitiv, nearly three times the $2.47 of a year ago.

Top refiner Marathon Petroleum (MPC.N) is forecast to show a $5.70 per share profit, compared to $1.27 a year ago, while Phillips 66 could deliver a $4.46 per share, compared to $2.88 a year ago, according to Refinitiv. Both are scheduled to report on Jan. 31.

“Refiners are tied as the best energy sub-sector in 2022,” alongside oilfield services, wrote Jason Gabelman, a research analyst at Cowen, in a recent note.

The U.S. crack spread , a measure of the profit from buying oil and selling gasoline and diesel, peaked last quarter at $45, more than double the peak in the same period last year.

The fourth quarter could far exceed pre-pandemic profits, said Tudor Pickering Holt analyst Matthew Blair. Industry profit for the quarter could average $3.95 a share, “only a hair below full-year” 2019 profit for the sector, he wrote in a note.

Results benefited from margins on diesel, a historically wide spread between light and heavy crudes, and refiners maximizing their processing last quarter, Blair said.

Margins on diesel and other distillates rose $8 per barrel, to about $58, triple the margins in the same period last year. A historically wide, about $18 per barrel, spread between light and heavy crude oil also aided refiners.

Many ran their plants at above 90% utilization rates, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration and bought feedstock at lower costs, as U.S. crude futures dropped 5.7% over the prior quarter to $81.50 per barrel.

One reason diesel demand is strong: refiners are using diesel to reduce the amount of sulfur in fuel oil sold for ocean shipping. The price difference between high- and low-sulfur fuel oil is very wide, indicating more diesel is being used to make low sulfur fuel oil, said Andrew Lipow, president of consultants Lipow Oil Associates.

The high margins may not last this year, however. Releases from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve have ended, reducing supplies of sour crude oil in the market. Less Russian crude and OPEC exports could tighten heavy and light spreads, wiping away another refiner benefit.

‘The world should be worried’: Saudi Aramco — the world’s largest oil producer — issued a dire warning over 'extremely low' capacity.

World's largest oil supplier issues dire warning

World's largest oil supplier issues dire warning © KARIM SAHIB/AFP via Getty Images 

The global oil market remains tight according to Saudi Aramco, the largest oil producer in the world. And that does not bode well for a world that still relies heavily on fossil fuels.

“Today there is spare capacity that is extremely low,” Saudi Aramco CEO Amin Nasser said at a recent conference in London. “If China opens up, [the] economy starts improving or the aviation industry starts asking for more jet fuel, you will erode this spare capacity.”

Nasser warns that oil prices could quickly spike — again.

“When you erode that spare capacity the world should be worried. There will be no space for any hiccup — any interruption, any unforeseen events anywhere around the world.”

Intel’s ‘Historic Collapse’ Erases $8 Billion From Market Value

Visitors are seen at the Intel booth during the China Digital Entertainment Expo and Conference, in Shanghai, China, on July 30, 2021. (Aly Song/Reuters)

Visitors are seen at the Intel booth during the China Digital Entertainment Expo and Conference, in Shanghai, China, on July 30, 2021. (Aly Song/Reuters) 

Intel Corp. saw about $8 billion wiped off its market value on Friday after the U.S. chipmaker stumped Wall Street with dismal earnings projections, fanning fears around a slump in the personal-computer market.

The company predicted a surprise loss for the first quarter and its revenue forecast was $3 billion below estimates as it also struggled with slowing growth in the data center business.

Intel shares closed 6.4 percent lower, while rival Advanced Micro Devices and Nvidia ended the session up 0.3 percent and 2.8 percent, respectively. Intel supplier KLA Corp. settled 6.9 percent lower after its dismal forecast.

“No words can portray or explain the historic collapse of Intel,” said Rosenblatt Securities’ Hans Mosesmann, who was among the 21 analysts to cut their price targets on the stock.

The poor outlook underscored the challenges facing Chief Executive Pat Gelsinger as he tries to reestablish Intel’s dominance of the sector by expanding contract manufacturing and building new factories in the United States and Europe.

The company has been steadily losing market share to rivals like AMD, which has used contract chipmakers such as Taiwan-based TSMC to make chips that outpace Intel’s technology.

“AMD’s Genoa and Bergamo (data center) chips have a strong price-performance advantage compared to Intel’s Sapphire Rapids processors, which should drive further AMD share gains,” said Matt Wegner, analyst at YipitData.

Analysts said that puts Intel at a disadvantage even when the data center market bottoms out, expected in the second half of 2022, as the company would have lost even more share by then.

