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Russian Gas Returns to Romania amid Regulatory Changes

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New regulations slated to come into force this year could increase Russia’s energy influence in Romania, a country which for years was considered one of the least dependent countries on Russian gas imports, the Business Review writes. 

After 2013, Romania’s gas imports from Russia rapidly declined, reaching a decades-low of 163,000 tep in 2015. During this period, it was mainly considered that the country’s own resources are covering most of its domestic demand. But imports rose again in 2016. In 2017, imports of natural gas from Russia declined by 19 percent to 962,000 tep, from 1.19 million tep in 2016, but the trend changed direction again last year, the website reports. 

In 2018, the indicator soared by 26.8 percent to 1.2 million tons of oil equivalent (toe), the highest level since 2012, in sharp contrast with the trend seen during the previous years. Romania’s sole source of imported gas is Russian giant Gazprom, through two intermediary companies. The reversal in 2018 may indicate a rising reliance on Russian gas – and put at risk one of Romania’s biggest assets, Business Review writes.

In 2016, Romania ranked 26th among the 28 European Union member states in terms of energy dependency, with energy imports covering only 22.3 percent of national consumption. The energy dependency of the EU stood at 53.6 percent in 2016.

Running out of revenue sources, the government imposed special taxes of 2 percent of turnover on energy firms at the beginning of this year, and capped the retail and corporate gas price at RON 68/Mwh ($16.19/Mwh). These measures were introduced through the controversial emergency ordinance 114/2018, which players say caused major upheaval in the energy market.

“When the government representative presented us with the draft ordinance, my first reaction was: my God, you’re selling us to the Russians! Because this was like a door wide open to Russian gas,” a source from the energy market told BR.

In effect, the two major gas producers in Romania – Romgaz and OMV Petrom – are being forced to sell gas at capped prices and pay extra taxes, while there is no regulation governing imported gas – meaning that such a measure hits local producers and favors gas imports from Russia.

And the effect was soon evident: in January, Romania increased its reliance on Russian gas, as imports from Gazprom jumped, and at much higher prices, official data show.

According to the Romanian energy regulator (ANRE), gas imports from Russia rose by 55 percent in the first month of the year compared to January 2018, to 4.2 million MWh, while the average price shot up by 37 percent to RON 124.1 per MWh. Romania’s reliance on Russian gas imports climbed this year as 23 percent of total gas consumption was covered by Gazprom, compared to 18.6 percent in January 2018. 

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Iran Blocks Nearly All Internet Access

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Iran imposed an almost complete nationwide internet blackout on Sunday one of its most draconian attempts to cut off Iranians from each other and the rest of the world as widespread anti-government unrest roiled the streets of Tehran and other cities for a third day, The New York Times reported.

The death toll for the three days of protests rose to at least 12; hundreds were injured; and more than 1,000 people have been arrested, according to semiofficial news agencies like Fars News.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the last word on all state matters, called the demonstrators “thugs” and endorsed the government’s decision to raise prices it sets for rationed gasoline by 50 percent as of Friday and by 300 percent for gasoline that exceeds ration limits. Even after the price hike, gasoline in Iran is still cheaper than in most of the rest of the world – now the equivalent of about 50 cents a gallon.

In a speech on Sunday, Khamenei said he would support rationing and increasing gas prices because heads of three branches of government had made the decision.

Khamenei also acknowledged that Iranians had taken to the streets to protest and that some had died – however, he blamed the protests on monarchists and opposition groups trying to destabilize Iran, the Times added.

The widespread discontent on display across the country marked yet another crisis for the country. Iran has been struggling with an economic crisis after the United States exited a nuclear deal and reimposed harsh sanctions that ban Iran’s oil sales.

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HASC Chairman Claims Legislation to Create a Space Force in 2020 ‘Still Possible’

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House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith said last week that negotiations on the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act are “proceeding reasonably well” but he expressed doubt that the NDAA will include language to authorize a Space Force as a separate military branch, SpaceNews reported.

“It’s still possible but by no means guaranteed,” Smith told reporters on Capitol Hill last week. When asked for specifics, Smith said, “I don’t think it would be helpful for me to make predictions.”

The biggest sticking point in the NDAA negotiations is language in the House version of the bill that restricts the use of military funds to pay for the wall that President Trump wants to build along the U.S.-Mexico border, SpaceNews adds.

There are other dealbreaker issues. The authorization of a Space Force as the sixth branch of the armed forces is one of them, Smith said. Other contentious matters include extending the “war powers” legislation that authorizes the president to use military force, and allowing transgender people to serve in the military.

Smith said the House and Senate NDAA conference in recent weeks worked on compromise language on hundreds of provisions and “reduced the stack significantly, and we’re down to a few really contentious issues.”

Smith characterized the Space Force as a “higher echelon” issue that is proving divisive. Both Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate continue to have reservations about the administration’s Space Force proposal, said Smith. “There is bipartisan concern on the proposal and bicameral concern about the specifics of that proposal.”

The House version of the NDAA creates a Space Corps and is closer aligned with what the administration proposed. The Senate bill would rename the Air Force Space Command the U.S. Space Force and does not specifically authorize a sixth branch of the armed forces.

Smith noted that the House has been a proponent of a military space branch since 2017 while the Senate had adamantly opposed it. “In their bill they didn’t have the same language that we did. But the president has persuaded them to look at it differently.”

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Gunman Kills Four at California Backyard Party

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Police in the California city of Fresno were investigating a mass shooting at a football game party on Sunday in which at least 10 people were shot, killing four, with five others left in critical condition and another wounded, Reuters informs.

Three men died at the scene and another died at a hospital, Fresno Deputy Police Chief Michael Reed said in a late night news conference. Six more were hospitalized, he said.

“Our hearts go out to the families of the victims of this thing,” Reed said. “This was senseless violence. We’re going to do everything we can to find out who the perpetrators were and bring them to justice.”

A gunman walked into a backyard and started shooting at a south Fresno home, where a gathering of about 35 family and friends was watching a football game before 8 p.m., said Reed. Neighbors soon flooded 911 dispatchers with calls for help, Reuters adds.

The suspect fled the scene and police were combing the neighborhood for witnesses and possible security camera footage, police said. Police did not release further information about the shooting in the city about 200 miles (320 km) north of Los Angeles, except that the dead were men between the ages of 25 and 35.

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