It has been almost one year since the IV Caspian Summit in Astrakhan, Russia, where the presidents of the five Caspian states signed a political declaration that denied any foreign military presence in the Caspian Sea.
This means that possible future deployment of NATO forces in the area will not be allowed. According to Russian President Vladimir Putin, this declaration “sets out a fundamental principle for guaranteeing stability and security, namely, that only the Caspian littoral states have the right to have their armed forces present on the Caspian.” The Caspian Sea has been a relative strategic backwater for most of history, which begs the question: why are Russia and Iran, in particular, so interested in protecting the sovereignty of Caspian waters now?
In 1722, Tsar Peter the Great created Russia’s Caspian Flotilla. At the Flotilla’s headquarters shines a plaque still today with a quote from him that says, “Our interests will never allow any other nation to claim the Caspian Sea.” This has been the case for centuries as no state dared to challenge Russia over the Caspian. However, after the collapse of the Soviet Union and formal recognition of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan as sovereign independent states, things in the Caspian have begun to take a more interesting turn.
The Caspian Sea holds about 40 billion barrels of oil and is second to the Persian Gulf in regards to the size of oil and gas reserves. When Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan gained sovereignty after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, they contracted with Western oil majors to explore the Caspian’s untapped potential. However, figuring out which state controls what in the area has remained an extremely fickle endeavor. Even though some of the states have settled with bilateral treaties to divide the sea, many boundaries remain uncertain. A project called the “Trans-Caspian Pipeline” is one of the issues that the states have difficulty agreeing on. Turkmenistan would like this project to begin in order for them to ship natural gas to Azerbaijan and then on to Europe but Russia and Iran do not agree.
This tension has led to slight conflicts between the Caspian littorals. In 2001, Iran used jets and a warship to threaten a BP research vessel prospecting on behalf of Azerbaijan in an area that each country thought was their own. In 2008, there was another case of uncertain boundaries when Azerbaijan used gunboats to threaten oil rigs operated by Malaysian and Canadian companies who were working for Turkmenistan because these companies were operating in an area close to the water border between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan. In 2009, an Iranian oil rig accidentally entered waters that belonged to Azerbaijan. Rather than the show of strength it performed in 2008 with Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan instead did nothing and complained about being powerless against an aggressive Iran.
So, back to the original question, why do Russia and Iran care so much about keeping foreign militaries, especially the United States and United Nations, out of the Caspian? Do they share the same ideas and reasoning? Looking at the Trans-Caspian Pipeline, this project would allow Turkmenistan to sell natural gas in a way that exclusively benefits itself and those they sell to. If this happened Russia might see a decrease in its energy sales, since it would be available elsewhere, but the real heart of the matter would be the loss of Russian strategic soft power. It is not interested in seeing any state, Caspian or Western, compromise its ability to dictate power through natural resources. This has always been an important aspect of Caspian control for Russia.
In 2013, Russia’s crude oil, petroleum, and natural gas exports made up 68% of their total export revenue for that year. 14% of this was natural gas sold to Europe. According to Dmitry Shlapentokh, professor of Soviet and post-Soviet history, “Russia is strongly against the project for a trans-Caspian pipeline carrying gas from Turkmenistan to Azerbaijan and may threaten to use military force should the two former Soviet republics decide to go ahead regardless.” This is a problem not only for Turkmenistan, but also carries over to the current issue of Russia and Iran preventing a UN or US military base in the area. If there was a Western base in the Caspian region, then Russia’s expectation of being able to ‘persuade’ Caspian littoral states when needed could become much more complicated.
So not only could Russia be worried about the financial and strategic implications of foreign militaries in the Caspian, there might also be another factor: namely, the relationship between Russia and the United States. After Russia decided to get involved in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and allowed for the annexation referendum in Crimea, tensions have been high. The sanctions that were implemented by the West in response represented the toughest action taken against Russia since the peak of the Cold War with the Soviet Union. Having a Western military forces in the Caspian area could certainly deter Russia from possibly making the same type of foreign policy decisions to its other neighbors which, if this was an option Russia wishes to keep, could be why Russia has worked to prevent foreign militaries in the Caspian.