“It is now clear why Intel needs to cut so much cost as the company’s original plans prove to be fantasy,” brokerage Bernstein said.

“The magnitude of the deterioration is stunning, and brings potential concern to the company’s cash position over time.”

Intel, which plans to cut $3 billion in costs this year, generated $7.7 billion in cash from operations in the fourth quarter and paid dividends of $1.5 billion.

With capital expenditure estimated to be around $20 billion in 2023, analysts said the company should consider cutting its dividend.

Lithium’s historic rally fuels record profits for China’s miners 

China’s big lithium miners are set to reap record earnings after booming demand for the electric vehicle battery material sent prices surging to an all-time high last year.

Tianqi Lithium Corp. forecasted preliminary net income for 2022 skyrocketed more than 10-fold, while rival Ganfeng Lithium Group Co. is predicting a surge of as much as 321%.

The bumper profits come as Chinese prices for lithium carbonate, a refined form of the material used in EV batteries, peaked in November after jumping around 15 times from lows in 2020. The global push toward an electrified transport fleet has fired up consumption but supplies have struggled to keep pace.

Lithium producers have unveiled a flurry of expansion plans to meet the battery boom, while takeover activity is also picking up in the sector. This month, Tianqi’s joint venture with IGO Ltd. said it will purchase Sydney-listed Essential Metals Ltd., while Ganfeng announced plans to spend 15 billion yuan ($2.22 billion) building two battery plants in China.

Battery manufacturers and automakers, meanwhile, have complained lithium has become too expensive over the past year, crimping margins. Lithium-ion battery costs rose for the first time last year in the EV era, according to BloombergNEF.

While prices have softened in recent weeks, there are still risks this year if miners from Chile to China and Australia hit hurdles in producing daunting volumes of new supply.

Tianqi Lithium is forecasting 2022 preliminary net income surged 1,011%-1,132% from a year earlier to a range of 23.1 billion yuan to 25.6 billion yuan. Ganfeng Lithium reported on Sunday its preliminary net income could climb 244%-321% to a range of 18 billion yuan to 22 billion yuan. The companies are yet to announce when they will report official results.

(By Annie Lee)

Monday, January 30, 2023

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US blocks mining in parts of Minnesota, dealing blow to Antofagasta’s Twin Metals copper project

Antofagasta expects high copper prices for next 12 months, CEO says

Twin Metals copper-nickel mine and processing facility will be located along the shores of Birch Lake and the South Kawishiwi River, which lie in the Rainy River watershed. (Image courtesy of Twin Metals Minnesota)

The US Interior Department on Thursday blocked mining in part of northeast Minnesota for 20 years, the latest blow to Antofagasta Plc’s Twin Metals copper and nickel mining project but a step officials said is needed to protect the state’s vast network of interconnected waterways.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland signed an order on Thursday withdrawing 225,504 acres in the Superior National Forest from leasing to mining or geothermal companies through 2043.

In 2019, Chilean miner Antofagasta (LON:ANTO), through its subsidiary Twin Metals, carried out a feasibility study for the project, an underground copper-nickel mine and processing facility along the shores of Birch Lake and the South Kawishiwi River, which lie in the Rainy River watershed.

A coalition of businesses, environmental advocates and outdoor recreation groups in the state of Minnesota went to court challenging a Trump administration’s decision that opened the door to a copper, nickel and platinum project by a wilderness area.

In August 2022, Antofagasta Plc’s Twin Metals subsidiary sued the US government in a bid to revive the proposed Minnesota copper and nickel mine, which Biden administration officials had blocked over concerns it could pollute a major recreational waterway.

Twin Metals asked the US District Court in Washington to restore the leases, which were first granted in 1966 and have been passed between successor companies. No mining has taken place at the site.

The underground mine would, if built, be a major US source of copper and nickel, two metals crucial for the green energy transition. The only existing US nickel mine is set to close by 2025.

(With files from Reuters)

Peru’s violent protests imperil 30% of its copper output 

An upsurge in the violent protests wracking Peru is crimping copper output in the world’s No. 2 supplier, with about 30% of its production at risk at a time of low global stocks and high prices

One copper mine is offline after demonstrators stormed the site, another has seen shipments choked by roadblocks, while others have slowed operations as a precaution to manage scarce supplies of fuel and other inputs, according to industry group SNMPE.

“The situation of protests and the escalation of violence have affected the industry,” Magaly Bardales, who heads a mining sector committee at the association, said in a telephone interview. “We hope an understanding, a dialog with authorities, can be found to provide a swift solution.”

