Arctic ‘doomsday’ food vault welcomes millionth seed variety

By Gwladys Fouche

OSLO (Reuters) – A vault in the Arctic built to preserve seeds for rice, wheat and other food staples contains one million varieties with the addition on Tuesday of specimens grown by Cherokee Indians and the estate of Britain’s Prince Charles.

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault, built on a mountainside in 2008, was designed as a storage facility to protect vital crop seeds against the worst cataclysms of nuclear war or disease and safeguard global food supplies.

Representatives from many countries and universities arrive in the Svalbard’s global seed vault with new seeds, in Longyearbyen, Norway February 25, 2020. NTB Scanpix/Lise Aserud via REUTERS

Dubbed the “doomsday vault”, the facility lies on the island of Spitsbergen in the archipelago of Svalbard, halfway between Norway and the North Pole, and is only opened a few times a year in order to preserve the seeds inside.

On Tuesday, 30 gene banks deposited seeds, also including offerings from India, Mali and Peru.

The Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew in Britain banked seeds harvested from the meadows of Prince Charles’ private residence, Highgrove.

The vault also serves as a backup for plant breeders to develop new varieties of crops. The world used to cultivate around 7,000 different plants but experts say we now get about 60% of our calories from three main crops – maize, wheat and rice – making food supplies vulnerable if climate change causes harvests to fail.

“The seed vault is the backup in the global system of conservation to secure food security on Earth,” Stefan Schmitz, executive director of the Crop Trust, the Bonn-based organization that manages the vault, told Reuters.

“We need to preserve this biodiversity, this crop diversity, to provide healthy diets and nutritious foods, and for providing farmers, especially smallholders, with sustainable livelihoods so that they can adapt to new conditions.”

One in nine people go to bed hungry globally, according to the United Nations’ World Food Programme, and scientists have predicted that erratic weather patterns could reduce both the quality and quantity of food available.

The vault was last opened in October. With Tuesday’s deposit, it contains one million different seeds, from almost all nations.

In 2015, researchers made a first withdrawal from the vault after Syria’s civil war damaged a seed bank near the city of Aleppo. The seeds were grown and re-deposited at the Svalbard vault in 2017.

In October, Norway completed an $11 million, year-long upgrade of the building, which was constructed at Svalbard because the Arctic’s cold climate means its contents will stay cool even if the power fails. But even the doomsday vault has been affected by climate change as an unexpected thaw of permafrost when it first opened let in water to the tunnel entrance, although no seeds were damaged.

(Additional reporting by Thin Lei Win in Rome; Editing by Susan Fenton and John Stonestreet)

Risk of nuclear war now highest since WW2, UN arms research chief says

FILE PHOTO: Intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) Hwasong-14 is pictured during its second test-fire in this undated picture provided by KCNA in Pyongyang on July 29, 2017. KCNA via Reuters

By Tom Miles

GENEVA (Reuters) – The risk of nuclear weapons being used is at its highest since World War Two, a senior U.N. security expert said on Tuesday, calling it an “urgent” issue that the world should take more seriously.

Renata Dwan, director of the U.N. Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR), said all states with nuclear weapons have nuclear modernization programs underway and the arms control landscape is changing, partly due to strategic competition between China and the United States.

Traditional arms control arrangements are also being eroded by the emergence of new types of war, with increasing prevalence of armed groups and private sector forces and new technologies that blurred the line between offense and defense, she told reporters in Geneva.

With disarmament talks stalemated for the past two decades, 122 countries have signed a treaty to ban nuclear weapons, partly out of frustration and partly out of a recognition of the risks, she said.

“I think that it’s genuinely a call to recognize – and this has been somewhat missing in the media coverage of the issues  “that the risks of nuclear war are particularly high now, and the risks of the use of nuclear weapons, for some of the factors I pointed out, are higher now than at any time since World War Two.”

The nuclear ban treaty, officially called the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, was backed by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017.

The treaty has so far gathered 23 of the 50 ratifications that it needs to come into force, including South Africa, Austria, Thailand, Vietnam and Mexico. It is strongly opposed by the United States, Russia, and other states with nuclear arms.

Cuba also ratified the treaty in 2018, 56 years after the Cuban missile crisis, a 13-day Cold War face-off between Moscow and Washington that marked the closest the world had ever come to nuclear war.

