News Briefs – February 19, 2020

Russian defense minister visits Serbia amid Balkan tensions

Russian military cooperation with Serbia has reached a “fundamentally” new level, Russia’s defense minister said Monday as he visited his Balkan ally amid rising tensions in the volatile region.
Sergei Shoigu said in Belgrade on Feb. 17, “For our part, we will make every effort to maintain the pace of our relations in the military sphere.”
Serbia remains a key ally of Russia even though it wants to join the European Union. Belgrade has pledged to stay out of NATO and refused to join Western sanctions against Russia over the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
Russia has been helping Serbia beef up its military with fighter jets, attack helicopters and battle tanks, raising concerns in the war-scarred Balkan region of possible new clashes after a bloody civil war in the 1990s.
Serbia’s flirting with Russia, as well as with China, is seen with unease in the West.
During his visit, Shoigu was expected to announce the delivery to Serbia of a sophisticated anti-aircraft missile system even though the U.S. has warned of possible sanctions against Serbia in the event of such delivery.
During the bloody breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, Serbia was at war with neighbors Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo. Currently, its nationalist leadership is believed to be behind the latest tensions in neighboring Montenegro and Bosnia.
In Montenegro, the newest NATO member, minority Serbs have been demonstrating for months against a law that they say threatens the existence of their Serbian Orthodox Church. In Bosnia, a Serb pro-Russian leader is threatening to split from the joint state with Muslims and Croats and join about a third of the country with Serbia. AP

Saudi-led coalition says its warplane was downed over Yemen

The Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen said Feb. 15 one of its warplanes was shot down over a mountainous northern province while providing air support to government forces fighting the country’s rebels.
The Houthi rebels said they shot down the plane with an advanced ground-to-air missile.
Saudi Arabia’s state-run news agency quoted Col. Turki al-Maliki, a spokesman for the coalition, as saying the Tornado warplane belonging to Saudi Arabia’s air force was shot down over the province of Jawf late Feb. 14.
The report did not say whether there were causalities or provide further details.
The Yemen conflict began with the 2014 takeover of the capital Sanaa by the Houthis, who control much of the country’s north along the border with Saudi Arabia. A Saudi-led military coalition allied with Yemen’s internationally recognized government has been fighting the Iranian-backed Houthis since 2015.
In a relentless campaign, Saudi-led airstrikes have hit schools, hospitals and wedding parties and killed thousands of Yemeni civilians. The Houthis have used drones and missiles to attack Saudi Arabia.
The war has killed more than 100,000 people and created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, leaving millions suffering from food and medical shortages. AP

Bombardier completes its exit of commercial aviation

Bombardier Inc. said Feb. 13 it is completing its exit from commercial aviation by selling its remaining stake in the A220 jetliner for nearly $600 million.
Bombardier said it agreed with Airbus SE and the Quebec government to transfer its shares to Airbus and the province, its latest move to emerge from more than $9 billion in debt.
The A220, with 100 to 150 passenger seats, used to be known as the Canadian Bombardier C-Series, but Airbus bought the program as part of a joint venture after Boeing pushed a trade war over it. The C-Series program drove Bombardier to the brink of bankruptcy before it was bailed out by the Quebec government.
Montreal-based Bombardier had once dreamed of taking on Airbus and Boeing by capturing half the global market for 100-to 149-seat planes. It had marketed the plane as being 20 percent more fuel-efficient than the comparable Airbus A320 and Boeing 737.
The latest deal boosts Airbus’s share in the A220 program to 75 percent from just over 50 percent, while Quebec’s stake rises to 25 percent from 16 percent.
In exchange, the agreement hands Bombardier $591 million, including $531 million immediately.
The announcement came as Bombardier reported a loss of $1.61 billion for 2019. Rumors continue to swirl about the potential sale of one of its two main divisions later this year.
“We are looking at our options. As you can understand, it’s very sensitive,” chief executive Alain Bellemare said on a conference call with investors Feb. 13.
“The reason why we’re looking at strategic options is to accelerate deleveraging of the business,” said Bellemare, who took the helm in 2015. “The strategy was always to exit commercial aircraft.”
Under the new deal, work on the A220 and A330 single-aisle planes will be transferred to Airbus through the Europe-based aircraft giant’s subsidiary Stelia Aerospace, securing 360 jobs in Quebec, Bombardier said.
David Chartrand, Quebec coordinator for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, deemed the deal “the best scenario under the circumstances.”
“Bombardier’s complete withdrawal from the construction of commercial aircraft represents the end of an era,” he said in a statement.
Bombardier said that in 2016 — the year before it sold a controlling stake to Airbus — its commercial aerospace segment lost about $400 million and was consuming roughly $1 billion in cash.
Three major rating agencies have voiced concerns this year over the finances of the company. AP