Demonstrators have blocked roads across Peru and clashed with security forces in more than six weeks of violent turmoil that began when President Pedro Castillo was impeached after he attempted to dissolve congress. Protesters are calling for both interim President Dina Boluarte and congress to be replaced, with more than 50 deaths and the violence showing no signs of easing.

The disruption coincides with operational setbacks and regulatory headwinds in neighboring Chile and the prospect of a mine shutdown in Panama as the government there seeks a bigger share of profit. Those supply threats have combined with optimism over Chinese demand after the lifting of covid restrictions to send copper futures to seven-month highs.

Related: Violent demonstrations roil Peru’s southern copper and tourism heartland

With global stockpiles of the wiring metal at historically low levels, traders are keeping close watch on events in Peru. The Andean nation accounts for about a 10th of global copper supply and is a major exporter of zinc and silver. About $160 million of production has been lost in 23 days of protests, Bardales said.

To be sure, protests are nothing new in Peru. It’s emergence as a major mineral producer has exacerbated historically tense relations with poor rural communities. The mining industry says not enough of the record-high revenue it generates for the state goes to improving local infrastructure and services.

But the current wave of unrest stands out from past events.

“I haven’t seen this level of violence, the coordinated nature of action, seeking to affect mining and energy, during the time I have been working in the sector,” Bardales said.

Much of the unrest is centered in the southern region of Puno, where Minsur SA’s San Rafael tin mine has been targeted. About 1,500 workers at San Rafael still can’t be evacuated, she said.

Tensions have fanned out into other areas of the south including Espinar, Arequipa and Cusco. Glencore Plc’s Antapaccay mine has halted operations after protesters entered and damaged a worker camp.

The Las Bambas complex is mining at a reduced rate due to blockade-related supply challenges, its Chinese-owned operator MMG Ltd. said, without elaborating. Bardales said Las Bambas is operating at just 20% of capacity, even as it continues to process ore on site.

The Cerro Verde mine in Arequipa isn’t being directly affected by protests but it has slowed mill operations by 10-15% in the past several days in a bid to conserve supplies such as lime amid a “very complicated” political situation, operator Freeport-McMoRan Inc. said this week on an earnings call.

Other mines to the north, such as BHP Group-Glencore’s Antamina are running normally, as are mines in the south that don’t depend on the so-called mining corridor for the transport of supplies, copper and people.

While the transport of semi-processed copper to ports has seen some disruption, the ports themselves are operating normally, Bardales said. She hadn’t heard of any “relevant” impacts on shipments.

The mining society continues to project an increase in Peruvian copper production this year as a new mine ramps up, although much depends on how long the current spate of protests lasts.

The unrest also jeopardizes the rollout of $53.7 billion in possible investments at a time when the world needs to accelerate decarbonization and boost minerals required for electromobility, according to BTG Pactual analyst Cesar Perez-Novoa.

“The combination of instability in other jurisdictions may exert upward pressure on copper prices,” Perez-Novoa said.

(By James Attwood)

Thursday, January 26, 2023

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Current market "very favourable to tanker owners" - TEN 

The current tanker market is "very favourable to tanker owners" on both the supply and demand side, said Harrys Kosmatos, Corporate Development Officer, speaking at a management presentation organised by Capital Link.

Market Conditions Bullish Due to Favorable Supply, Demand Conditions
The current market is “very favorable” for tanker owners on both the supply and demand side, Harrys Kosmatos, Corporate Development Officer, said expressing his confidence, particularly in terms of demand. “Global oil demand has recovered” in the wake of the pandemic, and has even exceeded pre-pandemic levels, Harrys Kosmatos pointed out. China’s reopening will likely propel this demand even further, he noted, as the country could become, once again, a “major oil importer”.
Kosmatos argued that Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine has created “a new and possibly lasting trend” in oil markets, namely the creation of new trading patterns and the elongation of shipping routes as a result of Europe’s ban on Russian oil imports. Due to these regulations, Europe now has to import oil from further distances, particularly the US, West Africa, and the Arabian Gulf. “The short-term voyages from Russia have been replaced by longer haul trades and the emerging ‘new’ Russian trades, particularly to India and China as it reopens, are performed by older vessels, acquired by “non-western” entities, that up until recently competed in the international commercial arena with everybody else,” Kosmatos noted. This pattern, which effectively removes supply from the “western” markets, is a trend that TEN expects “could last for the foreseeable future,” he continued.
Additionally, the sector is facing one of the lowest orderbooks in recent memory, under 4%, while nearly 10% of the current global fleet is over 20 years old, and 24% over 15 years old. “As a result, we could be faced with a situation where some segments in the tanker market could experience negative growth. Negative growth against an increasing global oil demand…should translate to a sustainable strong market environment.” Kosmatos asserted.