Dwan said the world should not ignore the danger of nuclear weapons.

“How we think about that, and how we act on that risk and the management of that risk, seems to me a pretty significant and urgent question,” she said.

She added that it was not being adequately addressed in arms control talks or multilateral bodies such as the U.N. Security Council nor by bilateral arrangements between states.

On Wednesday, China’s disarmament ambassador in Geneva accused Washington of sabotaging and tearing up deals and having a “Cold War mentality”, and said Washington displayed bullying behavior.

(Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Frances Kerry)

After Putin’s warning, Russian TV lists nuclear targets in U.S.

FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with FIFA President Gianni Infantino at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia February 20, 2019. Yuri Kadobnov/Pool via REUTERS

By Andrew Osborn

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian state television has listed U.S. military facilities that Moscow would target in the event of a nuclear strike, and said that a hypersonic missile Russia is developing would be able to hit them in less than five minutes.

The targets included the Pentagon and the presidential retreat in Camp David, Maryland.

The report, unusual even by the sometimes bellicose standards of Russian state TV, was broadcast on Sunday evening, days after President Vladimir Putin said Moscow was militarily ready for a “Cuban Missile”-style crisis if the United States wanted one.

With tensions rising over Russian fears that the United States might deploy intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Europe as a Cold War-era arms-control treaty unravels, Putin has said Russia would be forced to respond by placing hypersonic nuclear missiles on submarines near U.S. waters.

The United States says it has no immediate plans to deploy such missiles in Europe and has dismissed Putin’s warnings as disingenuous propaganda. It does not currently have ground-based intermediate-range nuclear missiles that it could place in Europe.

However, its decision to quit the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty over an alleged Russian violation, something Moscow denies, has freed it to start developing and deploying such missiles.

Putin has said Russia does not want a new arms race but has also dialed up his military rhetoric.

Some analysts have seen his approach as a tactic to try to re-engage the United States in talks about the strategic balance between the two powers, something Moscow has long pushed for, with mixed results.

In the Sunday evening broadcast, Dmitry Kiselyov, presenter of Russia’s main weekly TV news show ‘Vesti Nedeli’, showed a map of the United States and identified several targets he said Moscow would want to hit in the event of a nuclear war.

The targets, which Kiselyov described as U.S. presidential or military command centers, also included Fort Ritchie, a military training center in Maryland closed in 1998, McClellan, a U.S. Air Force base in California closed in 2001, and Jim Creek, a naval communications base in Washington state.

Kiselyov, who is close to the Kremlin, said the “Tsirkon” (‘Zircon’) hypersonic missile that Russia is developing could hit the targets in less than five minutes if launched from Russian submarines.

Hypersonic flight is generally taken to mean traveling through the atmosphere at more than five times the speed of sound.

“For now, we’re not threatening anyone, but if such a deployment takes place, our response will be instant,” he said.

Kiselyov is one of the main conduits of state television’s strongly anti-American tone, once saying Moscow could turn the United States into radioactive ash.

Asked to comment on Kiselyov’s report, the Kremlin said on Monday it did not interfere in state TV’s editorial policy.

(Additional reporting by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

South Korea, U.S. launch aerial drills amid North Korean warnings of nuclear war

The South Korean army's K-55 self-propelled artillery vehicles take part in a military exercise near the demilitarised zone separating the two Koreas in Paju, South Korea, November 29, 2017.

By Christine Kim and Philip Wen

SEOUL/BEIJING (Reuters) – The United States and South Korea went ahead with large-scale joint aerial drills on Monday, a move North Korea had said would push the Korean peninsula to “the brink of nuclear war”, ignoring calls from Russia and China to call them off.

The drills come a week after North Korea said it had tested its most advanced intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the United States as part of a weapons program that it has conducted in defiance of international sanctions and condemnation.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said it was “regrettable” that all parties had not “grasped the window of opportunity” presented by two months of relative calm before the North’s most recent test.

China and Russia had proposed that the United States and South Korea stop major military exercises in exchange for North Korea halting its weapons programs. Beijing formally calls the idea the “dual suspension” proposal.

The annual U.S.-South Korean drill, called Vigilant Ace, will run until Friday, with six F-22 Raptor stealth fighters to be deployed among the more than 230 aircraft taking part.