But why would Iran care? Does Iran agree with Russia’s foreign policies so much that it is willing to push as hard as Russia? Or is there another factor that is driving Iran’s decisions? Recently, the nuclear accord struck with Iran and which the US Congress could not block, has been front and center in Western media. The majority of Americans believe that Iran will break the agreement. If Iran does have plans to break the deal, or wishes to have that option available to it strategically, a US or UN military base or military forces in the area could stop such plans from becoming explicitly realistic.
The decision to block foreign militaries from the Caspian Sea is a threat to the strategic interests of America and, to a lesser extent, the EU. Potentially, it could have negative repercussions on energy security. By removing any Western military influence in the region, Russia will be able to maintain the regional hegemony it considers its natural birthright. In addition to that, Iran will be able to ensure greater strategic flexibility moving forward with the nuclear accord. While in the West these maneuvers will inevitably be portrayed as dangerous and destabilizing, some credence must be given to the Caspian littoral states, especially Iran and Russia, for how dangerous and destabilizing they themselves might see foreign militaries operating freely in their own backyards upon Caspian waters. As the old adage goes, what you see depends largely upon where you stand. This seems especially apropos when trying to figure out the complexity of military life in the Caspian.
 Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan.
 Dettoni, J. (2014, October 1). Russia and Iran lock NATO out of Caspian Sea. Retrieved from http://thediplomat.com/2014/10/russia-and-iran-lock-nato-out-of-caspian-sea/
 Kucera, J. (2012, June 22). The Great Caspian Arms Race. Retrieved from http://foreignpolicy.com/2012/06/22/the-great-caspian-arms-race/
 Metzel, M. (2014, September 29). Real breakthrough reached at 4th Caspian summit – Putin. Retrieved from http://tass.ru/en/russia/751856
 United States Energy Information Administration. (2014, July 23). Oil and natural gas sales accounted for 68% of Russia’s total export revenues in 2013. Retrieved from http://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.cfm?id=17231
 Dettoni, J. (2014, October 1). Russia and Iran lock NATO out of Caspian Sea. Retrieved from http://thediplomat.com/2014/10/russia-and-iran-lock-nato-out-of-caspian-sea/
 Agiesta, J. (2015, September 13). Poll: Americans skeptical Iran will stick to nuclear deal. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2015/09/13/politics/iran-nuclear-deal-poll/
India overreacted to the US $450 million deal with Pakistan
India registered a strong protest with the US last week over the latter’s decision to approve a $ 450 million sustainment package for Pakistan’s aging F-16 Fleet. The US Defense Security Cooperation Agency DSCA said in a statement that the sustainment program would assist Pakistan in its campaign against terrorism with a rider that it will not affect the status quo in the region. The Biden administration has ignored the “strong objections” raised by India over the proposed foreign military sale of $450 million to Pakistan in order to sustain the Pakistan Air Force’s F-16 program.
Pakistan’s arch-rival India has voiced “serious objections” to the US plan for Foreign Military Sales (FMS) worth $450 million for hardware, software, and spares for the F-16 fighter jet during official meetings with US Assistant Secretary of State Donald Lu in Delhi.
In widely published comments, Indian External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said last week that the US was not “fooling anybody” by claiming the equipment was for counterterrorism operations. Recently Indian foreign Minister cut short his trip to the US, and without attending his pre-scheduled meetings and returned back to India in protest. His behavior was unprecedented in the diplomacy world and considered an overreaction.
Prime Minister Modi is upset too and sources close to his are guessing a severe reaction from him. Unconfirmed, but a possible reaction may include cancellation of defense agreements with the US, and exclusion from “Quad” – an anti-China alliance with the US, Japan, and Australia. The Indian ideology of intolerance, extremism, and nationalism is the real threat to the region.
As a matter of fact, India has been hijacked by extremists and any extreme reaction is expected at any moment. There was a time in history when India was known democratic and secular state. But, now, under the leadership of Prime Minister Modi, all extremist political parties and groups under the umbrella of the BJP are ruling India.
The extremist and fanatics are implementing their agenda of eliminating minorities and transforming India into a “Pure Hindu State”. Especially with Pakistan, a traditional rivalry exists and they cannot see any improvement in Pakistan.