Capital Link hosted a presentation by the senior management of TEN Ltd. (NYSE: TNP) on Thursday, January 12, 2023. During the 45-minute session, Dr. Nikolas P. Tsakos, Founder, President & CEO, Paul Durham, CFO, George Saroglou, Chief Operating Officer and Harrys Kosmatos, Corporate Development Officer, described the strong tanker market, the current state of the company’s fleet, and its dividend policy as part of Capital Link’s Company Presentation Series.

A replay of the full session of the presentation and the extensive Q&A can be accessed at:

TEN Ltd. is one of the largest and most well-established independent energy transporters in the world. With a diverse fleet of 73 modern vessels, including both crude oil and oil-product as well as LNG transportation. This includes 7 newbuilds. TEN Ltd maintains a customer base consisting of major global energy companies.
TEN’s Fleet
Dr. Nikolas P. Tsakos, CEO, stressed that TEN is focused on capitalizing not only on periods when the market is strong, but also when it lags. He stated that the company’s current strategy includes chartering its vessels in the spot market, for short term periods, when the market is very strong.
The company has “taken advantage of the difficult times” to order its first four green, dual-fuel ships, Dr. Tsakos said, with the order backed by long time charters from one of the company’s main clients.
In terms of chartering, 40 of TEN’s 66 vessels on the water, or 61%, have market exposure, or a combination of spot and time charter, along with profit sharing.
A total of 44 of 66 vessels on the water, or 67%, are in secure revenue contracts, or fixed time charters and time charters with profit sharing. “This means that TEN is capturing the positive tanker market fundamentals that prevail today, George Saroglou, COO, stated.
“We have a simple operating model—we try to have our time charter vessels generate revenue to cover the company’s cash needs, the vessel operating expenses, finance expenses, overheads, chartering costs and commissions,” explained George Saroglou.
“We let the revenue from spot rating vessels opportunistically contribute to the profitability of the company,” he continued.
George Saroglou stressed the company’s commitment to keeping operating costs low and utilization rates high. Currently, TEN’s fleet utilization sits at nearly 94%. This figure is quite high, considering that a number of dry dockings for ship surveys that have taken place.
The company is also expecting a total of six newbuilds to be delivered from 3Q23 until 2Q25. Of these new vessels, four will be dual-fuel LNG, and “represent the company’s entrance into green shipping,” Saroglou said.
TEN has traditionally been active in the S&P market focusing on fleet renewal. “We’re looking to sell 7 or 8 of our older generation ships,” Dr. Tsakos stated. “That would give us a very big capital gain and boost for the year 2023.”
Posed to Reduce Debt at “Accelerated Pace”
“Based on the positive quarterly results through the past year, it’s clear that the annual numbers will be strong,” Paul Durham, CFO stated of 2022.
In the nine-month period of 2022, the company’s net income amounted to over $100 million. This growth has resulted in healthier cash reserves for the company, which have grown by over $200 million compared to the previous year. This could help the company to reduce outstanding debt “at an accelerated pace,” Durham stated. “Already, in the past six years, outstanding debt has fallen by about $500 million…and it continues to shrink” he noted. “We still expect our revenue to grow into 2023 as the market continues to remain firm,” he said.
When asked about the company’s dividend policy, Tsakos highlighted that TEN has “never stopped paying a dividend, even in very, very difficult times when the company could “legitimately” put a stop on such payments as some of its peers did. When times are good, our policy has always been to distribute between 25 and 50% of our net income, depending on capital needs at the time, and I think we will not change that policy,” he continued. The company is not looking at this stage, to buy back shares. Instead, Dr. Tsakos said, a preference would be for dividend increases.

Biden Announces US Will Send M1 Abrams Tanks to Ukraine,1687,x0,y151&width=2999&height=1687&format=pjpg&auto=webp 

The United States will send M1 Abrams main battle tanks to Ukraine as Kyiv’s conflict with Russia nears its one-year anniversary, President Joe Biden confirmed on Jan. 25.

The president said during a White House announcement that the United States will send 31 tanks to Ukraine, adding that the “U.S. and Europe are fully united.” He reiterated that the tanks are “not an offensive threat to Russia.”

“That’s what we all want: an end to this war,” Biden said. “Our terms that preserve … Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and honor the U.N. Charter … they’re the terms we’re working on.”

Earlier this week, unconfirmed reports that cited anonymous sources said the United States was poised to send dozens of its top battle tank to Ukraine after saying for months that it wouldn’t be deployed in the country. Since the start of the conflict, Ukraine’s government has asked for battle tanks from Western powers amid protracted fighting in the eastern portion of the country.