North Korea’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country called U.S. President Donald Trump “insane” on Sunday and said the drills would “push the already acute situation on the Korean peninsula to the brink of nuclear war”.

F-35 fighters will also join the drills, which will include the largest number of 5th generation fighters ever to have taken part, according to a South Korea-based U.S. Air Force spokesman.

Around 12,000 U.S. service members, including from the Marines and Navy, will join South Korean troops. Aircraft taking part will be flown from eight U.S. and South Korean military installations.

South Korean media reports said B-1B Lancer bombers could join the exercise this week. The U.S. Air Force spokesman could not confirm the reports.

Trump said last week that additional major sanctions would be imposed on North Korea after Pyongyang’s intercontinental ballistic missile test.

Earlier last month, Trump put North Korea back on a list of state sponsors of terrorism, a designation that allows the United States to impose more sanctions.

Russia has accused the United States of trying to provoke North Korean leader Kim Jong Un into “flying off the handle” over his missile program to hand Washington a pretext to destroy his country.

Speaking at a news briefing in Beijing, Wang said China consistently opposed any behavior that elevated tensions.

“And measures that don’t abide by or are outside the UN Security Council resolutions lack basis in international law and damage the rights of United Nations members,” Wang said when asked about the prospect of further U.S. sanctions against North Korea.

China’s Air Force said on Monday that its surveillance aircraft had in recent days conducted drills in the Yellow Sea and East China Sea to “improve combat-readiness and safeguard the country’s strategic interests”.

The aircraft took a flight path not previously flown to regions they had never previously operated in, and coordinated with fighter jets, alert aircraft and guided missile forces, spokesman Shen Jinke said, according to a post on the Air Force’s official microblog.

The joint exercises between South Korea and United States are designed to enhance readiness and operational capability and to ensure peace and security on the Korean peninsula, the U.S. military had said before the drills began.

The North’s KCNA state news agency, citing a foreign ministry spokesman, said on Saturday the Trump administration was “begging for nuclear war by staging an extremely dangerous nuclear gamble on the Korean peninsula”.

North Korea regularly uses its state media to threaten the United States and its allies.

North Korea has tested dozens of ballistic missiles and conducted its sixth and largest nuclear bomb test in September, in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

It has said its weapons programs are a necessary defense against U.S. plans to invade. The United States, which has 28,500 troops stationed in South Korea, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War, denies any such intention.

 

 

(Reporting by Christine Kim in SEOUL and Philip Wen in BEIJING; Additional reporting by Michael Martina in BEIJING; Editing by Nick Macfie)

 

Democrats want a law to stop Trump from bombing North Korea

Democrats want a law to stop Trump from bombing North Korea

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democratic U.S. senators introduced a bill on Tuesday they said would prevent President Donald Trump from launching a nuclear first strike on North Korea on his own, highlighting the issue days before the Republican’s first presidential trip to Asia.

The measure would stop Trump, or any U.S. president, from launching an attack on North Korea, or spending any money on a military strike, without congressional approval, unless North Korea has first attacked the United States.

Tensions between Washington and Pyongyang have been building after a series of nuclear and missile tests by North Korea and bellicose verbal exchanges between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

The CIA has said North Korea could be only months away from developing the ability to hit the United States with a nuclear weapon, a scenario Trump has vowed to prevent.

“I worry that the president’s enthusiasm will not be checked by the advisers around him,” Democratic Senator Chris Murphy, the legislation’s lead sponsor, told reporters on a conference call.

Some Republicans have also expressed concern about Trump’s rhetoric, but none co-sponsored the bill, which is backed by seven Democrats and Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent.

Republicans control majorities in both the Senate and House, and there has been no indication that congressional leaders would allow a vote. Similar measures introduced earlier this year have also failed to advance.

However, backers said they might try to pass it later this year by introducing it as an amendment to legislation such as a as a must-pass spending bill.

“I have confidence that if this came to a vote on the floor of the Senate, it would prevail,” Murphy said.

Lawmakers have been trying to take back more control over foreign policy from the White House.

Congress passed a bill in July barring the president from lifting sanctions on Russia without lawmakers’ approval, and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Monday held a hearing on a new authorization for the use of military force, or AUMF, to exert some authority over the campaign against Islamic State and other militant groups.