Pakistan was in the American club for almost Seven Decades and enjoyed very cordial relations with the Western world. Whereas India was a close ally with the former USSR. Although Pakistan was a close ally of the West, yet was facing the toughest sanctions too. However, there is a realization in Washington and a visible policy shit was witnessed recently. Pakistan always welcomes and desires the restoration of traditional friendship between the West and Pakistan.
The US claims the proposed sale to Pakistan does not include any new capabilities, weapons, or munitions, but it would be hard for New Delhi to digest such claims and remain complacent. Interestingly, the fleet of F-16s has been part of the Pakistan Air Force since the early 1980s. Pakistan has always used the US-supplied defense systems in its defense only. The F-16s in their arsenals have been no exception. In February 2019, after the Indian Air Force launched its air strike on Balakot, Pakistan came to deploy its F-16s to target Indian military bases close to the Line of Control.
Apart from Pakistan, the US has sold F-16s in many countries like Bahrain, Belgium, Egypt, Taiwan, Denmark, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Thailand, Turkey, etc. However, South Asia remains a highly volatile region. The US has been sitting on the sale of F-16s to Turkey based on security concerns in the Mediterranean region, which makes the Pakistan agreement all the more intriguing.
Department of State spokesperson Ned Price has said the relationship Washington had with Pakistan “stands on its own,” responding to criticism from India over a proposed US sale of F-16 aircraft sustainment and related equipment to Islamabad.
Answering a question about Jaishankar’s comments, the state department spokesperson said on Monday Washington did not view its relations with India or Pakistan “in relation to one another.” “These are both partners of ours with different points of emphasis in each, and we look to both as partners because we do have in many cases shared values, we do have in many cases shared interests,” Price told a briefing. “And the relationship we have with India stands on its own; the relationship we have with Pakistan stands on its own.”
There are positive signals and it seems the traditional relations between the US and Pakistan will be restored soon. Our relations are not any threat to India or any other nation, but, for promoting regional peace, stability and development. We are partners in peace, development, and the total welfare of humankind.
Military Aspects of Russia’s Stance in the Arctic
In the midst of a deepening multidimensional crisis in contemporary international relations, it is increasingly important to ensure a nation’s survival. The latter can be construed as the resilience of national economy under a long-term instability of the global markets, restricted trade-economic and investment opportunities, unfair competition and transport blockade. Furthermore, the national political system must be capable of ensuring a normal flow of social activities as well as of protecting the vital interests from a wide range of challenges and threats. The Arctic accounts for a third of Russia’s entire territory and, according to Russian President Vladimir Putin, new Arctic and northern territories will be attached to Russia in the decades to come.
Expansion in the Arctic
The fact that the Arctic and subarctic regions are already generating at least 10% of the GDP and about 20% of Russia’s export, with a significant potential for further growth in absolute indicators, could be used as a reference data highlighting the importance of Russia’s “Arctic third”. Today, 17% of all Russian oil, 80% of natural gas and about one third of fish are produced in the Arctic belt. The continental shelf is rightly considered a strategic stockpile of explored mineral resources to secure hundreds of years of prudent consumption. The Northern Sea Route (NSR), for all the complexities and controversial points in its operation, is a real working sea lane for commodity transportation. In 2021, this artery was used to deliver a record 33.5 million tons of cargo, with liquefied natural gas (LNG) and gas concentrate accounting for one third of transported freights. By 2024, the traffic volume may reach 80 million tons, and by 2030 – up to 110 million tons, largely due to oil projects and booming coastal voyages.
From a military perspective, Russia’s presence in the Arctic is contingent upon the physical deployment of strategic nuclear forces in this region, along with strategic non-nuclear capabilities to prevent individual or collective aggression by other nations. The area’s importance is proved by the fact that the national leadership has raised the status of the Northern Fleet by turning it into a military district. The Northern Fleet’s united strategic command (USC) is called to ensure the integrated security of Russia – unified management of all forces and means across the vast expanse from Murmansk to Anadyr. The USC includes the Air Force and Air Defense Army as well as a special Arctic brigade (the plan calls for the formation of at least two such brigades). The key bases of the Arctic forces—Polar Star on Wrangel Island, Arctic Trefoil on Franz Josef Land and Northern Clover on Novosibirsk Islands—back the presence of combat troops throughout the entire area of responsibility.