Previously, U.S. officials have said that the M1 Abrams’ systems are too complex to operate and maintain, while adding that it would take months to get the tanks to Ukraine. It would also take months to train Ukrainians in using them.

Germany confirmed on Jan. 25 that it would send 14 of its high-tech Leopard tanks to Ukraine.

“Germany will always be at the forefront when it comes to supporting Ukraine,” Chancellor Olaf Scholz told the German Parliament, to applause.

Berlin’s move paves the way for pledges from other countries that field Leopards, which Germany made in the thousands and exported to allies. Finland said it would send them, as did Poland, which has already sought Berlin’s approval.

Spain and the Netherlands said they were considering it, and Norway was reported to be discussing it. Britain has offered a company of 14 of its comparable Challengers, and France is considering sending its Leclercs.

Earlier in the day, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told German media that the tanks would provide needed support.

“They do only one very important thing—they motivate our soldiers to fight for their own values, because they show that the whole world is with you,” Zelenskyy told Germany’s ARD channel.

Epoch Times Photo
Soldiers from the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment in Biaj, Iraq, with their M1 Abrams Main Battle Tank in January 2005. (Staff Sgt Aaron Allmon/Public Domain)

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said he spoke with U.S. counterpart Lloyd Austin on Jan. 25, promising “more good news to be announced soon.” Reznikov said they discussed the “further strengthening of [Ukraine’s army], including tank supplies and maintenance of the new armament.”

Moscow Responds

Russian officials bristled at the reports saying Abrams and Leopard tanks would be sent to its enemy. Earlier this week, a top Russian envoy claimed that the Abrams tanks would be destroyed during fighting, while escalating American involvement in the war.

“If a decision to transfer to Kyiv M1 Abrams is made, American tanks without any doubt will be destroyed, as all other samples of NATO military equipment,” Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Antonov, wrote in a Telegram statement. “The Americans are constantly raising the ‘bar’ of military assistance to their puppet government,” he added.

Going further, Antonov echoed previous claims that the United States is using Ukraine as a decoy to carry out a “proxy” war against Russia.

“If the United States decides to supply tanks, it will be impossible to justify such a step using arguments about ‘defensive weapons.’ This would be another blatant provocation against the Russian Federation,” he added. “No one should have illusions about who the real aggressor is in the current conflict.”

The Russian Embassy in Berlin denounced Germany’s “extremely dangerous decision” for sending the Leopard tanks, which, it said, “destroys the remnants of mutual trust” and could draw Germany into the war. Scholz pledged that no such thing would happen.

Western officials who support sending the tanks have dismissed Moscow’s threats, arguing that Russia is already waging war at full tilt and has been deterred from attacking NATO or using nuclear arms.

Last week, allies pledged billions of dollars worth of military aid including hundreds of armored fighting vehicles and troop carriers. Those are seen as more effective for attacking enemy lines when used alongside tanks.

Reuters contributed to this report.

Razor blades placed on gas pump handles in North Carolina city

(Source: Forest City Police Department) 

FOREST CITY, N.C. ( WSPA ) — Police are warning the public after finding razor blades on gas pump handles in Forest City, North Carolina and surrounding areas.

The Forest City Police Department said they have located multiple instances of razor blades being placed in gas pump handles.

Lt. Brandon Rothrock said the blades were found during an inspection of the pumps by the Department of Agriculture.

“[The inspector] made us aware. … He said that he was checking some yesterday and found some in Ellenboro at a Roco Station,” said Rothrock. “So, that led him to check some of our local stations, and he found one at 74 Junction.”

It also happened at another gas station in Forest City.

“There is no explanation as to why someone would do this,” he said.

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He said all known blades have been removed.

“If you’re pumping gas, check. Look before you grab. Protect yourself however you need to,” said Rothrock. “It’s going to take some hours of reviewing video to see if we can come up with a suspect.”

Customer Dan O’Bryan is no stranger to 74 Junction gas station.

“This particular gas station, I’m pretty much here every single morning, because I work just two minutes down the road from here,” said O’Bryan.

He said now he’s going to double-check before picking up the pump.

“I’m not surprised, but that’s definitely good to know. I’ll tell my wife about it,” said O’Bryan.

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Rothrock said there haven’t been any injuries but that it is unknown how long the blades have been there or who is responsible.

“With these times — germs and things anyway — maybe wear gloves. Until we can come up with a solid answer,” he said.

These incidents are under investigation by the Department of Agriculture. In the meantime, police ask that you be aware of your surroundings while pumping gas.

(Source: Forest City Police Department)