At that hearing, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said Trump does not have the authority to use force against North Korea without an imminent threat, but they did not define what such a threat would be.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

China urges all sides in North Korea standoff to ‘stop irritating’ one another

People watch a TV broadcasting of a news report on North Korea's missile launch, at a railway station in Seoul, South Korea. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

By Ben Blanchard

BEIJING (Reuters) – China on Wednesday called on all parties in the Korean standoff to stay calm and “stop irritating each other” a day after North Korea said the United States was pushing the region to the brink of nuclear war.

The United States has urged China, reclusive North Korea’s lone major ally, to do more to rein in its neighbor’s nuclear and missile programs which have prompted an assertive response from the Trump administration, warning that the “era of strategic patience” is over.

The United States has sent a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier to Korean waters and a pair of strategic U.S. bombers flew training drills with the South Korean and Japanese air forces in another show of strength this week.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang, asked about the bomber flights, the drills and North Korea’s response, stressed that the situation was “highly complex” and sensitive.

“The urgent task is to lower temperatures and resume talks,” he told reporters.

“We again urge all relevant parties to remain calm and exercise restraint, stop irritating each other, work hard to create an atmosphere for contact and dialogue between all sides, and seek a return to the correct path of dialogue and negotiation as soon as possible.”

The flight of the two bombers came as U.S. President Donald Trump raised eyebrows when he said he would be “honored” to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in the right circumstances, and as his CIA director landed in South Korea for talks.

North Korea said the bombers conducted “a nuclear bomb dropping drill against major objects” in its territory at a time when Trump and “other U.S. warmongers are crying out for making a preemptive nuclear strike” on the North.

“The reckless military provocation is pushing the situation on the Korean peninsula closer to the brink of nuclear war,” the North’s official KCNA news agency said on Tuesday.

Tension on the Korean peninsula has been high for weeks, driven by concern that the North might conduct its sixth nuclear test in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

In a telephone call with his Philippine counterpart Rodrigo Duterte, Chinese President Xi Jinping urged all sides to exercise restraint and return to the correct path of talks as soon as possible, state radio reported.

CHINA OPPOSES THAAD

The U.S. military’s THAAD anti-missile defense system has reached initial operational capacity in South Korea, U.S. officials told Reuters, although they cautioned that it would not be fully operational for some months.

China has repeatedly expressed its opposition to the system, whose powerful radar it fears could reach inside Chinese territory, just as Trump has praised Chinese President Xi Jinping for his efforts to rein in North Korea.

It was widely feared North Korea could conduct a nuclear test on or around April 15 to celebrate the anniversary of the birth of the North’s founding leader, Kim Il Sung, or on April 25, the 85th anniversary of the foundation of its Korean People’s Army.

The North has conducted such tests or missile launches to mark significant events in the past.

Instead, North Korea held a big military parade featuring a display of missiles on April 15 and then a large, live-fire artillery drill 10 days later.

Trump drew criticism in Washington on Monday when he said he would be “honored” to meet North Korea’s young leader.

“If it would be appropriate for me to meet with him, I would absolutely, I would be honored to do it,” Trump told Bloomberg News.

Trump did not say what conditions would be needed for such a meeting to occur or when it could happen.

“Clearly conditions are not there right now,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer said.

Trump warned in an interview with Reuters on Thursday that a “major, major conflict” with North Korea was possible, while China said last week the situation on the Korean peninsula could escalate or slip out of control.

Trump has stepped up outreach to allies in Asia to secure their cooperation to pressure North Korea, and over the weekend he spoke with the leaders of Thailand, Singapore and the Philippines in separate phone calls.

The U.S. ambassador to Indonesia, Joseph R. Donovan, told reporters Indonesia was among several countries that the United States was urging take a “fresh look” at their North Korea ties.

He declined to go into details of what action the United States wanted, but said: “We are hoping that countries will look at what they can be doing to bring North Korea around to meaningful steps to end its nuclear and missile programs.”

Trump’s calls to the Asian leaders came after North Korea test-launched a missile that appeared to have failed within minutes, its fourth successive failed launch since March. It has conducted two nuclear tests and a series of missile-related activities at an unprecedented pace since the beginning of last year.