What is most important in the Arctic?
The phrase “ensuring integrated security from Murmansk to Anadyr” implies a rather long list of possible items. As per the Strategy for Developing the Russian Arctic Zone and Ensuring National Security through 2035, among the key priorities is the uninterrupted supply of strategic commodities as well as the smooth operation of transportation routes Arkhangelsk – European part of Russia and Anadyr – Kamchatka – Sakhalin – Vladivostok.
In the meantime, several military perspectives can be added to the economic dimensions. Undoubtedly, Moscow seeks to prevent objectionable uses of the NSR and the Russian Arctic zone by taking anti-access and area denial measures. Key for the Russian leadership is retaining, under any circumstances, of the strategic strike capability in the form of missile-carrying submarines and long-range aviation with guaranteed use when required. Developing submarine, air and missile defense in the Arctic is also perceived as extremely important in bolstering the national defense potential. The implication is that the Northern Fleet must be capable of assisting the Baltic Fleet on NATO’s eastern flank, while also interacting with the Pacific Fleet in case any threat emanates from the Asia-Pacific.
Direct and explicit threat
The threats and dangers faced by Russia in the Arctic can be divided into those that already exist and prove out to the fullest extent already today, as well as those that can significantly aggravate the situation in the future. However, if the current problems are ignored rather than solved, the situation will inevitably deteriorate, which will call into question the effective protection of national interests in the Arctic.
Thus, the facts that infrastructure development in the Arctic is lagging behind the real needs of the nation and regions; that ships, aviation and electric power are in short supply; that there is no permanent emergency rescue service, and communication is unstable—are definitely a cause for concern. The said shortfalls cripple the continuous operation of civilian and military facilities in the Arctic, needed to boost socio-economic development and the national defense potential.
It should be borne in mind that the high pace of global warming and ice melting may result in a situation where navigation in the Arctic will be possible without icebreaker support already by 2045. Under these circumstances, the research, commercial and, inevitably, military activities of foreign nations in the Arctic will roar ahead, apparently giving Russia a headache.
With the global consensus on universal responsibility of mankind to the Arctic, attempts by representatives of the Collective West to challenge Russia’s Arctic status and their denial of its Arctic shelf claims appear absolutely irrelevant. However, a results-oriented settlement of the disputes—for instance, within the Arctic Council—is complicated by the practice of establishing closed cooperative frameworks. In particular, in line with the logic of “denying Russia’s claims,” we see the redoubling of efforts to transfer the agenda of multilateral cooperation in the Arctic to exclusive platforms like Nordic Plus, where Moscow is not even invited.
The accession of Finland and Sweden to NATO apparently threatens Russia’s interests in the Arctic, given that the Alliance may one day deploy military assets in their territory, including strike capabilities. The mounting potential for conflict in the Arctic, due to a predictably higher intensity of air-force and naval operations conducted by the U.S., UK and other NATO member states, compels Russia to constantly increase the combat power of its Armed Forces in this region. Bolstering the military component of security is fraught with high costs, but Russia is clearly not ready to sacrifice its commercial and infrastructure projects. Therefore, urgent adaptation of the Arctic strategy is needed, to develop a comprehensive approach and to determine the hundred-percent accomplishable and feasible objectives.
The Russian leadership has identified a number of top priorities to strengthen its influence in the Arctic. For instance, consistent effort is needed to delineate the outer perimeter of the continental shelf that would be recognized by the international community; however, given the current confrontation with the collective West, this can hardly be accomplished in the near future.
To preclude the waning of Russia’s posture, it is vitally important to develop the deployment infrastructure, to ensure operational preparedness of the territories, to equip the Russian Armed Forces with special Arctic-adapted weapons and hardware, and to put some boots on the ground (e.g., in the Spitsbergen archipelago). Apart from countering military threats, preventing extremist and terrorist activities as well as monitoring of emergencies is also extremely important.