The North is technically still at war with the South after their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a treaty, and it regularly threatens to destroy the United States, Japan and South Korea.

Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday meanwhile spoke by telephone about Syria and “about how best to resolve the very dangerous situation in North Korea”, the White House said.

(Additional reporting by Steve Holland in WASHINGTON and Tom Allard in JAKARTA; Writing by Nick Macfie; Editing by Robert Birsel)

North Korea says U.S. bomber flights push peninsula to brink of nuclear war

Kim Jong Un stands on the conning tower of a submarine during his inspection of the Korean People's Army Naval Unit 167 in this undated photo released June 16, 2014. REUTERS/KCNA

By Ju-min Park and Ben Blanchard

SEOUL/BEIJING (Reuters) – North Korea accused the United States on Tuesday of pushing the Korean peninsula to the brink of nuclear war after a pair of strategic U.S. bombers flew training drills with the South Korean and Japanese air forces in another show of strength.

The two supersonic B-1B Lancer bombers were deployed amid rising tensions over North Korea’s pursuit of its nuclear and missile programmes in defiance of U.N. sanctions and pressure from the United States.

The flight of the two bombers on Monday came as U.S. President Donald Trump said he would be “honoured” to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in the right circumstances, and as his CIA director landed in South Korea for talks.

South Korean Defence Ministry spokesman Moon Sang-gyun told a briefing in Seoul that Monday’s joint drill was conducted to deter provocations by the North.

North Korea said the bombers conducted “a nuclear bomb dropping drill against major objects” in its territory at a time when Trump and “other U.S. warmongers are crying out for making a preemptive nuclear strike” on the North.

“The reckless military provocation is pushing the situation on the Korean peninsula closer to the brink of nuclear war,” the North’s official KCNA news agency said on Tuesday.

Tensions on the Korean peninsula have been high for weeks, driven by concerns that the North might conduct its sixth nuclear test in defiance of pressure from the United States and Pyongyang’s sole major ally, China.

The U.S. military’s THAAD anti-missile defence system has reached initial operational capacity in South Korea, U.S. officials told Reuters, although they cautioned that it would not be fully operational for some months.

China has repeatedly expressed its opposition to the system, whose powerful radar it fears could reach inside Chinese territory. Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang again denounced THAAD on Tuesday.

“We will resolutely take necessary measures to defend our interests,” Geng said, without elaborating.

Asked about Trump’s suggestion he could meet Kim, Geng said China had noted U.S. comments that it wanted to use peaceful means to resolve the issue. Trump has been recently been full of praise of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s efforts to rein in its neighbour.

“China has always believed that using peaceful means via dialogue and consultation to resolve the peninsula’s nuclear issue is the only realistic, feasible means to achieve denuclearization of the peninsula and maintain peace and stability there, and is the only correct choice,” Geng told a daily news briefing.

It was widely feared North Korea could conduct its sixth nuclear test on or around April 15 to celebrate the anniversary of the birth of the North’s founding leader, Kim Il Sung, or on April 25 to coincide with the 85th anniversary of the foundation of its Korean People’s Army.

The North has conducted such tests or missile launches to mark significant events in the past.

Instead, North Korea conducted an annual military parade, featuring a display of missiles on April 15 and then a large, live-fire artillery drill 10 days later.

“VIGILANCE, READINESS”

Acting South Korean president Hwang Kyo-ahn called for stronger vigilance because of continuing provocation by North Korea and for countries such as China to increase pressure on the North.

The U.S. military said Mike Pompeo, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, visited South Korea and conducted detailed security discussions with his South Korean counterpart Lee Byung-ho and also visited Yeonpyeong island, which was bombed by North Korea in 2010.

Trump drew criticism in Washington on Monday when he said he would be “honoured” to meet North Korea’s young leader.

“If it would be appropriate for me to meet with him, I would absolutely, I would be honoured to do it,” Trump told Bloomberg News.

Trump did not say what conditions would be needed for such a meeting to occur or when it could happen.

“Clearly conditions are not there right now,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer said.

Trump warned in an interview with Reuters on Thursday that a “major, major conflict” with North Korea was possible, while China said last week the situation on the Korean peninsula could escalate or slip out of control.