Specific measures taken to achieve the identified objectives include the integrated development of seaport infrastructure and shipping lanes in the NSR waters, namely the Barents, White and Pechora Seas, establishment of a maritime operations headquarters to manage navigation, as well as the maintenance of military assets in six areas of the Arctic. The efficiency of the NSR economic uses and facilitation of Russia’s Armed Forces will allegedly be provided by building rescue, hydrographic, pilot and cargo ships (including those powered by gas motor fuel), as well as nuclear icebreakers like Arktika and Leader. To meet military and civilian needs in communications, authentication and hydrometeorology, a high-elliptical space system and an underwater fiber optic line are being created.
An equation with many unknowns
The promotion of Russian interests in the Arctic is fraught with certain difficulties, mainly related to multiple scenarios and uncertainty regarding the plans, penchants and activities of other nations.
Amidst the cessation of investment and technological cooperation with the West, the key transport, energy and infrastructure projects in the Arctic need to be revisited. The emphasis on interaction with Asian partners (primarily China, India, ASEAN and countries of the Middle East) is undoubtedly justified by the logic of forming a workable alternative to Western domination. However, the most important financial, technological and logistical issues are yet to be addressed, to ensure reliable and uninterrupted operation of the NSR and Arctic projects.
Not all the initiatives are fully feasible, or they may take too much time to pan out. For example, the port of Arkhangelsk appears to be the most important “growth point” not only for the Russian Arctic, but for international cooperation as well. Yet, its profound and quality upgrading will be contingent upon the deeper involvement of foreign stakeholders and partners. However, it is highly unlikely that the Arctic Council, Barents Council and Northern Dimension Partnership will resume their normal operations in the short-term outlook, and so Russia should promote a significant part of its ideas bilaterally as well as within the SCO and BRICS frameworks.
The intensification of Russia’s border disputes with Canada and Denmark over the Lomonosov Ridge, with Norway in the Barents Sea (despite the treaty signed in 2010), and with the United States over the seabed delimitation near Alaska, cannot be ruled out either. In general, creating hotbeds of tension along the entire perimeter of Russia’s borders is compliant with NATO’s behavior patterns, so attempts by NATO member states to partially obstruct Russia’s access to the Arctic potential should be expected.
The position of some nations, having extensive interests in the Arctic, but lacking direct access to this region, remains a great unknown. China, for example, has expressed its willingness to join the ranks of the “great Arctic powers” and has declared the Arctic a sphere of its national interests. In 2018, a White Paper on Arctic Policy was published, where the key strategic point is creating the “Ice Silk Road”. The 14th Five-Year Development Plan of China also emphasizes the potential of the Arctic.
Beijing hardly intends to lay any claims to the Arctic belt, but the Chinese interpretation of harnessing the transportation and resource potential is somewhat different from how Russia sees it. In particular, China does not rule out independent economic activities outside the exclusive economic zone and tends to consider the Arctic latitudes as falling under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. The Chinese also carry out robust investigation of the ice and seabed, increasing the coverage of the BeiDou Navigation Satellite System in the Arctic, and have not yet given up on joint research, communication and economic projects with European partners.
At the same time, Beijing also aims at developing cooperation with Russia in the Arctic, including participation in major resource and transportation projects, such as the mining, processing and transportation of coal, metals, oil and gas, as well as the construction of the deep-water seaport Arkhangelsk. The Chinese side is also interested in gaining access to seafood fishery in the Arctic.
The lack of rivalry and dissent between the Russian and Chinese leadership in the Arctic seems to be the key point bringing the two nations together. Overall, nothing in Beijing’s doctrinal papers on the Arctic policies directly conflicts with Moscow’s interests. In the meantime, careful coordination of plans and actions will be required to avoid ambiguity, the dispersion of forces, and to focus on the principle of mutual benefit.
From our partner RIAC
Mobilization Won’t Save Russia from the Quagmire
When Moscow waged war against Ukraine in February, few expected Russia to end up in a quagmire. The Russian military failed to achieve its goals, while the Ukrainians fought bravely to defend their nation. The recent pushback in the Kharkiv region further proved that Russia could not achieve its military goals under the current situation.
The Russian government takes a new procedure. President Putin has called for partial mobilization, commissioning the reserved forces and those previously served. Meanwhile, the Russian government has decided to launch referendums for the occupied areas to join Russia. Any attacks on those territories in the future could be considered total war and potentially trigger nuclear weapon use.