In a show of force, the United States has already sent an aircraft carrier strike group, led by the USS Carl Vinson, to waters off the Korean peninsula to conduct drills with South Korea and Japan.

North Korea test-launched a missile on Saturday that appeared to have failed within minutes, its fourth successive failed launch since March. It has conducted two nuclear tests and a series of missile-related activities at an unprecedented pace since the beginning of last year.

The North is technically still at war with the South after their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a treaty, and regularly threatens to destroy the United States, Japan and South Korea.

(Writing by Jack Kim; Editing by Paul Tait and Nick Macfie)

U.S. reshaping budget to account for Russian military threat

Military officials gathered in Montana Air Base

By Andrea Shalal

SIMI VALLEY, Calif. (Reuters) – Russia’s increasing military activities around the world have unsettled top U.S. military officials, who say they are reshaping their budget plans to better address what they now consider to be the most pressing threat to U.S. security.

“Russia is the No. 1 threat to the United States. We have a number of threats that we’re dealing with, but Russia could be, because of the nuclear aspect, an existential threat to the United States,” Air Force Secretary Deborah James told Reuters in an interview at the annual Reagan National Defense Forum.

James, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson and Pentagon chief arms buyer Frank Kendall, all voiced growing concern about Russia’s increasingly aggressive behavior in interviews late on Saturday.

Their comments come as the Pentagon finalizes a classified security assessment for President-elect Donald Trump, who has promised to both pump up U.S. defense spending and build closer ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

European diplomats fear Moscow could use the time before Trump’s inauguration to launch more offensives in Ukraine and Syria, betting that President Barack Obama will be loathe to response forcefully so soon before he hands off power on Jan. 20.

Kendall said U.S. policy had been centered on threats in the Asia-Pacific region and Middle East, but was now focused more on Russia. “Their behavior has caused us … to rethink the balance of capabilities that we’re going to need,” he said.

None of the officials gave details about how the concerns would affect the fiscal 2018 budget request, but defense officials have pointed to the need to focus on areas such as cyber security, space, nuclear capabilities and missile defense, where Russia has developed new capabilities in recent years.

Pentagon officials have nearly completed work on a fiscal 2018 budget request, but it is likely to be reworked substantially once Trump takes office. Officials expect that budget to be submitted in April at the earliest, and possibly later. Typically, budgets are submitted in early February.

Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, told the conference that Russia’s goal was to counter NATO, undermine its credibility and limit the ability of the U.S. military to project power around the world.

“They are operating with a frequency and in places that we haven’t seen for decades,” he said, adding that the buildup should be viewed in the context of its actions in Ukraine, Crimea and Syria, where they have already stepped up air attacks on eastern Aleppo.

Richardson said the Navy was seeing increased Russian naval activities around the globe, including its unprecedented deployment of a carrier strike group to the Mediterranean, the firing of missiles from ships in the Caspian Sea, increased submarine activities in the north Atlantic, and a growing naval presence in the Pacific.

He said there were continuing incidents involving Russian aircraft buzzing U.S. vessels, with some coming as close as 30 feet, and other cases where ships were behaving “erratically.”

“It’s all for public consumption,” Richardson said, noting that Russian ships often filmed such encounters and edited them to make it appear as if U.S. ships were at fault.

Russia and the United States have an agreement to limit and discuss incidents at sea, but the accord appeared to be having little impact on curbing such incidents, he said.

Dialogue between U.S. and Russian navy officers has ceased since Russia’s annexation of the Crimea region of Ukraine in 2014, in contrast to the days of the Cold War, when U.S. and Russian officials were in more regular contact, he said.

“More communication with Russia would be a valuable thing,” Richardson said, noting that he had regular contact with his counterpart in China, but not with those in Russia or Iran.

James echoed his concerns, citing what she called “very worrying” incidents of “very dangerous airmanship” and cyber attacks by Russian hackers on U.S. institutions.

Richardson also said he was concerned about a report by Norwegian Defense Minister Ine Eriksen Soereide that Russia now had the ability to cut off resupply routes to Europe through its activities in the Arctic region.

Army Secretary Eric Fannning told a panel at the conference that Russia was clearly acting “in a destabilizing way,” and said the United States was learning from how the Russian military was behaving in Ukraine.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Alan Crosby)