It is vital to notice this is only a partial mobilization, only recalling reservists. However, many Russian politicians and nationalists have called for total mobilization. Yet, a mobilization, whether partial or complete, is not a prescription to improve Moscow’s performance on the battlefield. The mobilization, in reality, could further drag Russia into a quagmire.
Russia does not have the political leverage it had before, home and abroad. Total mobilization will not change Russia’s diplomatic stalemate. The war united European countries quickly. While Russia accused Ukraine of attempting to join NATO, Finland and Sweden have applied to become NATO members, bringing NATO close to Saint Petersburg. A total mobilization is unlikely to threaten Europe and forces it to change its policy. Instead, it will further push the European countries to unite in facing Russian aggression.
Even the countries with which Russia has a closer relationship have different opinions. Indian prime minister Modi has told President Putin to take the path of peace and stop the war in a recent meeting. India has a close relationship with Russia, and Modi’s criticism is a significant blow to Putin. Even Central Asia countries have also expressed no interest in Putin’s aggression. Kazakhstan has clearly stated that it will neither send its military to fight in Ukraine nor recognize the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk. A total mobilization and an escalation of the war will further alienate Russia and its allies.
Domestically, a mobilization could further drag Putin down with his popularity. Chechnyan president Kadyrov, one of Putin’s close allies, has criticized the war’s progress, reflecting the contrary opinions among Russian elites. On the everyday citizen level, Putin has also become unpopular. Immediately after the mobilization was introduced, Russian anti-war groups called for national protests.
Militarily, the Russian war machine is not the Soviet Union military that the world trembles. The Russian army has needed a significant upgrade since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The chaos after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the economic crisis has dramatically weakened the Russian armed forces. The failure in the two Chechnyan Wars is the most obvious evidence. Putin managed to upgrade a portion of the military equipment and provided a better salary to the personnel. The Russian military still performed decently during its operation in Syria.
Yet, the scale of upgrade it needs is far from what Kremlin has offered, and the war further dragged the Russian military capacity. Before the war, Russia chose not to produce and deploy the most advanced tanks because of the lack of money, and the T-14 tank ended up being a showpiece in the military parade. The corruption within the Russian military is still a problem, leading to the lack of resources directed for military upgrades.
That’s why Russia still uses the Soviet military legacy in combat. The Russian armored forces now have to use T-64 tanks from their storage because of the significant loss at the initial stage of the war. The recruits this summer were only trained for a month before being sent to the frontline. As for the newly mobilized forces, despite the previously served reservists, it still takes time and equipment to prepare them for operation. Russia has neither of those, let alone the conscripts are also a part of the reserved forces, making them even more ineffective on the battlefield.
Moscow’s financial situation to sustain a mobilization remains a big question. Despite the excellent performance of the Russian Ruble in the currency market, Russia’s economy will still face severe challenges. Teachers are now required to donate to the war effort, a sign that the war effort is far from successful. As the announcement of mobilization comes, Moscow’s stock index drops dramatically. While the sanctions did not work as expected, the Russian economy suffered from the effects. The banks also reported significant losses in the year’s first half.
The international price of natural gas and oil has also come down from its peak since European countries finished stacking up their supply earlier. Meanwhile, UAE and Kuwait are planning to expand their production capacity of natural gas and oil. Russia’s source of income is far from stable as prices drop and exports and production decline for Russia.
War is a costly activity. In previous operations in Syria, Russia’s daily cost is around 2.4 to 4 million US dollars. That was a minor operation with mainly air force participation. With all forces in action and the war dragging on for more than 200 days, the expenses mounted. It is believed that the first week of war alone cost Russia 7 billion dollars. The Kremlin’s decree says that the newly assembled forces will be paid corresponding to the existing personnel. With that high expense, how will Russia be able to pay for the new troops? How will Russia be able to replace the equipment and supply its forces?
Moscow believed that by sheer force and lightning warfare, Kyiv would bow down to Moscow. However, this dream ended with a valiant effort from the Ukrainians to defend the country. Further mobilization may provide the short-term manpower that Russia needs, but it will not save Russia from the predicament. The bleak reality in politics, the military, and the economy has made mobilization anything but a save.
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